Monday, September 19, 2011

The MLS Grinder: The playoffs are a'coming

The Grinder is undergoing an MLS playoff facelift.

With the playoffs bearing down on us like rain clouds on the Texas horizon (please let rain not be a figment of our southwestern imaginations), we shift our focus from one game a week to a few of the important ones you need to know about in advance of the rapidly approaching postseason. From here on in, we'll criss-cross the country to unearth the plot lines, goals and mistakes that lead us to the highly anticipated 2011 postseason.

In addition, FIFA 12 is little more than a week away and it's under 100 degrees again. Life is good.

Brad Davis laughs, but he's silently terrified Will Bruin is having a seizure
Houston 2, Columbus 2: The Dynamo have been a bad road team this year. There's no getting around the goose egg in the W column away from Robertson, and Wednesday night's road battle in Columbus looked to be headed toward a tick in the loss department. Again. The Crew were on 10 men for all but 11 minutes and yet Houston still barely scraped out of Ohio with a point. Geoff Cameron squared a cross to Calin Carr, Houston's get in the ill-fated Oduro trade, and Carr buried a one-time blast in the 86th minute to keep a ragged pace in the East. It was Houston's first goal in 213 minutes. A bad time of the year to suffer a wattage burst up top, but a home game against San Jose on the weekend was the perfect remedy (isn't it always?). The return of Will Bruin, who might get that rookie of the year plaudit after all despite the worst goal celebration dance of all time, stoked the Dynamo's flagging offense to a 2-1 victory to climb to fourth in a bizarre Eastern Conference that should nonetheless provide a suitably entertaining finish. 

As for Columbus, the Crew made it five dropped points in the span of four days when Sebastien Le Toux slotted a 32nd minute finish past a splitting Will Hesmer to pull the Union up to third in the East, just two points behind Columbus with a game in hand. How choppy has the East been this year? The Union may well win it despite just snapping a two month winless streak

Portland 3, New England 0: Darlington Nagbe's second career goal (Remember his first? How could you forget?) gave the Timbers a 3-0 lead in the 66th minute to bury the surprisingly resilient Revs, who were less than a week removed from a signature 2-1 win over FCD. I'll go out on this titanium limb and say that with 10 points from their last four matches, the Timbers are either the first team in or the last team out. With Chivas dropping points like its 1999 (see below), that leaves DC United and New York as the last viable candidates for the final spot. Portland's next two games? Hosting San Jose and at New York. That last one should be a doozy.

Chicago 3, Chivas USA 2: The Goats are down to their last piece of cud (Eh, eh?). Patrick Nyarko's ball to Dominic Oduro in box to beat Chivas in the 85th minute may not help the Fire reach the postseason. They've got a lot of ground to cover in the next month. But it sure might keep the Goats from reaching the playoffs. Chivas has now lost four straight and is winless in six. Says flummoxed coach Robin Fraser: "It's time to look at ourselves and be honest about what we need to do to be better." Preach it.

Chivas employs this ground control possession formula that's great for teams with a serviceable back line and consistent production up top. JP Angel has been tuning up the latter, but the former remains unimproved with Heath Pearce's hamstring tear keeping him on the sideline as the Goats' postseason hopes crash down like the Hindenburg. The Goats had 67 percent possession and completed twice as many passes. Pep Guardiola is still not impressed.

New York 1, FC Dallas 0: Welcome back to the starting XI, Luke Rodgers. Agudelo's searching ball for Rodgers in the 36th minute crossed up Kevin Hartman on his line and rolled in to, for now, give the Red Bulls the league's final wild card playoff spot.

There is some concern that FC Dallas' brutal road schedule is finally catching up. With the Belgium friendly, Brek Shea capped a month of nearly 700 minutes played. As the bellwether for that Hoops attack without Ferreira, FCD won't be very long for the playoffs without him. Indeed, as RSL catches back up on games, the Royals are rolling back points. RSL has already hopped over FCD to snap up the final automatic bid in the West, dropping FCD amongst the wild cards. And they still have at least two games in hand on most of the field. Without CCL burdens to worry about, I'd watch RSL like a wary night guard from here on in.

Seattle 3, DC United 0: Mike Fucito threaded a brilliantly balanced ball through two defenders to Alvaro Fernandez, who cooly deposited his low-rolling effort in the opposite side netting for a 2-0 edge in the twilight of first half stoppage time. The Sounders aren't pulling down LA, but it must have been nice to see Seattle keep its late season form against a scrappy team fighting for its playoff existence.

United won't hit panic mode just yet. They've played the fewest league games of anybody and have two matches to make up on both Portland and New York, a battle that appears to be shaping into a three-horse race for the final wild card spot.

Will's prediction: New York gets healthy just in time, sprinting out to wins in three of its last six to qualify for the playoffs in fine form and scare the bejeesus out of every high seed.

LA Galaxy 3, Vancouver 0: Nobody is catching the Galaxy. I'm saying it now to prevent any further heartache, but LA is your 2011 Supporters Shield winner. Congrats, LA. Now go out and win when it counts.

Ryan Jordan's cross was snapped in by a Robbie Keane header in the 64th minute for a 2-0 edge that put away the quiet 'Caps. Keane, who also had an assist on LA's first goal, is playing as good as any forward in MLS right now. Yeah, I said it. Even Henry. In a new league and a new country, which takes adjustment time no matter where you are, Keano has scored twice in three MLS games and once more in the CCL. And that should've been two if you count a blatantly awful offside whistle.

LA needs a memorable postseason run like Charlie Sheen needs to get off my TV forever. The Galaxy haven't won anything meaningful since doing the double in 2005, including finals exits in both the USOC and the MLS Cup since that time. After two straight Supporters Shield trophies, those things are scrap metal at this point. Bruce Arena is saying, "Give me an MLS Cup crown or give me death." Probably.

Lastly, I apologize to all my friends from the wooded Northwest for not catching on to this sooner, but there are precious few Alaska Airlines adverts in Texas. So John Spencer's foray into commercials slipped my notice... until now. This is fun.

- Will Parchman

No comments: