Monday Postgame: Another weekend, more shuffling as the MLS Cup Playoff race remains convoluted
Week 32 injected a little bit of air into the vacuum-packed MLS standings. At the top, the New York Red Bulls clinched a playoff berth, while stragglers Columbus, Vancouver and FC Dallas all drifted perilously off the pace.
None of those three were mathematically eliminated, but all dropped points in a week in which points were at a premium, and players responded in kind with clutch performances, terrific goals and astounding saves.
A league icon made history, a rookie broke out in the shock result of the week and three goalkeepers came up huge to boost their teams. Indeed, so many players stood tall in this round, there may not be room for all of them on the Player of the Week ballot.
Let’s take a look at the many Week 32 standouts, in ascending order:
Don’t look now, but the Houston Dynamo are putting together their seemingly annual late-season push. Dominic Kinnear’s men are unbeaten in their last four – a run that has, not coincidentally, dovetailed with the return of Ricardo Clark and Boniek Garcia. Both were key to Friday night’s victory, a 1-0 squeaker over Montreal, who haven’t won in four games and dropped to fourth in the East with this latest defeat.
Clark got the game’s only goal six minutes in – bending a shot into the corner from the top of the box – and Garcia was involved in the buildup, nabbing a secondary assist.
In Columbus, Sporting Kansas City edged the Crew by the same score, throwing cold water on the hosts’ playoff hopes. The star of that one was center back Ike Opara, who scored a goal, had one debatably disallowed and played solid D alongside Matt Besler on the SKC backline, which held the Crew to just one shot on goal.
Dallas also had their postseason hopes doused as they failed to take three points against a Real Salt Lake side that played for 73 minutes with 10 men. RSL’s Alvaro Saborio scored his team’s goal and did crucial work up top as a lone striker in a 1-1 tie that left FCD seven points out of contention with three games to go.
The most unlikely standout of the weekend was Philadelphia’s Designated Player Kleberson, who had seen a total of just 10 minutes of action in the Union’s past 16 games. But in the fifth minute of stoppage time against Toronto FC on Saturday night, the Brazilian World Cup veteran pumped in a free kick from 30 yards to give his team a dramatic 1-0 win.
Philadelphia were playing with 10 men at the time, and defender Sheanon Williams called Kleberson’s lightning-bolt game-winner, which put the Union back into the playoff places, “one of the best moments in franchise history.”
Middle of the Pack
More late drama unfolded at Red Bull Arena, where goalkeeper Luis Robles and midfielder Tim Cahill helped New York emerge from a chaotic finish against New England with a playoff berth in hand.
Robles made two tremendous point-blank saves, and Cahill – a dogged midfield presence all night despite being less than 100 percent healthy – tied the game at 2-2 with an incredibly clutch and well-placed 97th-minute header.
Topping Robles’s display between the pipes was Chicago’s Sean Johnson, who made eight saves in the Fire’s big 3-0 win over D.C. United on Friday night, preserving the somewhat flattering scoreline for Chicago, who were outshot 19-13.
Like Dallas, Vancouver found themselves in dire straits after a tie this week. But unlike FCD, the 'Caps didn’t land there without a fight. Vancouver battled back against a full-strength Portland side not once but twice in a sensational match at BC Place.
The Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe opened the scoring with a 35-yard golazo just before halftime. Camilo equalized with a deflected free kick in the 76th minute, but before the Vancouver fans could finish celebrating, Will Johnson put Portland back on top (with an assist from Nagbe).
But just one minute after that, Camilo struck again, this time on a gorgeous, flying scissor kick into the lower right corner from 15 yards.
It was a Goal of the Year candidate, and it inspired Vancouver to push furiously for the winner. They nearly got it in stoppage time when youngster Kekuta Manneh volleyed a high, lofted rebound from just outside the box.
His perfectly struck shot (degree of difficulty: considerable) was postmarked for the far corner – until Portland keeper Donovan Ricketts sailed across the goalmouth and somehow pawed it out. It was a sensational save, and it wasn’t the only one for Ricketts on the night. The rangy Jamaican made five other stops in the game, including a terrific double save in the 75th minute, and a stoppage-time denial of Y.P. Lee.
While Camilo and Ricketts helped provide the round’s most entertaining game, a slew of impact performers, led by rookie Deshorn Brown, produced the most surprising result of the week at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids blitzed Supporters’ Shield contenders Seattle 5-1.
Brown started the rout with the second-fastest goal in league history, latching onto a pass in the box from Panamanian international Gabriel Torres and slipping it past Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning just 14 seconds into the game.
Brown’s fellow rookie Dillon Powers would add a 10th-minute header before setting up Brown’s second to make it 3-0. Defender Drew Moor and Torres each scored later to complete the rout, and summer signing Vicente Sanchez finished with two assists.
The week’s other thumping took place at the StubHub Center, where the LA Galaxy trounced their co-tenants and alleged rivals Chivas USA, 5-0, behind two goals from Robbie Keane, a goal and an assist from rookie Gyasi Zardes and two goals and an assist from Landon Donovan, who made history along with arguably the biggest impact of Week 32.
Donovan’s first strike, an easy tap-in of a Zardes cross, tied him with D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno for second place on the all-time goals list.
His second one, a beautifully executed lob over Goats keeper Dan Kennedy, pulled him even with Jeff Cunningham, Major League Soccer’s career leading scorer. Look for Donovan to take sole possession of that title in the next few weeks.