depending on which side you're on -- that we don't quite understand. But really, it's simple: Some players play better when everything's on the line; some don't. And ultimately, the results tell the true truth: One team wins and one team loses, even if both teams tie.
Don't get me wrong, there are intangibles and hints and allegation. And it's these that have me predicting in the MetroStars's favor. In this case, the intangible is tangible: It's Josh Wolff's son.
Last weekend in Kansas City, after the Wizards blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with New England, Josh Wolff seemed at his wits' end. I interviewed him right after the game for the television. During the entire interview, he cradled his son in his arms. The kid acted, well, like a kid: comfortable in his father's arms, distracted by the goings-on in the fast-emptying stadium, totally oblivious to the vortex his father was spinning down. It was a Goya scene, the perfect depiction of the moment: Life goes on even when the ship is sinking. And it said all I need to know about where the Wizards are.
"Too familiar, too many times we've given points away," Wolff said, shrugging and smiling the despairing smile of a chess master who suddenly envisions his king's fall 10 moves down the road.
Now, none of this is a knock on Wolff himself. I think he's a fantastic player and, for my money, the starting striker on the U.S. national team alongside Brian McBride (another article, another time). But the solace he found in his son that chilly night in K.C. showed me that the frustration has finally gotten to him and his team. And understandably so.
After enjoying an August as hot on the field as it was on the thermometer, Kansas City is slouching toward the playoffs. They've now gone winless in seven games and turned this year's playoff chase into something as absurdly unpredictable as an Elmer Fudd rabbit hunt. Blowing leads, giving up late goals -- they're doing everything in their power to hand the MetroStars the final playoff spot.
The MetroStars, on the other hand, are doing just about everything right. Ripped apart by D.C. United just two weeks ago, the Metros exacted revenge last weekend with a surprising 2-1 upset in the nation's capital. Three huge points. HUGE! Since taking over the coaching reins, Big Mo has the Metros rolling, or at least what constitutes for rolling in MetroLand -- four points from two away matches heading into the curtain call in Los Angeles against Chivas USA.
So do you have goosebumps yet? A couple of middling teams, one nosediving, one ascending, both scuffling for that final spot. Does it get any better? Nope. It's like those awesome flying-fist undercard bouts where two tattooed punks lay into each other like drunks outside a honkytonk. Oftentimes more entertaining than watching two heavyweight galoots lumber around the ring like elephants. And think, it only took six-and-a-half months, 31 games, countless pairs of cleats, sprained ankles, bruised shins, bumps, nicks, and stingers, to reach this point. One game. Ninety minutes. Playoff game or tee time?
But before you bet the house on Youri Djorkaeff and the boys, know this: History has never been nice to the MetroStars come crunch time. In the past six years, the MetroStars have won only one of their last regular season matches, and that one came during the 9/11-shortened 2001 season, so it wasn't even the club's real scheduled last game.
And even if Jason Hernandez looks like the second coming of Alessandro Costacurta (look him up), I wouldn't trust that MetroStars backline to stop my shower. Especially against an attack-first Chivas USA side that would like nothing more than to play spoiler, grab another win, and catch Real Salt Lake for fifth place in the West. (Fifth place, as in not last place. Woohoo!)
Furthermore, Ante Razov hasn't scored since Sept. 3. If it weren't for Djorkaeff, Eddie Gaven, and Mike Magee, the Metros would've been out of it as early as Chivas was.
Now that I think about it, I don't like the MetroStars chances after all. Especially considering Josh Wolff did his post-game interview last weekend while holding his son in his hands. Is there any greater motivation than family when it comes to this game?
I've staggered myself into yet another contradiction. Phew. I wouldn't have it any other way. That's what's exciting about a playoff hunt, it's unpredictable, uncertain, and undeniably fun. And there is only one true truth: One team wins, one team loses, even if both teams tie.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.