Until it cleared up so nicely on Saturday, Major League Soccer’s playoff scenarios were complicated, to be sure. The Galaxy might have ended up with a first-round series with Colorado or San Jose or FC Dallas; that they’ll face Seattle is fine with them.
Not that it’s perfect.
“Seattle’s not going to be easy. It never is,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after Sunday’s victory over FC Dallas set up encounters with the Sounders on Sunday in Seattle and Nov. 7 at Home Depot Center. “But I think the choices were … what were the choices? I think they were Dallas … none of the choices were real good, to be honest. I wouldn’t want to be going into Dallas either.
“I do prefer going to Seattle than going into altitude. There was always a chance at some point we could go to Colorado or Salt Lake, and the altitude is an issue, and the one thing we’ve assured ourselves is that we’re not going to be playing in altitude. Not that guarantees anything, but I think that’s good. It’s a lot easier for the players to adjust to the artificial field [in Seattle] than to altitude. So In think that’s a positive out of this.”
Perhaps so. If L.A. and Real Salt Lake win their first-round series, they’ll meet in Carson. Toronto, where MLS Cup will be played Nov. 21, has a lower elevation than downtown L.A. But the Galaxy are hardly happy they’ll start their home-and-home, total-goals series on the fake turf at Qwest Field.
“I don’t like it,” said Edson Buddle, who led the Galaxy with 17 goals. “I’m not a big fan. I never was. But I have to deal with that and get over it.”
Said David Beckham: “At the end of the day, it is what it is. We have to go there, and we have to play. It’s the same for both teams. Obviously, it’s an advantage for them, because they play on it every other week, but it is what it is.”
Grass always is preferred to even the best artificial surface -- 2007 MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto of Columbus refuses to play in games on artificial turf -- and BMO Field, the MLS Cup venue, switched this season to grass after heavy criticism of its surface.
“The game’s different” on artificial turf, said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who led MLS with 16 assists. “It’s mainly the way you strike the ball, the way the ball bounces, and if it rains, which it could, that’ll be an issue, too. It’s all part of it. You’ve got to play a little more careful. You can’t get caught on the ball, because you can make a mistake that’ll really hurt you.”
There is an artificial-turf training field at Home Depot Center, but its surface is nothing like that at Qwest, so there’s not much sense in training on it. The Galaxy will get one session in at Qwest on Saturday.
“We’ll get up there and get to train,” Donovan said. “But the less you train on an artificial surface, the better, in general. Just to help your legs.”
Said defender Gregg Berhalter: “It makes a difference, a little bit. But we’ll get to play them here on grass.”
READY OR NOT: Berhalter, the Galaxy’s backline leader, was held out of Sunday’s game against FC Dallas so he could get ready for the playoffs. You read that right. Berhalter missed two months with a mystery virus and has played in just one game since returning to training last month.
The only way to become game-fit, it is said, is to play in games. The Galaxy is using a different strategy with Berhalter.
“Gregg we played last week to see where he’s at. We know he’s not completely match-fit,” Arena said after Sunday’s win. “We thought since we were going to start A.J. [DeLaGarza in central defense], Gregg would be better off working hard before the game. He had a real hard workout.
“We felt if we’re going to move him forward and have him ready for the playoff, today’s an important day for him. So we got a lot of work in the gym to help move him forward.”
DeLaGarza has been outstanding next to former University of Maryland teammate Omar Gonzalez on L.A.’s backline, but it’s difficult to envision the Galaxy winning the MLS Cup title without Berhalter, a two-time World Cup veteran who spent 15 years playing in England, Holland and Germany. Berhalter hopes he can contribute what’s needed.
“Part of this whole [health] thing that has been so unfortunate: the timing of it, you know?” Berhalter said. “And I want to help the team, and I want to put myself in a position to help the team, and part of that is being stronger and being more fit. So I have to work on it.
“In a perfect world, I’d like to be 100 percent. But I’m not so we have to deal with that.”
NO CONSPIRACY?: You’ll rarely see an ending more bizarre than Real Salt Lake’s to tie archrival Colorado, 2-2, on Saturday night, extending the Utahns’ unbeaten streak to 15 games.
