MLS Week 28 Recap: Still Confusion In The Playoff Picture

image, FCDallas.com

By Ryan Brister

After this past weekend, some teams in Major League Soccer are down to their final five matches. That sort of late-season pressure heightened the stakes for week 28. The results of the week seem to have narrowed down the Supporters’ Shield race to three realistic contenders: Vancouver, Dallas, and the Red Bulls.

San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Seattle Sounders

Obafemi Martins’ goal earned a point for the Sounders and might have altered the course of the playoff race out West.

Sigi Schmid was forced to make all of his substitutions early due to injury concerns. Roman Torres limped off the field with a left knee injury in the first half. Fellow summer signing Nelson Valdez couldn’t go on past the hour mark. Brad Evans came off at halftime.

It was Fatai Alashe bobblehead night at Avaya Stadium, and he comemmorated the occasion with his second goal of the season. Alashe made his first start at center back, but came up for a free kick in the 70th minute. Mattias Perez Garcia, just off the bench, delivered a perfect cross and the rookie headed it home. At this point, it was the first shot on target by either team.

But San Jose couldn’t wrap up the win, and Seattle equalized in the 82nd minute. David Bingham made a great reaction save to deny Zach Scott’s header, but the rebound was within reach of Martins, who contorted his body to volley it in for the equalizer. Martins has 12 goals in just 16 games this season, but none may be more important than that one.

The Earthquakes could have drawn level with the Sounders had they won, but remain three points behind, and below the red playoff line. They still have a game in hand on Seattle, and will play Wednesday against Montreal.

New York Red Bulls 3-2 Chicago Fire

The Red Bulls avoided embarrassment and came back to defeat the Fire on Friday night.

Things started off badly for New York when Damien Perrinelle was whistled for a penalty on Kennedy Igboananike in the 13th minute. Replays would show that the foul took place outside the box. Jeff Laurentowicz buried the penalty.

As they did two weeks earlier, Chicago’s speedy attackers caused all sorts of problems for the Red Bulls’ back line. A long clearance from a corner kick turned into a goal when David Accam beat Connor Lade to the ball. As a final touch, Accam left Luis Robles on the turf before tapping the ball into the vacated net.

The Fire’s two-goal lead would last just two minutes. Sacha Kljestan did well to get on the end of a pass from Felipe and tapped it along to Bradley Wright-Phillips. BWP slotted it past Sean Johnson and the Red Bulls were right back in the match. In the 38th minute, the Red Bulls pulled level. Lloyd Sam put a cross in through traffic to Mike Grella, who turned and hit a shot that deflected into the top corner.

If the Red Bulls were done wrong by the game’s first penalty, they got a call in their favor in the second half. A Dax McCarty backheel played Sam into the box, but he went down very easily at a touch from Michael Stephens. Armando Villarreal again gave the penalty, and Kljestan finished it to give the Red Bulls the win.

With the win, the Red Bulls sit in first place of the Eastern Conference, and have the second most points per game in the league.

FC Dallas 2-1 New York City FC

Two goals just before halftime were enough for Dallas to take three points against NYCFC.

If the game had reached the break still 0-0, Jason Kreis could have been satisfied by the performance put forth by his side in the opening half. It did not, and he could not. First, in the 45th minute, Tesho Akindele had too much space to enter the box, and he unleashed a powerful right-footed shot into the far side of the net.

Michel had the assist on Akindele’s goal, but he would soon one-up his teammate. On a corner kick deep in first-half stoppage time, Michel curled the ball directly into the net. Josh Saunders would later take the blame for allowing the goal.

Kreis illustrated his disappointment with his substitutions. David Villa was replaced by Patrick Mullins at halftime. Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo both left the match early in the second half. NYCFC played better after the subs, and fought their way back into the match.

Mullins rewarded Kreis’ decision in the 69th minute. He won the ball off of Kellyn Acosta, then played a dangerous ball into the box for Ned Grabavoy. Atiba Harris brought Grabavoy down for a penalty, and Mullins did what Villa normally does. At 2-1, City had reason to believe that they could rescue something from the match. But Dallas was able to withstand the pressure and hold on for a win.

Dallas ends the week with the most points-per game in MLS, and they sit behind only Vancouver in the standings. NYCFC won’t admit it, but increasingly looks like they should start preparing for year two.

