Kick Off: Playoff picture into focus after wild Week 32

And then there were 10.

The 2012 MLS playoff field was set this weekend after the remaining four spots were clinched, but it didn’t come without drama and a share fair of controversy.

We start with Sunday’s scenario, where Vancouver needed a win to guarantee the fifth and final playoff spot but instead lost 1-0 at home against to their rival Portland Timbers, who “addressed a lot of demons” in winning their first road game of 2012 and taking home the Cascadia Cup (watch the highlights here and check out the photos of the Timbers’ cup celebrations here).

It was another missed opportunity for the Whitecaps, and the moment was not lost on manager Martin Rennie: “The team doesn't quite have the culture that it needs," he said after the match. "I think it was the same when we played TFC in the Canadian Cup. … To be successful, and get to where we want to get to, players have to be able to play in big games."

Although the Whitecaps opened the door for FC Dallas to get within a point in the race for the final berth, FCD could not overcome a determined Seattle Sounders side, who ran out 3-1 winners at CenturyLink and ended the Texan side’s postseason dreams (watch the highlights here) while allowing the Whitecaps to back into the postseason as the No. 5 seed.

Rennie may feel like they “let a lot of people down” on Sunday, but the Whitecaps still became the first Canadian team to make the postseason in MLS history (see the standings here). The Whitecaps move on to face the No. 4 seed LA Galaxy in a Western Conference Knockout Round match.

FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman was obviously disappointed, but he says there’s only so much you could have expected from this FCD season: “I ask you to look at any team in the league that has gone without seven starters in a game, tonight we went without five, we left five guys at home. We’ve done that the whole year.”

Here’s how Dallas ‘keeper Kevin Hartman put it: “I would imagine that we were missing half of our salary cap for majority of the season. So it's difficult to compete without that level of talent on the field.”

Seattle’s Brad Evans, who scored two goals against Dallas, called the Sounders' win a “statement” and he promised fans that the team will make up for missing out on the Cascadia Cup: “If we can't give them that, then we need to give them something else.”

In the postgame ceremony, where the Sounders recognized the crowd (watch the video here), suspended manager Sigi Schmid took to the field and vowed: "This year we want to make a ton of noise in the MLS playoffs."

Two teams that promise to do the same are the defending champion LA Galaxy and the newly crowned Supporters’ Shield winners, the San Jose Earthquakes. The California rivals tied 2-2 in a spirited affair, which may have been an appetizer for the Western Conference semifinals (watch the highlights here).

Although the Quakes were crowned the best team in all the land, there’s one player who is simply not impressed by them. LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez let loose after the match: “I think those guys are a bunch of jokes, the way they play the game. It was just obnoxious. And, you know, it wasn't even fun out there. It was terrible.” He explains why in this article.

The Galaxy take issue with the call made by the referee on the Marvin Chávez free kick that gave San Jose the momentary 1-1 equalizer. LA forward Robbie Keane was miffed enough to state: “We played well against 12 men, with the referee."

Also making news from this match was the Galaxy’s fan section being escorted from the stadium. LA supporters group Angel City Brigade issued the following statement yesterday about the incident.

Fans were also setting records yesterday. Watch this video of the groundbreaking on the site of the Earthquakes’ new stadium. (VIDEO)

Although the biggest story of the final weekend of the season will be whether Golden Boot leader Chris Wondolowski scores the two goals that will give him the single-season goalscoring record in Portland, playoff seeding in the East will also be a major theme after the remaining three berths were clinched.

The key result was D.C. United’s stoppage-time win over the Columbus Crew, which ousted Columbus from the playoff chase and gave a raucous, sold-out RFK Stadium crowd their first postseason berth since 2007. It was arguably the most entertaining match of the season (watch the highlights here). Said manager and former D.C. star Ben Olsen: “It was like the old days.”

Now D.C. United can even talk about the possibility of reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario returning for the postseason: “I would say there is probably a chance," Olsen said. "I don’t know. And I don’t know if anybody knows right now where he’s at. He is progressing quickly."

That Crew loss meant that the Houston Dynamo’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia (watch the highlights here) and the New York Red Bulls’ 0-0 tie against Sporting Kansas City (watch the highlights here) were enough to secure postseason soccer for both clubs.

“That right there is what the postseason will be like,” said Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes, who watched his team receive a dose of their own aggressive, high-energy soccer vs. NY. “I don’t think they wanted any part of us tonight,” said NYRB’s Dax McCarty.

Although rumors are that he may be leaving at season’s end, Hans Backe became the first head coach in New York history to guide the team to three straight playoff appearances.

As far as the Crew are concerned, their offseason kicks off with news about efforts to secure local ownership for the club. See the comments by Commissioner Don Garber in this article.

The last thing a Crew fan wants to read on this Monday is some trash talk from another MLS club owner. Read the twitter response in which Seattle Sounders owner Drew Carey responds to Crew fans who “engaged” him on Twitter.

Real Salt Lake, who learned they will face Seattle in the West semifinals, weren’t in action this weekend as they get set to host Costa Rican side Herediano on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League group finale needing a win to advance to the quarterfinals next year. GM Garth Lagerwey is confident: “I'm not nervous. I think we're a good enough team, capable of winning.”

The playoff-bound Chicago Fire may have some of their fans nervous after a lackluster display in a 1-0 loss to the injury-depleted New England Revolution (watch the highlights here).

In two matches that didn’t impact the playoff race, Toronto FC and Montreal drew 0-0 at BMO Field (watch the highlights here), while the Colorado Rapids handed Chivas USA another loss, 2-0 at the Home Depot Center (watch the highlights here).

Toronto FC fans will still want to watch this TSN interview with manager Paul Mariner in which he talks about whether his three DPs will return in 2013: “Danny [Koevermans] will be back, fully expect Torsten [Frings] to be back and Eric [Hassli] the same,” while also promising: “We’ll be smiling this time next year.” (VIDEO)

There was another sit-down with Montreal boss Jesse Marsch, who plays a “three words or less game” and also talked about the 90 minutes that “it’s draining mentally … my brain is totally exhausted.” (VIDEO)

You probably know all the major results from the top European leagues this weekend, but have you seen this goal scored directly off a corner kick by former Inter Milan ace Álvaro Recoba in Uruguay? (VIDEO)

This morning there’s another piece in the UK about Frank Lampard reportedly seeking a switch to MLS as early as January.

You’ll find yourself rewinding this video a few times: A fan tosses an explosive at a player receiving treatment on the field during the Anorthosis vs. Omonia Nicosia match in Cyprus. A few people wound up on the ground after this one. (VIDEO)

Finally, we’ve got a soccer brawl to show you and this didn’t happen in Europe or South America. Try Minnesota high school soccer section championship game. The play-by-play man says: “I’ve seen a fight or two, but this was the worst.” (VIDEO)

MLSsoccer.com Musts

Greg Lalas and Jonah Freedman break down Western Conference playoff verdicts

Is Jimmy Nielsen really a slam dunk for Goalkeeper of the Year?

Quakes teammates think Wondo will break scoring record in Portland

 


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