The Rapids had dominated the proceedings and led by two goals until goalkeeper Matt Pickens’ mind-boggling error near the beginning of stoppage. He had the ball at his feet and enough time to clear it, but his hesitation to do so enabled Alvaro Saborio to close him down, and the clearance ricocheted off the RSL forward and hit the crossbar as Pickens raced back toward his net in an attempt to keep the ball out.
Pickens fell into his goal, and the ball fell nicely for Saborio, who had a virtually empty net to fire into.
Four minutes later, in the 95th minute, Colorado’s Brian Mullan fouled Jamison Olave in the Rapids box on a free kick, and Saborio’s penalty kick evened the score.
Colorado coach Gary Smith called the ending “incredible” and “farcical,” and his players were looked dumbfounded and in tears.
It couldn’t have turned out better for the Rapids if they had engineered it.
OK, they lost the Rocky Mountain Cup again -- RSL captured it on away goals after two draws in the series this season -- but a win would have boosted the Rapids to fourth in the West with a first-round playoff series against the Galaxy, then RSL or FC Dallas in the conference final if they pulled off the upset. The tie leaves them fifth, sending them into the less stringent Eastern bracket and a first-round meeting with Columbus. Much nicer.
Colorado will benefit from the altitude in their home leg, and good luck to the Crew stopping speedy forward Omar Cummings.
Donovan said Sunday he “wouldn’t be surprised if they end up coming out of the East” to the MLS Cup final. Chivas USA captain Jonathan Bornstein goes one step further: The Rapids are his pick to win the title.
Five clubs this season finished with 50 or more points. None did so last year -- Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield with 49, and the Galaxy captured the Western Conference title with 48. Last year 46 points would have been the No. 5 mark in the league. This year’s No. 8 team, the last to qualify for the playoffs, amassed 46. Five teams also reached 50 in 2000, when a 32-game schedule was played.
The Galaxy’s 59-point total (on an 18-7-5 record) is tied for the third-best total in league history. The 1998 Galaxy totaled 68 points in the shootout era (they were 24-8; under today’s rules, they would have been 22-6-4, with 70 points), and San Jose’s 2005 team, which the Galaxy upset in a playoff en route to their second MLS Cup crown, amassed 64 points, with an 18-4-10 mark. New England had 59 points in 2005 (at 17-7-8) -- the Galaxy beat the Revs in the title game.
Jaime Moreno, the last remaining player from MLS’s inaugural season, wrapped up his D.C. United career with a penalty kick -- his league-record 44th (21 ahead of former Chivas USA coach Preki, who’s No. 2 on that list. It was his 133rd career goal, meaning he departs the league (if he is, indeed, departing) as the all-time goals leader, one ahead of FC Dallas’ Jeff Cunningham.
Chivas USA midfielder Paulo Nagamura has played more MLS games than any other Brazilian. He passed former Galaxy forward Welton with his 145th appearance in Wednesday’s loss at San Jose, then pushed his mark to 146 in the finale against Chicago.
Chivas USA’s Bryan de la Fuente (Bell/Bell HS) made his MLS debut Saturday night, coming on as Bornstein (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS and UCLA) exited in the 85th minute of his final appearance for the Goats before joining UANL Tigres in Mexico next year. Garden Grove’s Luis Gil (Santiago HS), just 16, made his first start for Real Salt Lake in its CONCACAF Champions League victory Tuesday night over Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer fractured his shoulder in the Crew’s season-ending win over Philadelphia and will miss the playoffs. Hesmer was hurt in an 85th-minute collision with Union defender Danny Califf (Orange/Orange HS); the Crew had exhausted its substitutions, and midfielder Eddie Gaven stepped into the nets for the second time in his career, making two saves and surrendering a goal to Sebastien Le Toux.
Best goal celebration of the season: Here’s a vote for Columbus’ Emilio Renteria, who fêted his goal against Philly with a Maxwell Smart impression, running to the northeast corner in front of the Nordecke supporters section, removing his shoe, pretending to make a call, then hanging it up on the corner flag.
San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski, who scored four goals in two games to overtake Edson Buddle and win MLS’s Golden Boot, is the Player of the Week. In a few days it’ll likely be announced he’s the October Player of the Month, too.
New England Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph called the New York Red Bulls “stupid” for its decision to dump Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel when the season is over. We concur.
Ben Olsen’s stint at interim head coach of D.C. United, for which he played a dozen years, is over. Club president/CEO Kevin Payne says Olsen, who played in the 2006 World Cup, will not be considered for the job.
