Weekend Postgame: The calm before the playoff storm
Major League Soccer had planned a break in the schedule this week to coincide with FIFA’s early-September international fixture dates. With 53 of its players called to 17 different national teams this week, that decision made a lot of sense, and indeed most of the 18 teams did get the week off.
But the league also reserved this pause in the action to reschedule any games that had been postponed earlier in the season, and two of those matches were slotted into Week 25 while the rest of the teams took a time out for international play.
Those two make-up games, the US Open Cup semifinals and the US national team’s second match under Jurgen Klinsmann created the headlines in a week that let the league catch its breath before the furious final playoff push.
Let’s take another look.
The finalists for the 98th edition of the oldest soccer tournament in the nation were set last Tuesday as the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders FC both won their US Open Cup semifinal matches.
Chicago downed USL Pro side Richmond Kickers 2-1 on goals by Dominic Oduro and Sebastián Grazzini, while Seattle edged FC Dallas 1-0 after Fredy Montero found the net.
Whatever happens in the final on Oct. 4, the result will be historic: If Seattle win, they will join New York Greek-Americans (1967-69) as the only teams to take three straight USOC titles. If Chicago prevail, they will match Maccabi Los Angeles and Bethlehem Steel as the only five-time champions of the fabled event.
“Good Performance, Bad Result”
The latest chapter in US national team history continues to be written this week, as new coach Jurgen Klinsmann called 11 MLSers to his 24-man roster for friendlies against Costa Rica last Friday and Belgium (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Four of them saw time in the Costa Rica game, a 1-0 loss that Klinsmann nevertheless described as “very, very positive.”
Fans of the US could certainly agree that the first 30 to 40 minutes of the game fit Klinsmann’s description, as the US starters, including FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, Columbus Crew speedster Robbie Rogers and LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan, got the team off to a dominating start—a period of play so good it nearly caused ESPN announcer Ian Darke to break out the “champagne football” descriptor. (He settled for “buoyant, vibrant soccer.”)
Just six minutes in, a fluid US counterattack ended with Shea laying off a perfect ball for Donovan to carry into the box, all alone … only to push his shot wide of the near post.
That miss came back to haunt the US as the champagne lost some of its fizz in the second half.
Costa Rica, who started Real Salt Lake striker Álvaro Saborío, Red Bulls defender Roy Miller and Chivas USA defender Michael Umaña, got a 65th-minute goal from substitute Rodney Wallace of the Portland Timbers and made it stand up for the win.
The result left Klinsmann winless in two games as US coach, with Tuesday’s friendly against a tough Belgium side looming.
More Late Drama at Livestrong
Third-act plot twists are becoming the norm at Sporting Kansas City’s new stadium, and this week was no exception. Fortunately for the home team, though, they scored the stoppage-time goal this time instead of conceding it.
It came courtesy of a 90th-minute penalty by striker Omar Bravo, which lifted SKC to an exciting 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy.
LA were missing Robbie Keane (with Ireland for a Euro 2012 qualifier) and Chris Birchall (Trinidad and Tobago), and they started Donovan on the bench following his 90 minutes against Costa Rica on Friday.
KC were without Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) and Teal Bunbury (suspension), but they were playing in front of a standing-room-only home crowd of 20,512 with a chance to pull within one point of East leaders Columbus.
Defender Sean Franklin prevented that from happening, scoring goals that gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute and a 2-1 advantage in the 74th, just two minutes after Júlio César had equalized for KC.
Franklin, who entered this season without a goal in his entire MLS career, now has four in his past six games.
M.I.A. at RTS
The week’s other regular-season tilt matched Real Salt Lake against Philadelphia in a game postponed from April, when the Union agreed to reschedule so RSL could focus on their CCL run.
Real Salt Lake were without Saborío, Will Johnson (Canada), Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador), Nat Borchers (suspension) and Jean Alexandre (Haiti). Not the best situation for a team that had lost four of its previous six.
But Philadelphia entered the game with their own set of woes: a five-game winless skid, and missing the services of Keon Daniels (Trinidad and Tobago), Carlos Valdés (yellow-card accumulation) and Brian Carroll (foot contusion).
Despite the absences and sketchy form, the teams put on an entertaining show. Kyle Beckerman struck an 18th-minute golazo and Chris Schuler nodded home a corner kick eight minutes later for a 2-0 RSL lead, but Philadelphia answered just four minutes after that. Justin Mapp found Sébastien Le Toux with an inch-perfect cross from the left flank, and the Frenchman one-timed it past Nick Rimando for his fourth goal of the year—and first from the run of play—to make it 2-1.
That’s the way it stayed despite good chances for Mapp, RSL’s Andy Williams, and Fabián Espíndola in the second half.
Games In Hand
The win vaulted RSL over Colorado and into fourth place in the West and first in the wild-card race. With two games in hand on every team above them in the West, and three on Colorado, RSL remain very much in the hunt for a top-three spot in the West.
In the East, D.C. United, who currently trail New York by one point for the final wild-card spot, also have games in hand on every team ahead of them.
That’s the good news for DC fans. The bad news is that, because of this week’s light schedule and last week’s postponement of their match with Portland, the Black-and-Red will play their final 10 games in just six weeks.
Included in those final 10 are road meetings with Seattle, East leaders Columbus and fourth-place Philadelphia, along with home matches against Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.
In other words, if DC make the playoffs, they will have earned it.