The start of the MLS postseason is still several weeks away, but don’t tell that to the Columbus Crew. They’ve been playing do-or-die, playoff-like games for three weeks now – and they’re still alive.
Indeed, a postseason-style buzz hummed through the entire slate in Week 31. Because while Colorado had this round off, and cellar dwellers Toronto FC and D.C. United played what amounted to an exhibition match (with D.C. resting most of their first-choice players ahead of Tuesday’s US Open Cup final), every other team in MLS played in important, playoff-leveraging games this week.
There were huge opportunities missed, and important results obtained. So which team locked down the biggest result, and who had the worst case of the yips?
Let’s take a look:
Home teams went an unexpectedly poor 2-4-3 this week, yielding several contenders for this dubious honor.
In Chicago, the Fire were leading Montreal 2-1 in the 79th minute, when attacker Mike Magee, who had scored Chicago’s two goals, stepped up to take a penalty kick.
It may have been the most freighted spot kick of the year: If he buried it, Magee would have had a hat trick, and he would have likely salted away the game for Chicago, putting his team above the now-glowing red line, and doing wonders for his MVP candidacy, as the pivotal strike would have been his 19th goal of the season, tied with Montreal’ s Marco Di Vaio for the league lead.
Maybe all of that flashed across his mind as he approached the ball. Who knows, but Magee bashed his penalty off the crossbar, keeping Chicago’s lead at 2-1 and leaving the door open for Montreal youngster Maxim Tissot to tie the game with an 87th-minute header.
The Fire are now in eighth place, two points out of the playoffs with four games to go.
Magee may be thinking about that miss for some time to come, but he did score the Fire’s two goals and his team at least got a point out of the game against a difficult, hungry opponent.
FC Dallas can make no such claims. Schellas Hyndman’s men hosted the streaking Columbus Crew on Sunday night, desperately needing a win to stop a two-game losing skid and keep the Western Conference red line within striking distance.
How did FCD respond to the challenge?
They gave up two goals in the first 17 minutes and eventually fell 4-2. Afterward, Hyndman said his side was “deserving” of the boos that sounded down from the Toyota Stadium stands.
If FC Dallas earned a chorus of boos, then the Vancouver Whitecaps deserved a symphony of them, accented with Bronx-cheer raspberries.
Martin Rennie’s men took on a Real Salt Lake side resting the bulk of their first-choice players to keep them fresh for Tuesday’s US Open Cup final clash against D.C. United.
Playing at home, against a reserve-heavy side, with their playoff lives flashing before their eyes, Vancouver … produced one shot on goal and lost 1-0.
Rennie said it was a “terrible performance,” using the phrase twice, and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker described the game against a team of reserves as “a banana skin.”
He may be right, and Vancouver, having slipped on it, are currently aloft, limbs flailing, with a good chance of being out of the playoff places when they finally land on their collective keyster.
Preparation Meeting Opportunity
While those three – and to a lesser extent New England, who coughed up a 1-0 lead at home, tying Houston 1-1 – stumbled and left valuable points on the table, a handful of other teams came through with important late-season performances.
New York scraped out a 1-1 draw at Seattle that may have been as satisfying to Red Bulls fans as the Breaking Bad finale.
Playing without Thierry Henry, Jamison Olave, and Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Petke’s men got a late equalizer from Tim Cahill to leave arguably the toughest venue in the league with a point and stay on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings.
In similarly rainy conditions in Portland, the Timbers held off an early onslaught from the LA Galaxy and rode new acquisition Maximiliano Urruti’s first MLS goal to a 1-0 win over the defending champs.
LA claimed to have been unfairly denied a stoppage-time equalizer, but replays showed that Robbie Keane was offside when he headed in Landon Donovan’s free kick.
Portland forced two fine saves from LA keeper Jaime Penedo – including a spectacular one on Rodney Wallace in the 57th minute – and held Keane and Donovan in check for most of the game, prompting Timbers coach Caleb Porter to say afterward that his group believes they “can do something special.”
Philadelphia and San Jose didn’t necessarily play like teams capable of doing something special, but they did boost their playoff hopes with massive road wins this week.
The Union were outshot 19-8, and only had 38 percent of the possession in Kansas City on Friday night, but they got a scrappy goal from Conor Casey 36 minutes in, and made it stand up for three points that edged them into the playoff places in the East.
San Jose overcame a disallowed goal and an 81st-minute red card to Steven Lenhart to nip Chivas USA 1-0 on the road. Chris Wondolowski pounced on a soft rebound from Chivas 'keeper Dan Kennedy in the 87th minute to score the dramatic winner that pulled the Quakes to within a point of the fifth and final playoff berth in the West.
For the Crew, simply reaching the playoffs would be something special, considering where they were three weeks ago. Their 4-2 romp over Dallas was the clutch result of the week (among many) and pulled them, too, within a point of the red line.
If they can sneak over that marker, with the fuel-injected Dominic Oduro and team catalyst Federico Higuain leading the way, they’ll be a team no one will relish facing in the postseason.