The Portland Timbers, who join MLS next season, announced their initial MLS signings, and they include former Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin, who has played with the club since leaving L.A. before the 2009 season.
The England-based group headed by Stoke City owner Phil Rawlins that is moving the second-tier Austin Aztex to Orlando says its goal is to bring an MLS franchise to central Florida. A group led by former Tottenham chairman Paul Kemsley is looking to return the Cosmos to New York in 2013 -- a second New York club is a priority for MLS -- and it says it has stadium financing in place. New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon also is looking to bring a team to New York.
Past week’s scores (home teams listed first)
San Jose 3 (Wondolowski pen. 55, 59, 72), Chivas USA 0
New York 2 (Richards 17, Lindpere 92+), New England 0
Chivas USA 1 (Maldonado 57), Chicago 4 (McBride 40, Ljungberg 47, Carr 68, Husidic 93+)
Houston 2 (Cameron 27, Weaver 46), Seattle 1 (Riley 12)
D.C. United 2 (Quaranta 2, Moreno pen. 39), Toronto FC 3 (Maicon Santos 23, De Rosario 48, 65)
Kansas City 4 (Diop 36, 60, 76, og Eduardo 92+), San Jose 1 (Wondolowski 70)
Colorado 2 (Cummings 16, Casey 51), Real Salt Lake 2 (Saborio 91+, pen. 95+)
L.A. Galaxy 2 (Beckham 33, Juninho 46), FC Dallas 1 (Harris 22)
Columbus 3 (Schelotto pen. 15, Renteria 42, Mendoza 79), Philadelphia 1 (Le Toux 87)
Western Conference: L.A. Galaxy 59 points, Real Salt Lake 56, FC Dallas 50, Seattle Sounders FC 48, Colorado Rapids 46, San Jose Earthquakes 46, Houston 33, Chivas USA 28
Eastern Conference: New York Red Bulls 51 points, Columbus Crew 50, Kansas City Wizards 39, Chicago Fire 36, Toronto FC 35, New England Revolution 32, Philadelphia Union 31, D.C. United 22
Playoff seeds: West -- 1. L.A. Galaxy, 2. Real Salt Lake, 3. FC Dallas, 4. Seattle; East -- 1. New York, 2. Columbus, 3. Colorado, 4. San Jose.
MLS Playoffs (all times Pacific)
First round, first leg
Thursday, Oct, 28
Columbus at Colorado, 6 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
Saturday, Oct. 30
Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas, 2 or 2:30 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes)
New York at San Jose, 7 p.m. (TeleFutura--KFTR/Channel 23)
Sunday, Oct. 31
L.A. Galaxy at Seattle, 5 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
First round, Second leg
Thursday, Nov. 4
San Jose at New York, 5 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
Saturday, Nov. 6
Colorado at Columbus, 1 p.m. (TeleFutura--KFTR/Channel 23)
FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes)
Sunday, Nov. 7
Seattle at L.A. Galaxy, 6 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes)
1. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose) 18
2. Edson Buddle (L.A. Galaxy) 17
3. Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC) 15
4. Omar Cummings (Colorado) 14
Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia) 14
6. Juan Pablo Angel (New York) 13
Conor Casey (Colorado) 13
7. Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) 12
8. Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas) 11
9. Kei Kamara (Kansas City) 10
Fredy Montero (Seattle) 10
Steve Zakuani (Seattle) 10
1. Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy) 16
2. David Ferreira (FC Dallas) 13
3. Brad Davis (Houston) 12
4. Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia) 11
5. 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. Ryan Johnson (San Jose) 8
Michael Stephens (L.A. Galaxy) 8
Past week's results (home teams listed first)
CONCACAF Champions League: Toronto FC 1 (Attakora 30), Arabe Unido (Panama) 0
CONCACAF Champions League: Real Salt Lake 3 (Araujo 43, 67, Warner 69), Cruz Azul (Mexico) 1 (Villaluz 71)
CONCACAF Champions League: Seattle 1 (Jaqua 17), Saprissa (Costa Rica) 2 (Arrieta 26, Guzman 87)
CONCACAF Champions League: Joe Public (Trinidad & Tobago) 1 (Noel pen. 27), Columbus 4 (Mendoza 20, Renteria pen. 50, 81, Oughton 92+)