Toronto FC 1-3 New England Revolution

New England capitalized on seemingly every mistake made by Toronto, and won in the Canadian rain.

The game got off to a quick start, with Robbie Findley heading the ball off the bar in just the second minute. But just two minutes later, the opening goal arrived at the other end. Jermaine Jones played a good through ball for Teal Bunbury, whose cross was deflected into the net for an own goal by Damien Perquis.

Goal aside, the opening half hour belonged to Toronto. Sebastian Giovinco embarrassed a few defenders, and TFC threatened at New England’s goal often. That made the next Revolution goal all the more frustrating. Lee Nguyen laid a ball off for Diego Fagundez, who curled it into the net and doubled the Revs’ lead.

Toronto came storming out of halftime, and quickly halved their deficit. Robbie Findley again hit a header off the woodwork, but this time the ball bounced over the line and into the goal.

But just as TFC seemed to be building momentum towards an equalizer, they threw it all away again. Michael Bradley, who to that point had been bossing the game, lingered too long on the ball in his own box, and Lee Nguyen pounced on it. The ball bounced to Kelyn Rowe, who shot it first time into the net. Nguyen is up to 10 assists on the season, with five in the last two games. The goal deflated whatever Toronto might have had going for them.

The Revs have now won five games in a row, tied for the longest winning streak in MLS this season. In a rare bit of bad news, Jermaine Jones picked up a yellow card and will now be suspended for Wednesday night’s match against the Red Bulls.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Colorado Rapids

Vancouver finally figured out Colorado, and climbed to the top of MLS with their win.

The Rapids entered the game seeking to limit their opponents chances. They succeeded in doing so in the first half, which resulted in a dull opening 45 minutes. Even through 70 minutes, the Whitecaps hadn’t broken through, and it looked like the Rapids might steal a point through their tactics.

In the 73rd minute, Octavio Rivero solved the Rapids’ offside trap, and headed in the go-ahead goal. He received a perfect floated pass from Cristian Techera, but still had to place it into the bottom corner to beat Clint Irwin. It’s Rivero’s first goal from open play since May, and he ripped off his shirt in celebration.

Now with one goal, the Whitecaps didn’t stop there. Four minutes later, Kekuta Manneh slid a cross in to Techera. His first shot was blocked, but it bounced right back to him, and he made good on his second attempt. Techera now has six goals and four assists on his loan from River Plate in Argentina.

Portland Timbers 0-0 Sporting Kansas City

The Timbers couldn’t find a way through Tim Melia, and had to settle for a draw against SKC.

The game was scoreless at halftime, a fact which accurately reflected the play of the opening 45 minutes. The second half would be an entirely different story.

Melia had to make three big saves in just the first fifteen minutes after halftime to keep things scoreless. At the other end, Graham Zusi hit the post just after an hour. Shortly after that, Lucas Melano was able to dribble past Melia, only to have his shot blocked off the line by Kevin Ellis. Melano was the most frustrated of the Timbers, with five of their 18 shots. In all, Melia made eight saves.

Once renowned for their free-flowing style under Caleb Porter, the Timbers have just 29 goals in 28 games this season. That’s enough to have them in a playoff spot, but theirs is the most tenuous in the west at the moment.

With the draw, SKC unconvincingly ended a three-game losing streak.

Orlando City SC 3-1 Sporting Kansas City

Orlando was playing without Kaka, but had no trouble scoring early. It was a free kick, earned by Adrian Winter in midfield, and Winter was all alone at the back post to head it in. It was very close, but Winter was onside. The Lions nearly doubled their lead just a couple minutes later, but Lewis Neal sent the ball wide after a goalmouth scramble.

Orlando had multiple chances to put the match away early in the second half. Cyle Larin was one-on-one with the keeper, but went for an ambitious chip that missed its target. A few minutes later, Lewis Neal had a rocketed shot somehow pushed over the bar by Jon Kempin.

SKC made sure that those missed chances would punished. After a good pass from Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth managed to squeak the ball through a couple defenders before firing it into the top corner. The game was level with half an hour remaining.

Brek Shea came off the bench in the 61st minute, making his return from a lengthy injury. Shea promptly made an impact with a good cut-back assist to Bryan Rochez in the 66th minute. Shea was in space after Kevin Ellis failed to deal with a long ball, and could have shot himself. Instead he made a good decision and a good pass, and Rochez scored his first goal of the season.

