Four MLS teams hope for quarterfinals
The 2011 MLS playoffs are still a week away, but it can be argued that a far more important set of games is about to be played by Major League Soccer teams.
Four teams will try to join the Seattle Sounders into the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League when the final round of group play gets underway on Tuesday, and while they all have plenty of work still to do, there is a chance MLS could send a record four teams into the knockout round.
In order for that perfect scenario to play out, two Western Conference teams will have to do some heavy lifting in their final matches. The Los Angeles Galaxy, the top team in MLS, must travel to Honduras and defeat winless Motagua on Thursday to ensure a place in the quarterfinals.
The Galaxy will be sending a strong team to Honduras to secure that place, with David Beckham making the trip and defender Sean Franklin possibility returning from injury. Robbie Keane is out, but the Galaxy should still have enough firepower to defeat a Motagua side that has lost all five of its group matches.
The Galaxy could still reach the quarterfinals with a draw, but only if Morelia loses at home to Alajualense, something unlikely to happen considering the Mexican club’s imposing home record.
The Colorado Rapids have a much tougher rode to the quarterfinals, needing to defeat Santos Laguna in Mexico on Wednesday to secure a place in the knockout round. That task might seem impossible considering Santos, currently in first place in the Mexican League, thrashed Colorado in Colorado by a 4-1 margin just a month ago, but Santos has already qualified for the quarterfinals and is expected to field a reserve side against the Rapids.
That could open the door for Colorado head coach Gary Smith to send his team through to the quarters in rather dramatic fashion. The Rapids looked dead in the water when they sent a reserve team to play Isidro Metapan, but the back-ups delivered a 3-1 victory, and now the Colorado starters can be called on to win a game in Mexico.
At the very least, there should be one more MLS team in the Champions League quarterfinals, with tonight’s showdown between FC Dallas and Toronto FC expected to send one team through. The squads are tied on points, and FC Dallas would advance with a draw, holding the tie-breaker going into the match. Toronto FC could squeeze into the quarters with an upset at Pizza Hut Park.
A TFC upset might have seemed more possible two weeks ago, back when FC Dallas was mired in an eight-match winless slump, but with Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez back in the fold, Dallas has posted consecutive wins and look more like the team that reached the 2010 MLS Cup Final.
That doesn’t mean things will come easy against Toronto FC, a team that has shown considerable improvement since shaking up its roster during the summer. Dutch striker Danny Koevermans has provided a major boost to the TFC offense and should be a handful for the Dallas defense.
Dallas will still be favored, particularly with its offense playing well and TFC’s defense still being a vulnerable unit. Needing just a tie to advance, Dallas is a safe bet to join Seattle in the quarterfinals, where the return of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira could help FC Dallas be a serious contender for the 2012 CONCACAF Champions League.
First, Dallas must deal with Toronto FC, a team with no MLS playoffs to look forward to (and nothing else to play for).