Monday Postgame: Fire under-the-radar signing paying off
Three weeks ago, we changed up the Monday Postgame. Instead of recapping all of the week’s action, the column now looks at one or two prominent questions for each round of the stretch run of the season, and kicks them around for a few paragraphs.
The song will soon come to an abrupt halt in this game of playoff musical chairs, and two MLS teams will find their postseason seats taken, while several others may not get the spots they were hoping for.
With two weeks left in the season, there are two postseason berths up for grabs and eight playoff positions yet to be determined.
Ten of the 11 matches on the slate this week held postseason implications, and they did not stint on the drama. We saw Vancouver’s offense finally wake up, Chris Wondolowski strike a landmark hat trick and late drama from D.C. and Columbus, where the Crew nabbed a stoppage-time goal to tie first-place Sporting Kansas City (who remained unbeaten in 10 straight).
There were injury worries for Landon Donovan and Roger Espinoza, and heartbreak for Houston and Dallas, who squandered chances to boost their playoff hopes.
The lively week prompted loads of questions, and we’re tackling two, one from each conference.
In the East, considering his prominent role in Chicago’s late-season rise, where does unheralded striker Sherjill MacDonald rank among MLS’s midsummer foreign acquisitions?
In the West, now that Seattle delivered in a big spot late in the season (a 3-0 win over their archrivals in front of 66,452 fans), what do they need to get over the hump in the playoffs?
The short answer to the Seattle question? Goals. The Sounders have hit the net just three times in six playoff games since 2009, and not surprisingly, they’ve been bounced out in the first round for three years running.
HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle rout Portland at CLink
This year’s Sounders have the second-best defense in MLS (31 goals against), and in German playmaker Christian Tiffert, Argentine assist-machine Mauro Rosales and ball-winner extraordinaire Osvaldo Alonso, they have a midfield that stacks up against any in the league.
But if they want to get past the first round of the playoffs they’ll need their “Fredy and Eddie” strike force to deliver. Montero and Johnson have produced 27 goals so far this season, but in a combined 12 career playoff appearances, they have zero goals.
As they head to the postseason, Seattle will need that to change. They’ll also want to avoid a first-round meeting with the Quakes — who have handed them their only two losses in 15 games since June.
MacDonald vs. Cahill
While the Sounders get in gear for the Western Conference playoffs, Chicago are charging in the East, fueled in large part by 27-year-old Dutch striker MacDonald.
HIGHLIGHTS: MacDonald sparks Fire win over Red Bulls
You could be excused for forgetting that former Everton star Tim Cahill and MacDonald joined MLS during the same week in late July. While Cahill’s acquisition was lauded as a coup that instantly made New York an MLS Cup favorite, MacDonald was something of an afterthought — a Second City signing.
But after Chicago’s visit to New York on Saturday afternoon, the Fire’s lower-wattage pickup is looking like the savvier move. MacDonald scored both goals in Chicago’s pivotal 2-0 win, while Cahill worked hard but couldn’t click with his teammates.
Both men have started 10 games this year, and MacDonald has four goals and three assists compared to Cahill’s one goal and three assists.
And the former Ajax youth product’s most significant contributions don’t even show up on the scoresheet. He’s given Chicago a target forward who can hold the ball and get his teammates involved in the final third. He can also run off the ball and use his speed to get behind defenses.
Both qualities were on display in the Fire’s big win at New York.
How does MacDonald stack up against some of the other midsummer foreign signings, such as Seattle’s Tiffert, Houston’s Boniek García and Columbus’ Federico Higuaín?
Tiffert has produced just two assists in eight games with the Sounders, but, like MacDonald, his best contributions don’t always show up on the scoresheet (see his slick dummy that led to Seattle’s first goal against Portland on Sunday night).
In Houston, García has provided a spark, producing three goals and six assists in 16 starts, but he hasn’t been as consistent as Dynamo fans would like.
Higuaín joined Columbus in late July and almost single-handedly propelled the team into playoff contention. After Sunday’s dramatic 1-1 draw with SKC, the Crew are one point out of the fifth and final playoff berth in the East. They’re still in it, and Higuaín, who has three goals and six assists in 11 games, remains a dynamic, dangerous part of their attack.
The Argentine took the early pole position for top midsummer signing, but the versatile, unassuming MacDonald has pulled even, and could overtake him down the stretch.