Rochez, also a substitute would be key again just a few minutes later. He won the ball off of Ellis in the box, and played it back for Winter, who played a good one-two with Neal and finished well to give OCSC a 3-1 lead.

As the match slipped away from Sporting, Dom Dwyer was sent off for an altercation with David Mateos. His fairytale return to Orlando did not end the way he wanted.

Orlando desperately needed the win, but even with the three points, they’re still just level with Montreal. The Impact have four games in hand. Kansas City’s position is suddenly very uncomfortable in the West.

Philadelphia Union 1-2 Columbus Crew

Kei Kamara’s brace held up as the Crew beat the Union.

Columbus opened the scoring 20 minutes in. Harrison Afful pushed forward from right back and put in a cross that was apparently intended for Frederico Higuain. Richie Marquez got his head to the cross, but deflected it towards Kamara, who headed it in.

Afful and Kamara combined again just five minutes later. A deflection got Afful in behind Fabinho, and this time he played a low cross to the back post. Kamara slid to get a foot on it and sneak it inside the post. Kamara now has 20 goals on the season, most in MLS.

Playing most of the game from behind, Philly had significantly more shots than their visitors, 16-9. Seven of those Union shots were on target, but Steve Clark stood tall in goal for the Crew. The Union made a strong attempt at a comeback, particularly after CJ Sapong made it 2-1 in the 65th minute. He just had a tap-in finish after Sebastien Le Toux did the hard work and put in a cross.

Colorado Rapids 1-1 DC United

A late goal stopped DC’s losing skid, but they could only get one point from Colorado.

Colorado took the lead in the 28th minute. A free kick pinballed around in the box before dropping to Bobby Burling. As a defender, Burling doesn’t score much with his feet, but his finish needled its way through traffic and Bill Hamid didn’t see it until it was too late. Hamid would come up with some big saves in this match to keep DC in touch.

DC went an hour facing the prospect of a fourth straight loss, but they came up with an equalizer just in time. Again, it was a goal from a set piece. Kemp played a short free kick to Fabian Espindola, and Steve Birnbaum leaped the highest to get on the end of Espindola’s cross. Irwin got in front of the header, but couldn’t keep it out.

After a long stay on top of the East, DC has now dropped below the Red Bulls. If Ben Olsen can’t right the ship soon, a couple other teams could leapfrog them as well.

LA Galaxy 0-0 Montreal Impact

Montreal held strong and was able to keep LA to a scoreless draw at the Stubhub Center.

The Galaxy exhibited control over the match in the first half, but couldn’t come up with a breakthrough. Evan Bush made four saves to keep the hosts off the board despite their chances. And the Impact showed brief spurts of life going forward, most notably when Andres Romero scored, but had it called back as offside.

Giovani Dos Santos was subbed off at halftime (reportedly as a precautionary measure), and whether as a result or not, the Galaxy were not as dominant after the break. Just four of their 11 shots came in the second half, and none forced a save from Bush. At the other end, the Impact became increasingly dangerous on the counter. Didier Drogba had a couple chances to win the match for Montreal, but failed to hit the net.

It’s the first time LA have failed to win at home since early June. They had outscored opponents 27-5 in six home matches since. A hard-earned point for Montreal pushes them closer to reaching the playoffs.

Houston Dynamo 1-3 Real Salt Lake

RSL put together a strong performance and effectively killed Houston’s playoff hopes with a commanding win.

Salt Lake had more chances over the course of the first half, but they didn’t score until stoppage time. Burrito Martinez was denied by a diving save by Tally Hall, and Devon Sandoval took a swing at the rebound that was blocked away. But Javier Morales was in the right place to clean up the mess and put the visitors in front just before the break.

RSL picked up in the second half where they left off in the first. Joao Plata played Martinez into the box, but again Hall came up big to deny him. This time, Sandoval was able to score on the rebound.

Brad Davis brought the Dynamo closer with a powerful penalty kick in the 65th minute. Salt Lake quickly squashed their comeback hopes with a Martinez goal just three minutes later. Morales had the assist, and now has seven goals and 10 assists on the year at the age of 35.