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MLS WEEK 29: Playoff picture clearer, not clear

10/18/2010

With one week -- just nine games -- remaining in Major League Soccer’s regular season, we know all eight playoff teams and which of the eight will be home for the first leg of the home-and-home first round and which will be home for the second leg.

And that’s all we know.

Conference titles, the Supporters’ Shield, which Western Conference teams head to the Eastern bracket and all four first-round matchups won’t be determined until Saturday and maybe not until Sunday.

The season closes with the week’s best showdown, with the Galaxy taking on FC Dallas at Home Depot Center on Sunday at 5 p.m. L.A. and FCD will know by then what is required -- the Galaxy, of course, is looking for the Western title and Supporters’ Shield; the Hoops can finish third or fourth in the West, and neither spot is particularly appetizing.

Better to finish fifth and get slumping Columbus for the first round. But the Crew can still win the East, so sixth in the West could be the desired spot -- only because the Red Bulls, whether they win the East or finish second to the Crew, are clearly the team to beat in the Eastern bracket.

Sound confusing? We’re just getting started.

First off, here are the matchups if the season were to end today:

Western Conference

W1/L.A. Galaxy (17-7-5) vs. W4/Seattle (14-9-6)

W2/Real Salt Lake (15-4-10) vs. W3/FC Dallas (12-3-14)

Eastern Conference

E1/New York (14-9-6) vs. W6/San Jose (12-9-7)

E1/Columbus (13-8-8) vs. W5/Colorado (12-8-9)

Now, the easy stuff. If Real Salt Lake wins Saturday at Colorado, the Galaxy must beat FCD to win the West and the Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record. If RSL ties, L.A. needs at least a tie -- all Western tiebreakers are goal difference, and RSL’s plus-25 is the league’s best by a decent margin. If RSL loses, the Galaxy celebrates before Sunday’s kickoff.

It’s the same situation in the East. If the Red Bulls beat New England on Thursday night (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 4:30 p.m.), they win the conference. If they tie, Columbus can overtake them with a win Sunday. If New York is beaten, Columbus needs only a draw against Philly -- the Crew wins the tiebreaker with two victories against the Bulls.

Seattle can catch FC Dallas only with a win Saturday at Houston and a Galaxy win Sunday night. If they finish even on points -- Sounders win, Hoops tie -- Seattle’s victory has to be by more than 10 goals to catch FCD on difference. That probably would be enough to capture the next tiebreaker, total goals, unless Galaxy-FCD ends up at least 7-7, maybe 8-8, something like that.

It gets far more complicated discerning the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place Western teams. Seattle (48 points, plus-5 difference), Colorado (45, plus-12) and San Jose (43, plus-1, but two games remaining) could finish in any of the slots.

So … who will the Galaxy face in their playoff opener?

The possibilities, in order of probability: Seattle, FC Dallas, San Jose, Colorado.

MCBRIDE’S HOME FINALE: The Chicago Fire honored retiring striker Brian McBride before their 0-0 draw Saturday with D.C. United, then gave him 88 minutes on the field, complete with a fine goal from Bratislav Ristic’s through ball that was -- erroneously, it turned out -- flagged offside.

Most touching was the reception he received when he was subbed off near the end. A standing ovation from the 19,056 at Toyota Park was accompanied by applause and hugs from players on both sides.

“It was tough to remember there was still a game to play,” Fire forward Calen Carr, who replaced McBride, told the league’s website. “Playing with Brian day in and day out has been a really unbelievable experience. To come on for him and to see the fans recognize him and all he’s done for the sport, it was awesome.”

Chicago midfielder Peter Lowry said he told McBride “it was an honor to have played with him, and that I’ve learned a lot from him, and that I hope that he’ll be around and be somebody that can help some of us younger guys. He’s been such a great role model.”

McBride, an iconic figure in American soccer -- a veteran of three World Cups, the 2008 Olympics and among the most prominent U.S. players overseas -- will wrap his pro career when the Fire visits Chivas USA on Saturday night at Home Depot Center.

WORTH NOTING:

  • Seattle’s Steve Zakuani, who scored and assisted goals in the Sounders’ 2-1 win over Chivas USA, clinched a playoff berth for the Quakes. He received our vote.

  • Riverside’s Chad Marshall (Rubidoux HS) scored for Columbus and Orange’s Michael Orozco (Magnolia HS) tallied for Philadelphia.

  • Yorba Linda’s Steven Lenhart (Esperanza HS/Azusa Pacific) was red-carded, along with Toronto FC goalkeeper Jon Conway, for an altercation during Columbus’ 2-2 draw in Canada. The Crew pulled even in stoppage on a strike by goalkeeper Will Hesmer, who roamed into the TFC box for a corner kick.

