With the playoff race nearing its conclusion, there’s one question on everyone’s lips: Who will grab that final wild card playoff spot?
But here’s perhaps the better question: Who will give it away?
Many teams have capitulated and pressed the self-destruct button down the stretch since the league’s inaugural year in 1996. The New York Red Bulls are extremely close to joining that list, after losing just twice in the first 15 games and being considered early season favorites to reach the MLS Cup.
With the Red Bulls teetering on the edge of the playoffs, this week’s Three For Thursday looks back at three sides that faded badly at the business end of the season, and missed out on the playoffs in the final game of their respective seasons.
3. Toronto FC, 2009
TFC were steady throughout the majority of the 2009 season, and that consistency had their fans harboring hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. But they won just four of their final 15 league games, leaving them with a decisive game in the season finale against New York.
Toronto had already beaten the Red Bulls twice that season, but the writing was on the wall early at Giants Stadium. Macoumba Kandji scored in the third minute to spark a 5-0 romp for New York, giving the Red Bulls just their fifth win of the season and knock TFC out of the running.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, scooped up the last playoff spot on the final day of the season and went on to win the MLS Cup.
2. D.C. United, 2008
Is a pattern emerging here? Like TFC, D.C. United also recorded just four wins from their final 15 encounters, to miss out on the playoffs and record their worst MLS finish since 2002.
Their leaky defense, which allowed 51 goals in 2008 (only the LA Galaxy let in more, at 62), was the crux of the problem for D.C. Then-head coach Tom Soehn saw his side lose five of their last eight games, slipping out of the playoff picture in the process.
D.C. eventually ended up in 10th place overall, yet they did manage to salvage some pride from the campaign. They lifted the US Open Cup, beating the USL’s Charleston Battery 2-1 in the final, to help soften the blow of 2008’s steady decline out of the playoff picture.
1. Kansas City, 2005
The Wizards moved over to the Eastern Conference in 2005 and, for large chunks of the campaign, they were right up there with the conference frontrunners. Qualification for the 2005 MLS Cup playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion, especially after a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Fire on Aug. 19, their fourth straight win.
But then their season unraveled before their very eyes. They picked up just four points and no wins from their final eight games.
Yet, remarkably, they almost pulled off a monumental comeback on the final day. Trailing 2-0 to Dallas with 13 minutes to go, KC scored twice, including a 90th-minute equalizer from star Preki. One more goal would have sealed a playoff berth, but it was not to be.