Monday Postgame: Summer signings that changed the MLS playoff race – and the big bust (so far)

Gabriel Torres, Monday Postgame

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USA Today Sports

New York Red Bulls attacker Tim Cahill added new meaning to the phrase “playoff-like urgency” this weekend, smashing a half-volley past Houston keeper Tally Hall just eight seconds into their match at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday.

The Australian international’s audacious strike, a new MLS record for fastest goal, effectively took the game by the throat for New York, who went on to win 3-0 and climbed back on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings to stay on track for the playoff home-field advantage that comes with the Shield.

That kind of approach prevailed throughout the slate as teams played wide-open, end-to-end games, trading attacks on goal like haymakers as they fought for their postseason lives.

When the swinging stopped, the Western Conference playoff field was set (barring a 13-goal outburst from sixth-place San Jose next week), and three spots were open in the East, with five teams still alive for them.

There were huge contributions from season-long stars such as Cahill – and Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee, the league’s co-leading scorers, who each scored crucial goals in must-win games for their teams on this second-to-last round of the season.

But equally notable were all the star turns by late-season signings to MLS, the crop of players acquired during the summer transfer window, which is shaping up to be one of the more successful ones in recent memory.

Which team has gotten the most out of their summer signings?

Let’s take a look:

Statement Game, II

Before New York, and Cahill, sent a message that they were serious not only about winning on Sunday, but also about winning the Shield and the MLS Cup, the Colorado Rapids drew up a statement of their own on Saturday.

Facing Vancouver in what was essentially a first-leg playoff game (and a do-or-die affair for the Whitecaps), the Rapids kept their composure, rallied from a 1-0 deficit and eventually got a sensational 77th-minute strike to win 3-2.

That golazo came off the foot of summer signing Gabriel Torres, the first Designated Player in franchise history, who also scored the Rapids’ opener from the PK spot. The young Panamanian is definitely earning his keep, and not just by finding the back of the net. He also added plenty of skill and possession up top for Colorado in a man-of-the-match performance on Saturday.

READ: Torres shakes off World Cup heartbreak to deliver for Rapids

Torres’ fellow summer signing, Uruguayan striker Vicente Sanchez, is also turning out to be a canny acquisition by the Raps. He was solid on Saturday and has produced a goal and four assists in seven starts since joining the team in August.

The duo has added depth and skill to Colorado’s already talented roster, which includes an intriguing mix of youth and experience as well as speed and skill. They’re all but mathematically in the playoffs and they’ll be a stiff challenge for any opponent they meet.

Backstop

Just for the record, veteran Serie A and English Premier League goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini is still with the LA Galaxy.

But it’s understandable if you’ve forgotten all about him. He hasn’t appeared for the team since conceding three goals in a draw against Dallas on August 11, one week before Panamanian summer signing Jaime Penedo made his first start, in a 4-2 LA win over Real Salt Lake.

Since then, Penedo has appeared in more highlight clips than hip-hop hobbyist Steve Zakuani: He’s made eight starts, won two Save of the Week awards – one of which is the odds-on favorite for Save of the Year – and gone 4-1-3 between the pipes.

Did we say two Save of the Week awards? You can pencil him in for a third after this week’s full-stretch fingertip denial of a Steven Lenhart header that had been postmarked for the far side netting. That stop preserved a 0-0 tie in a game that clinched a playoff berth for the Galaxy while ending the Quakes postseason hopes.

Penedo has been nothing short of spectacular, and he’s shored up a problem area for the defending champs.

Key Parts

Numerous other summer signings have chipped in at key moments for their teams.

Argentine midfielder Hernan Bernardello, when healthy, has brought an upgrade to Montreal’s midfield, and the Impact will look to rely on him for possession and playmaking in the postseason, should they qualify.

Chicago’s transfer-window haul of Ecuadorian striker Juan Luis Anangano and Uruguayan midfielder Arevalo Rios is also panning out. Anangano has two goals and an assist in eight starts, and has looked increasingly dangerous. He stung the crossbar and the post in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Toronto.

As for Rios, he played in World Cup qualifiers with Uruguay on Oct .11 and 15, then slotted right back into the Fire’s starting lineup on Saturday.

Brazilian Fabinho has thrived in Philadelphia, playing in defense and midfield and scoring a big goal in Saturday’s do-or-die tilt vs. Montreal.

The Red Bulls have been uncharacteristically successful with their summer pickups, as Bradley Wright-Phillips has proved a capable target forward and Ibrahim Sekagya has been useful in midfield and central defense. Both players scored their first MLS goals in Sunday’s romp over Houston.

Rounding out the solid pickups is Clarence Goodson, who’s been steady in the back for San Jose, and was excellent in Sunday’s scoreless draw against the LA Galaxy.

Putting the Bust in Blockbuster?

It’s not quite fair to call Clint Dempsey – by far the biggest signing of the summer transfer window – a bust, but he and his team are clearly struggling, and the frustration is starting to show.

On Saturday, the Sounders lost their fourth straight game and Dempsey went toe-to-toe (and forehead-to-forehead) with FCD’s Jackson after the Dallas midfielder tripped him and he retaliated with a kick.

But Dempsey, who played with a banged-up shoulder, should have had an assist after he sent Brad Evans in alone on goal with a perfectly weighted through ball, and Seattle, despite going winless in their past six games, backed into the playoffs after San Jose failed to beat Los Angeles.

They’ve got their work cut out for them, but they should have Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins back from injury soon, and now they have a second season to try to turn things around.