  • Real Salt Lake’s league-record home unbeaten streak reached 25 games with a 2-0 triumph over FC Dallas. The Hoops’ unbeaten streak ended at 19 games, equaling the regular-season mark set by the Columbus Crew (2004-05) and overall record set by the Galaxy (2009-10).

  • FC Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez, who began his pro career with the Galaxy a dozen years ago, returned from a hamstring injury for the game at RSL. Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman (Palos Verdes Estates/Peninsula HS and UCLA) sat out his fifth straight game with a knee injury.

  • Real Salt Lake has already qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, but it can win Group A with a victory Tuesday night over Mexican league leader Cruz Azul. Columbus might need a win Thursday night at Trinidad & Tobago’s Joe Public to reach the final eight, but the Crew will know what’s required by kickoff. If Mexico’s Santos Laguna beats Guatemala’s Municipal on Tuesday, the Crew advances.

  • The Vancouver Whitecaps, who join MLS next season, were beaten, 2-0, in overtime by the Puerto Rico Islanders in the two-leg semifinals. The Islanders, who eliminated the Galaxy from the CONCACAF Champions League, will meet the Carolina RailHawks in the final, with games Sunday in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and Oct. 30 in Cary, N.C.

THE AGATE:

Past week’s scores (home teams listed first)

Tuesday


Chicago 0, Kansas City 2 (Arnaud 46+, Bunbury 80)

Friday

Seattle 2 (Zakuani 9, Alonso 25), Chivas USA 1 (Padilla 92+)

Saturday

Chicago 0, D.C. United 0

Toronto FC 2 (Maicon Santos 29, Peterson 38), Columbus 2 (Marshall 16, Hesmer 92+)

Philadelphia 2 (Fred 8, Orozco 28), New York 1 (Borman 48)

New England 1 (Joseph 31), Kansas City 0

Real Salt Lake 2 (Grabavoy 59, Morales 89), FC Dallas 0

San Jose 0, Houston 1 (Hainault 23)

L.A. Galaxy 1 (Buddle 9), Colorado 3 (og Buddle 18, Casey 30, Cummings 67)

Standings

Western Conference:
L.A. Galaxy 56 points, Real Salt Lake 55, FC Dallas 50, Seattle Sounders FC 48, Colorado Rapids 45, San Jose Earthquakes 43, Houston 30, Chivas USA 28

Eastern Conference: New York Red Bulls 48 points, Columbus Crew 47, Kansas City Wizards 36, Chicago Fire 33, Toronto FC 32, New England Revolution 32, Philadelphia Union 31, D.C. United 22

Playoff race: 1. L.A. Galaxy 56, 2. Real Salt Lake 55, 3. FC Dallas 50, 4. New York 48, 5. Seattle 48, 6. Columbus 47, 7. Colorado 45, 8. San Jose 43. Note: All have clinched playoff berths

This week's games (all times Pacific)

Wednesday

Chivas USA at San Jose, 7 p.m.

Thursday

New England at New York, 4:30 p.m.

Saturday

Seattle at Houston, 1 p.m.

Toronto FC at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m.

San Jose at Kansas City, 5:30 p.m.

Real Salt Lake at Colorado, 6 p.m.

Chicago at Chivas USA, 8 p.m.

Sunday

Philadelphia at Columbus, 1 p.m.

FC Dallas at L.A. Galaxy, 5 p.m.

Leading goalscorers

1. Edson Buddle (L.A. Galaxy) 17

2. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose) 14

3. Juan Pablo Angel (New York) 13

Omar Cummings (Colorado) 13

Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC) 13

Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia) 13

7. Conor Casey (Colorado) 12

8. Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas) 11

9. Kei Kamara (Kansas City) 10

Fredy Montero (Seattle) 10

Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) 10

Steve Zakuani (Seattle) 10

Assists leaders

1. Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy) 15

2. David Ferreira (FC Dallas) 13

3. Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia) 11

4. Brad Davis (Houston) 10

Fredy Montero (Seattle) 10

Patrick Nyarko (Chicago) 10

7. Bobby Convey (San Jose) 9

Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake) 9

Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus) 9

10. Michael Stephens (L.A. Galaxy) 8

OTHER GAMES

Past week's results (home teams listed first)

Tuesday

Friendly:
United States 0, Colombia 0

Friendly: Seattle 3 (Fucito 5, Jaqua 18, Nyassi 90), Guadalajara (Mexico) 1 (de la Mora 70)

This week's games (all times Pacific)

Tuesday

CONCACAF Champions League:
Arabe Unido (Panama) at Toronto FC, 5 p.m.

CONCACAF Champions League: Cruz Azul (Mexico) at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m.

CONCACAF Champions League: Saprissa (Costa Rica) at Seattle, 7 p.m.

Thursday

CONCACAF Champions League:
Columbus at Joe Public FC (Trinidad & Tobago), 5 p.m.