CHIVAS USA: Postseason won't come easy
August, 28, 2011
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
CARSON -- Chivas USA's playoff aspirations seem to be going nowhere at the moment, with only one win in the last six games (just three in the last 14) and back-to-back 1-0 losses to Portland and Real Salt Lake -- games in which perhaps more was deserved.
The Goats have made a habit of dropping points all season, and Saturday night's defeat to the Utahns at Home Depot Center left them with a 7-10-10 record, in seventh place in the Western Conference, 12th overall, and with an increasingly treacherous path to one of Major League Soccer's 10 postseason berths.
The task appears daunting, not that Chivas sees it that way.
“It's still within our ability to make it if we do the things we need to do,” said coach Robin Fraser, whose team has only seven games to play and the lowest points ceiling of the seven clubs battling for the final four playoff spots. “We have to play better. We have to be more dangerous.”
The top three clubs in the West and the top three in the East will be joined in the postseason by four wild-card teams, who will meet in two single-game meetings for a berth opposite the conference champs. If Chivas makes it, it almost certainly will be as a wild-card team.
The Galaxy, Seattle and FC Dallas appear certain for the playoffs, although none have yet clinched spots. Colorado, Eastern leader Columbus and Real Salt Lake also are well on their way.
The clubs sitting seventh through 13th in the overall table are fighting for the other four berths, with two of them going to the second- and third-place teams in the East. The bottom five clubs are still, officially, in the race -- if any of them are going to truly contend, Chicago seems likeliest.
The primary contenders for the four berths, and what's facing each:
7. SPORTING KANSAS CITY 36 points
8 games remaining (60 maximum points), home/away: 5/3; vs. top six: 3; vs. other contenders: 4
Ex-Wizards' 10-game road start pays dividends here, and road games include D.C. and San Jose
8. HOUSTON DYNAMO 35
7 (56), home/away: 3/4; vs. top six: 3; vs. other contenders: 2
Home games against San Jose and Chicago could get make the difference
9. PHILADELPHIA UNION 34
10 (64), home/away: 5/5; vs. top six: 3; vs. other contenders: 5
Four of the next six at home, with must-wins vs. New England, Portland and D.C.
10. NEW YORK RED BULLS 32
8 (56), home/away: 5/3; vs. top six: 3; vs. other contenders: 3
Home slate will be a help, even with Real Salt Lake and Galaxy among the visitors
11. PORTLAND TIMBERS 32
8 (56), home/away: 4/4; vs. top six: 1; vs. other contenders: 4
Lumbermen tough to beat at home, and New England, San Jose and Vancouver have visits to make
12. CHIVAS USA 31
7 (52), home/away: 4/3; vs. top six: 2; vs. other contenders: 3
Home-and-home with D.C. is critical; so is accumulating points before Galaxy/Seattle finish
13. D.C. UNITED 31
10 (61), home/away: 6/4; vs. top six: 2; vs. other contenders: 6
Twenty-four points available at RFK, finishing with Vancouver/Chicago/K.C.
If Chivas misses the playoffs, as it did last year for the first time since the inaugural 2005 season, blame a two-month, 12-game stretch in which 15 points were lost when late goals were conceded (in losses to Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia and a draw at Sporting K.C.) or the Goats failed to hold onto leads (in ties with Colorado and Vancouver and a loss at Houston).
“We talked about early in the year, that dropping games comes back to haunt you,” defender Heath Pearce said after Saturday's defeat. “Had we not dropped some of the results that we've had this year, maybe three or four other results, we've got six or eight more points. But that's in the past. And it does come back to haunt you.
“Now we can focus on our last seven games. There's 21 points available, and 21 points definitely get you into the playoffs.”
The number required has been estimated this season anywhere from 45 to 53. The Goats can get to 52, no higher, and would need some combination of wins and ties adding to 14 points to hit 45.
“I think we need to find a way to get four wins,” goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said. “Very doable. September is going to be a very important month for us.”
The Goats have four games next month, all winnable: Sept. 10 at home against D.C. United (7-7-10), Sept. 17 at Chicago, Sept. 21 at D.C. and Sept. 24 at home against Toronto FC. They close with games at HDC against Philadelphia, the Galaxy and Seattle.
Their ceiling -- the maximum points possible -- is by far the lowest of the seven contenders, and Chicago and San Jose aren't far behind. Having fewer games than all but one of its contenders, and three fewer than D.C., is Chivas' biggest roadblock.
That and form. Chivas is winless in its last four games and has been shut out five times in the last eight. It's going nowhere unless it starts winning.
“We're not doing ourselves any favors,” defender Ante Jazic acknowledged. “We have a lot of home games left, a lot of games against teams that are competing to get into the playoffs. We still hold our fate in our own hands, but we have to start picking up points soon. That's for sure.”