It’s getting colder out there, and the clammy fingers of reality are closing in on this season’s also-rans.
Yankee Stadium has always been a miserable place for D.C. United – they’ve never once tasted victory there in more than half a decade of trying – and the Black-and-Red just endured their most nightmarish chapter of all, a hiding that knocks them out of the Eastern Conference’s Audi MLS Cup Playoff places for the first time in nearly three months, and at the hands of a previously ice-cold NYCFC.
That 6-0 loss is not only the worst league result in their long, proud history, leading esteemed Washington Post scribe Steven Goff to compare the performance to an Under-8 team’s. It was a display so woeful, so destabilizing that it threatens to sink their entire year, especially arriving atop an 0W-2L-1D October swoon.
Almost everyone gets taken to the woodshed now and then. But that one could easily have ended 10-0 and now Hernan Losada & Co. require an immediate turnaround of at least two wins in their final three games if they are to taste the postseason.
On Saturday night, the San Jose Earthquakes reunited and honored their 2001 team in a warm and moving commemoration of their underdog MLS Cup triumph 20 years ago. That side, full of big characters and clutch performers, is widely credited with literally saving the existence of the club at a juncture where the league shuttered two of its other sides.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to inspire the current squad to the necessary three points against Vancouver. The Whitecaps shrugged off the Quakes’ rugged physicality and rode Bruno Gaspar’s opener to a 1-1 road point that extends their startling hot streak under interim boss Vanni Sartini and keeps the playoffs a very reachable outcome for a team that looked dead and buried a few months ago.
Former Quake defender Florian Jungwirth was in spirited and occasionally spiteful form as he anchored the visitors’ resistance, even engaging in some handbags with wunderkind Cade Cowell, a walking reminder of the edge San Jose have lacked in Year No. 3 under Matias Almeyda. The Quakes aren’t officially eliminated from Western Conference playoff contention but this was essentially a nail in the coffin just the same.
This is peak spoiler season, and no one did it better this Saturday than Chicago Fire FC. Welcoming their biggest crowd of the season for their final 2021 home game at Soldier Field, they treated them to a blue-collar 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, landing a blow to the Utahns’ postseason outlook on the back of their impressive 17-year-old homegrown goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, who’s already racking up clean sheets in the dawning days of his first-team career and shows how much potential previous regimes were writing off with their marginalization of the academy.
This win was more than just late consolation for a struggling side that long ago had to write off the current campaign. The 31,038 souls who warmed up a chilly night along Lake Michigan gave us a captivating snapshot of what a successful realization of Fire owner Joe Mansueto’s vision of CF97 renewal at their original home might look like. Even if the jury’s still out on the Fire’s near future, this was truly one to cherish.
Colorado Rapids 2, Portland Timbers 0
Congratulations are due to the Colorado Rapids, officially back in the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second straight year after their emphatic 2-0 home win over the fading Portland Timbers. With their frustrating results against Seattle and Sporting KC, the Mile High Club hadn’t yet booked a statement win over a truly elite opponent, but this one was not too far off. A club that many MLS observers have grown much too comfortable ignoring looks like a very tough out in the West bracket.
Columbus Crew 1, New York Red Bulls 2
The New York Red Bulls own a very impressive postseason streak of their own, having taken part in every edition since 2009. That tradition has appeared doomed for long stretches of 2021 but like the Whitecaps, RBNY have arisen like Lazarus and are on course to sneak into one of the East’s final spots after a tight road win in Columbus that just about does in the Crew’s ailing MLS Cup title defense.
LA Galaxy 2, FC Dallas 2
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Sebastian Lletget did some lifesaving of their own at Dignity Health Sports Park, spearheading the LA Galaxy's second-half rally from a 2-0 deficit to already-eliminated FC Dallas with two huge goals. Chicharito also had a trademark poacher’s finish waved off. Year No. 1 of Greg Vanney’s SoCal project has been a little chaotic and they shouldn’t inspire too much confidence among the wagering public. But like Chicha lurking in the goalmouth, they’re hanging around in places where good things can happen.
Toronto FC 1, CF Montréal 1
Jozy Altidore, Montréal’s new mayor. Well, OK, technically that’s not accurate, but he’s just about earned the keys to the city with his heartlessly prolific scoring, and trolling, of CF Montréal over the years. Saturday brought a memorable installment, as he bamboozled goalkeeper James Pantemis with a seeing-eye free kick from range at BMO Field – a 95th-minute equalizer that lands a hammer blow to CFM’s playoff prospects. It’s been another year lost to injury for Jozy, yet there’s clearly still some sting left in the Toronto FC striker’s tail.