MLS Week 16 in review

and the Eastern Conference race didn't change a bit, as all five teams played to draws at the weekend. Yet in the Western Conference, things got ever tighter between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Kansas City Wizards as those teams prepare for a titanic clash just before All-Star break.

Two all-Eastern battles Saturday ended in 1-1 draws, one between the Chicago Fire and the MetroStars at Soldier Field, and one between the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution at Crew Stadium.

The fifth Eastern Conference team, D.C. United, played to a 1-1 home draw with the Galaxy, who saw their lead in the Western Conference cut to one point by the Wizards, who defeated the Dallas Burn 1-0. Also on Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes shook off a disappointing first half of their season with a dominant performance in a 3-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids behind two goals from Brian Ching.

At Soldier Field, a late penalty kick ensured the MetroStars would get a result, but both they and the Fire saw their struggles prolonged as coach Bob Bradley was forced to wait for his 100th career league victory in MLS.

Damani Ralph got on the end of a long ball played over the MetroStars back four, coolly rounding 'keeper Jonny Walker before tapping into an empty net to give the Fire a 13th-minute lead. But six minutes from time, a John Wolyniec cross was ruled to have hit the arm of Fire defender C.J. Brown, and despite vociferous protests, referee Baldomero Toledo awarded the penalty.

Amado Guevara converted from the spot to extend the Fire's current winless run to six games, but the MetroStars were unable to defeat Chicago for the ninth consecutive league contest and 10 games in all competitions.

At Crew Stadium, the Revolution extended their unbeaten run to three games, but they could not climb out of the East cellar as the Crew grabbed a 1-1 draw at home.

Clint Dempsey gave the visitors a deserved lead when he brought down a terrific early cross from Richie Baker and prodded the ball home from close range (31). But a well-worked move just before halftime pulled the Crew level, Jeff Cunningham slipping through a perfect pass for Kyle Martino to run onto, rolling an angled shot inside the far post.

At RFK Stadium, the Galaxy were also the recipients of a controversial penalty, earning a 1-1 draw with D.C. United in the second game of their four-game road swing to run their unbeaten run to five games.

Ryan Nelsen gave the home side the lead in first-half stoppage time, on the spot to tap home from close range after a Dema Kovalenko cross came off Jaime Moreno as he challenged for a header in the box.

But in the 66th minute, Carlos Ruiz saw a first shot blocked by United 'keeper Troy Perkins. The rebound hit a sliding Brandon Prideaux, but referee Kevin Stott pointed to the spot after he ruled the contact was with Prideaux's arm. Ruiz knocked home the spot kick to retake the league lead with 10 goals.

At midweek, the Galaxy began their road trip with a scoreless draw against the Rapids in Denver. Each goalkeeper stood tall for a half in keeping honors even as the teams concluded a home-and-home series.

Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon twice stopped Ruiz in the first half as the Galaxy owned the opening 45 minutes. But it was Los Angeles 'keeper Kevin Hartman's turn after the break, making a remarkable stop on a diving header from Mark Chung 16 minutes from time before he was then bailed out by the woodwork in added time after fluffing a punch on a flighted free kick.

The two points from the week were barely enough for the Galaxy to stay ahead of the Wizards, who defeated the Dallas Burn 1-0 at the Cotton Bowl. Diego Gutierrez coolly finished off a lightning-quick counterattack that went from box to box in three passes (42), Josh Wolff selling a perfect dummy on a Chris Klein cross to allow the pass to reach Gutierrez in the heart of the box.

The Wizards then survived a nervy final quarter-hour when Shavar Thomas was sent off for a second bookable offense, but came away with the full three points to set up next Saturday's showdown in Kansas City.

Earlier on Saturday, the Earthquakes put together their finest performance of the season -- with something close to a first-choice team for the first time in months -- in a 3-1 victory against the Rapids.

A surgical passing movement set up the Quakes' and Ching's first, ripping home a perfectly-weighted through ball from Ronnie Ekelund from just inside the area (22).

The Quakes then scored twice in five minutes after the break to put away the match. Ching grabbed his second when he tapped in from almost on the goal line after a wild sequence that saw Landon Donovan stopped twice in short order, first by Joe Cannon, then by the post. But Donovan found Ramiro Corrales for a third bite at the cherry, and he drove a low cross through a host of Rapids defenders to find Ching (50). Donovan then hit for the third, drilling home first-time a Brian Mullan cross whipped in from the right flank.

Seth Trembly pulled back a consolation goal for the Rapids seven minutes from the final whistle when he hammered home a shot from all of 25 yards past Quakes 'keeper Pat Onstad.

Also at midweek, the Revolution got Taylor Twellman back and came away with a 3-1 come-from-behind victory against the Fire in the return match of their home-and-home series. Twellman ended the longest personal goalless drought of his career, but then was sent off at the end of the match to again force him to the sidelines.

Andy Williams gave the Fire the lead just before the half with a wonderful strike from just inside the penalty area, but the Revolution took control with a three-goal blitz after the break. Dempsey headed home a pinpoint cross from Baker two minutes into the half to equalize, then four minutes later Twellman played a neat 1-2 with Dempsey before lashing home a cross shot from the right side of the area.

Twellman then had the easiest of finishes on a corner after Brian Kamler's flick-on from the near post found the striker all alone at the back stick. But he was sent off in the 90th minute by referee Prus for a hard tackle from behind in midfield on Williams. The Fire were left a man down themselves barely a minute later when rookie Scott Buete was booked for the second time.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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