and there were plenty of them -- and set up the matchups for the MLS Cup Playoffs and the race toward MLS Cup 2004 at The Home Depot Center on Nov. 14.
The New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes claimed the final two playoff places available in dramatic head-to-head matchups, the Columbus Crew extended their MLS-record unbeaten streak while winning the Supporters Shield for the first time in club history, and the Kansas City Wizards survived a head-to-head test of their own to ensure the top seed in the Western Conference. On the season's final day, D.C. United jumped past the MetroStars into second place in the Eastern Conference in one final face-to-face battle.
Needing a victory to leapfrog the Chicago Fire and claim fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Revolution scored twice in a flurry of three goals in four minutes for a 2-1 victory, eliminating one of last year's MLS Cup finalists from the postseason this year.
The other finalist from MLS Cup 2003, defending champion San Jose Earthquakes, survived a nervy final half-hour as they drew 2-2 with the Dallas Burn, holding onto to fourth place in the Western Conference and consigning the Burn to the history books.
The Kansas City Wizards clinched the top spot in the West with a 1-0 victory at home against second-place Los Angeles Galaxy, and they finished tied for the best record in the league with the Columbus Crew, who drew 1-1 with the Colorado Rapids in Denver. But as the teams also finished tied with the same goal difference, the Crew won their first Supporters Shield after having scored two more goals on the year than Kansas City.
On Sunday, D.C. United claimed home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference semifinal, defeating the MetroStars 3-2 at home to gain a psychological upper hand heading into the series between the teams beginning next week.
At Gillette Stadium, the match sprung to life just after the break. Moments after an apparent Steve Ralston opener was ruled out for offside, Clint Dempsey gave the home side a 55th-minute lead, providing the final touch on a corner kick kept alive when Jay Heaps won a heading duel in the penalty area scrum.
It took the Fire less than a minute to respond, when Nate Jaqua headed home from an Andy Williams corner, but the Revolution answered back less than two minutes later, Ralston finally saw the flag stay down when he finished a wonderfully crafted goal, Jose Cancela chipping a neat ball over the Fire back three for Ralston to sublimely sidefoot home on the volley.
It was the first time in club history the Chicago Fire had failed to reach the MLS playoffs, a year after winning the Eastern Conference and the U.S. Open Cup, and after reaching the Open Cup Final again this year.
At the Cotton Bowl, the Earthquakes were aiming to avoid becoming just the second defending MLS champion not to reach the playoffs the following season.
But needing a victory, the Burn struck first after just 12 minutes, Eddie Johnson pounded home a first-time volley from a Jason Kreis cross from close range after Oscar Pareja had sprung the Burn original with a long ball on the left flank.
Yet the Earthquakes responded with two goals in three minutes from nearly identical plays. After Brian Mullan sent Landon Donovan through to the byeline, the U.S. international cut back a nifty little chip for Brian Ching to head home from inside the six-yard box (34). Then two minutes later, Mullan himself raced to the endline before cutting back a floating chip, Ramiro Corrales heading home at the back post to give San Jose a vital lead.
The home side pulled a goal back just after the hour when Simo Valakari pumped back in a clearance, helped on by Kreis before Pareja turned it home (62).
But despite some close calls over the final minutes, the Earthquakes survived and the Burn failed to reach the postseason in their final season at the Cotton Bowl before moving to Frisco and changing their name to FC Dallas.
At Arrowhead Stadium, the Wizards ensured the road to MLS Cup 2004 will go through Kansas City, riding a Josh Wolff goal and another stout defensive performance to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Wolff's goal midway through the first half came after Jack Jewsbury screwed a defender into the turf before beating Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman with an angled blast -- only for defender Ryan Suarez to clear off the line. But the clearance went only as far as Wolff, who pounded it back home from the edge of the goal area.
The victory pulled the Wizards level with Columbus on 48 points after their 30 games, after the Crew played to a 1-1 draw with the Rapids in Denver.
The goals came on either side of halftime, the visitors taking the lead in the 40th minute when Duncan Oughton turned home a low Danny Szetela cross from the right flank. But Colorado equalized two minutes after the break when Chris Henderson easily converted from the penalty spot after Tony Sanneh had tripped up Alberto Delgado in the Columbus penalty area.
At RFK Stadium, D.C. United grabbed the Atlantic Cup, the East's second seed, and the psychological edge on their I-95 rivals with a compelling victory against the MetroStars. John Wolyniec gave the visitors the lead after just 14 minutes, slipping in to nod home a near-post header after a cross from Eddie Gaven following a long run down the left flank.
But Christian Gomez struck twice within eight minutes before the half was out to give United the lead. First, Ben Olsen cut back a cross that Gomez clinically finished from the heart of the area in the 21st minute, then Jaime Moreno sent in a teasing curling chip from the left than Gomez delicately flicked past Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker.
Yet after the break, MetroStars midfielder Ricardo Clark pegged back United with a stunning strike, a wickedly bending effort from well outside the area that badly beat United 'keeper Nick Rimando (50).
But just 14 minutes later, Mike Petke provided the match-winner, heading home a Freddy Adu corner to give United a huge advantage heading into the semifinal series between the clubs. The Metros played the final 22 minutes a man down after Craig Ziadie was sent off for a second bookable offense.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.