MLS week 31 recap: Drama in Seattle, DC, and more

Barr

by RYAN BRISTER

The results of week 31 shook out well for the New York Red Bulls. It would seem impossible for them not to win the Eastern Conference now, and their Supporters’ Shield chances seem brighter than ever. Dallas had a good week as well out west.

Seattle Sounders 1-1 LA Galaxy

A very late goal rescued a point for Seattle in front of 56,097 fans.

Despite the crowd and the hype, the game took a while to find its rhythm. Clint Dempsey had a couple of the best chances early, but was denied both times by Donovan Ricketts. The difference in the opening half was nothing more than a poor back pass by Zach Scott in the 36th minute. Robbie Keane pounced on it when the pass evaded Gonzalo Pineda, and an onrushing Stefan Frei could do nothing to stop him.

Seattle was livelier after the break, an immediately set to pressuring LA in the Galaxy half. Suddenly Obafemi Martins was a factor in the match, creating things for the Sounders attack. The introduction of Marco Pappa furthered their efforts to find an equalizer. Deep into stoppage time, just as I was about to type “they wouldn’t find one,” they did.

The Sounders had found creative ways not to score in the second half, but when they finally scored, it was simple. Marco Pappa’s corner kick was bundled into the net by Chad Barrett, the final sub of the match, and CenturyLink Field erupted.

A draw was enough for the Galaxy to clinch a playoff spot, but it may have ended their realistic chances of winning the Supporters’ Shield.

New York Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

An early deficit was quickly reversed as the Red Bulls extended their lead atop the Eastern Conference.

Columbus jumped in front in the ninth minute. The Red Bulls  were without half of their usual back four, and their defense got off to a shaky start.  Justin Meram split a couple midfielders on a good run, and he received the ball back from Harrison Afful in the box. Meram’s shot was soft and towards Luis Robles, but Damien Perrinelle got his head to it and deflected it past his own keeper.

New York wasn’t down long. A giveaway in Crew territory afforded Mike Grella a good chance on goal, which was parried away by Steve Clark. The rebound came to Sacha Kljestan, who slid it across the box instead of shooting. Lloyd Sam was there with a lot of the net to aim for. He did not miss.

In the 21st minute, the Red Bulls took the lead. A pass out of the back from Steve Clark never got to its target because Conor Lade came storming forward to intercept it. Lade, who started for Kemar Lawrence, rocketed a cross into the box. Clark tried to punch it clear, but missed, and Bradley Wright-Phillips headed the ball into his vacated net. BWP has 15 goals on the year.

After a wide open start to the match, that would be the end of the scoring. Steve Clark made a couple big saves in short succession in the 60th minute to keep the score as it was. Luis Robles had four saves of his own in preserving the lead.

With the win, the Red Bulls maintain their edge on the Supporters’ Shield race. Columbus slips to fourth in the East; goal differential keeps them below New England.

Portland Timbers 0-1 Sporting Kansas City

A wondergoal by Krisztian Nemeth left Portland stunned. Sporting KC grabbed a huge three points on Saturday night.

As was the case in their most recent meeting, Tim Melia frustrated the Timbers. The SKC keeper came up with six saves to keep his team in the match. Having spent midweek across the country, Sporting didn’t play a full-strength starting XI, and they were under pressure from the hosts for most of the match.

But as the game seemed like it was heading for a third-straight scoreless draw between the two sides, Nemeth took matters into his own hands. He received the ball at the midfield line and proceeded to dribble through the Timbers defense, before culminating his run with a low finish past Adam Kwararsey. Words can’t describe it as well as the images, but suffice it to say that he made Diego Chara and Nat Borchers look silly.

Nemeth

The win gives SKC some breathing room in the playoff picture, and Peter Vermes’ decision to focus on the Open Cup final has gone as well or even better than he could have expected. Portland, meanwhile, must worry about San Jose and the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely.

DC United 2-1 New York City FC

Down a goal, and without a win in their last six matches, DC United found a spark and came back to defeat NYCFC in the rain on Friday night.

DC announced a crowd of more than 21,000 for the match; terrible weather kept many of those fans away. Those who braved the weather were still settling into their seats when NYC took the lead. Frank Lampard had the goal for the visitors, his third in MLS.

But United refused to go quietly, and they put together a big second half performance. Fabian Espindola scored on a rebound in the 73rd minute to level the match at one. Then, in stoppage time, Alvaro Saborio headed in a free kick to win the game for DC.

DC finally clinched a playoff spot after weeks of struggling. Hopefully for them this will lead to better form as they head into the playoffs. In all likelihood, NYCFC will not be joining them.

San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Both San Jose and Vancouver were a little disappointed to just get a draw on Saturday night.

The Earthquakes were playing with almost an entirely new midfield to deal with international absences and the suspension of Matias Perez Garcia. That showed as the Whitecaps controlled the run of play in the opening half. They outshot their hosts 7-2 before halftime, and the seventh shot found the net. Cristian Techera benefited from sloppy defending and a lucky deflection to put Vancouver in front.

San Jose was a desperate team, and they played like it in the second half. Their efforts paid off with a little help from David Ousted. The Vancouver keeper couldn’t hold on to Cordell Cato’s shot given two tries at it, and Chris Wondolowski pounced as he so often does on the rebound. With 108 goals, he has joined the top five scorers in MLS history.

The game ended in stunning fashion. Deep in stoppage time, Kekuta Manneh found himself on the ball at midfield with no one in front of him. No defender could catch up with the speedy Manneh, but he took one dribble too many and had the ball taken off his foot by an onrushing David Bingham.

The Quakes may have been fortunate to escape with a point, but this is a game they really wanted to win for their playoff hopes. They’re tied with the Timbers for the final spot, but Portland has a game in hand. Vancouver, meanwhile, is watching their Supporters’ Shield hopes quite literally slip away.

FC Dallas 4-1 Houston Dynamo

Dallas thrashed Houston, completing a dominant season sweep of the Texas Derby.

Mauro Diaz has missed some time lately, but he was back in a big way on Sunday. He opened up the scoring from the penalty after Rasheed Olabiyi brought down Fabian Castillo in the box. 25 minutes in, Dallas had the lead.

Houston, however, would draw level before halftime. Ricardo Clark hit a 20 yard strike that beat Jesse Gonzalez to the far post in minute 36. This was one of just five shots all game for the Dynamo, and the bright spot of their match.

Dallas set the tone for the second half early. David Teixeira hit a thirty-yard rocket off the underside of the crossbar to give the hosts the lead once more in the 50th minute. It’s a goal of the week in some other week.

Tex

Kellyn Acosta would grab the third for Dallas just two minutes later. He made a run into the box and received a cross from Fabian Castillo after Mauro Diaz played the speedster in over the top. Teixeria would score a second just before the game ended to put a bow on Dallas’ performance.

Dallas keeps pace in the Supporters’ Shield race, and sits just a point behind LA with two games in hand atop the West. Houston’s playoff hopes are now all but dead.

Orlando City 2-1 Montreal Impact

Orlando boosted their slim playoff hopes with a win over the team directly in front of them.

Cyle Larin’s hot form continued with a bit of good fortune in the 33rd minute. Nigel Reo-Coker deflected a pass in Larin’s direction, and his shot ate up Evan Bush, who really could have done better.


Larin

Tally Hall was apparently unimpressed by his counterpart’s error. Hall’s failure to handle a cross from Reo-Coker left the ball on the doorstep for Dom Oduro, who slammed it in to level the match just before halftime.

The winning goal wouldn’t be much prettier. Orlando needed this result, and they got the three points thanks to a bit of chaos in the box. Seb Hines stayed up after a corner kick was cleared out, and after multiple attempts to play it back in, the ball bounced to the defender and he volleyed it into the net.

Orlando remains a point behind Montreal, and having played two more games. But a four game winning streak has them just within sniffing distance of the playoffs. The Impact have a quick turnaround; they go to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.

Chicago Fire 3-1 New England Revolution

This is your weekly reminder that gambling on MLS is a bad idea. Chicago put together a strong second-half performance to snap their losing streak and defeat New England.

The Fire had a few early chances of their own, including a Gilberto volley off the post, before the Revs took the lead after half an hour. Chris Tierney put a good cross into the box, and Juan Agudelo got up to head it down and in.

Chicago turned things around after halftime. David Accam made a good run to find space for his equalizer, but Bobby Shuttleworth shouldn’t have been beaten to his near post by the shot. Accam’s 10 goals on the season lead the team.

In the 59th minute, Harry Shipp received a gift. Andrew Farrell waited too long to deal with a bouncing ball, and didn’t receive any help from the referee when he went down under Shipp’s pressure. Alone with Shuttleworth, Shipp beat the keeper.

Gilberto would hit the post again before getting his goal. It was a bouncing ball near the post that he somehow hooked around his body and past Shuttleworth to double the Fire’s lead.

Three points are just consolation and hope for the Fire, who were eliminated from playoff contention last week. The result spoils whatever hopes New England might have had of making a run for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. They needed to do better than one point against Chicago and Philly.

Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union

Toronto inched closer to their first-ever playoff spot with a comfortable win over the Union.

Sebastian Giovinco opened the scoring with a free kick in the 28th minute, but it wasn’t the sort of curling beauty he’s become known for. He took aim for the near post, but his shot took a huge deflection off the wall and instead looped into the far side of the net.

The weather got worse as the game went on, which seems to have been a trend this season in Toronto. Likewise, things got worse for the Union. Andre Blake made a couple good saves to keep the deficit at one, but couldn’t stop Jozy Altidore in the 63rd minute. Altidore had a great first touch to control a cross from Marco Delgado, and then no problem finishing.

Alti

Steven Vitoria made things interesting with a header goal just a few minutes later, but Philly didn’t continue that comeback. In stoppage time, an own goal by Richie Marquez cemented the result.

TFC was prevented from fully securing their place in the playoffs, but a calamitous series of events would have to take place for them to miss out now. They have a real shot at getting themselves a home playoff game, and even the second seed is within their reach. Philly is eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.

Colorado Rapids 1-2 Real Salt Lake

RSL kept their playoffs hopes alive with a win over their Rocky Mountain rivals.

Colorado took the lead after just 15 minutes. Sean St. Ledger put a good cross into the box, but Kevin Doyle still had to do a lot with his header. He sent the ball back across goal and into the top corner to beat Nick Rimando.

Joao Plata brought RSL level with a very pretty free kick. He managed to get his shot up over the wall and down under the bar. Neither Clint Irwin nor Bobby Burling could do much about it with the way he placed it.

Plata

Luke Mulholland might have done his teammate one better with the go-ahead goal 10 minutes later. From about the same spot on the field, but from open play, Mulholland hit a rocket that curled away from Irwin and into the far side of the net.

Salt Lake remains three points back of the final playoff spot, but they get a chance at Portland with their next game. There could be a three way tie on 44 points with just two weeks remaining.