Major League Soccer 2012, Week 26: What We Learned

FRISCO, TX - SEPTEMBER 15: Julian de Guzman #12 of FC Dallas celebrates the game winning goal with teammates against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on September 15, 2012 at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

The playoff race continues to heat up as Week 26 provided some amazing goals and plenty of drama.

Oh Nelly, the final weeks of this season are going to be interesting. The September FIFA break ended on Tuesday night and the drama began once again in Major League Soccer.

Week 26 brought some late game heroics, some spectacular goals, and the elimination of a couple teams from playoff contention.

There were no new teams qualified this week for the playoffs with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Seattle Sounders needed a win and a little extra help to clinch their spot in the post season dance. On the flip side however, both the New England Revolution and Toronto FC saw their playoff hopes come to an end this week.

Dallas keeps hopes alive

The Western Conference playoff race for the last few weeks has really come down to two things. One, the top four clubs (San Jose, Seattle, Salt Lake and LA) will jockey for position with one another in the final months of the season. And two, the battle between FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps will be more interesting to watch than probably any other race.

The Caps have gone cold over the last few weeks. Being on the road has done nothing but bad things for Martin Rennie's club and Saturday night may have sunk his club into a new low on the year.

Vancouver had a good thing going for 90-plus minutes. They contained Dallas' attack and got a stunning performance out of keeper Brad Knighton - who stopped a couple big chances including a penalty kick against David Ferreira. But luck just wasn't on Vancouver's side as a 96th minute goal from midfielder Julian de Guzman sealed the three points for Dallas and kept the Toros in the playoff race for another few weeks.

Vancouver does have one additional game left on the schedule and four out of their last five games are at BC Place while Dallas is on the road for three out of the last four. As Saturday night proved, anything can happen and this race between Dallas and Vancouver could be the best one this season.

Eastern race could go through Red Bull Arena

Yes Thierry Henry's Olimpico goal in stoppage time against the Columbus Crew Saturday was amazing. A stunning goal that could very well kill the Crew's playoff hopes. But what it did prove is that the Eastern Conference race isn't finished by a long shot.

New York took the three points from Columbus on Saturday with a 3-1 and are now two points back of Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. KC dropped points at home against the Houston Dynamo on Friday evening as the two sides played to a 1-1 draw.

Sure Chicago Fire fans have a point to say that their club is in second place at the moment with 50 points. You have a point but the Eastern Conference will be won or lost in Red Bull Arena this season. You can count on that.

New York has four home games left while both the Fire has three and KC has just two. We'll certainly know more as the next match at Red Bull Arena pits New York against Sporting KC. If anything that will be a game that will dictate how the rest of the season goes in the Eastern Conference.

Cascadia Cup still up for grabs

With very little left to play for in 2012, the Portland Timbers nearly saw their moment of a title (even if it is just a trophy for the fans) slip away. Seattle got on the board in the second half with a nifty goal from Fredy Montero.

The Colombian always seems to get the most out of his games in the Cascadia Cup. Montero now has seven goals in eight matches against Portland and Vancouver, six of which have come on the road. This goal, his 12th of the season, also tied his career high in MLS.

But the Timbers weren't to be undone by the Montero goal. Rodney Wallace headed home the game-tying goal was just the spark the Timbers needed on Saturday. The season and the MLS Cup playoffs may be out of reach for Portland at this point in the year but this result will carry Cascadia Cup drama into the final month of the MLS season as the Timbers maintain their three-point advantage.

Seattle still have games against Vancouver (Sept. 29 at BC Place) and Portland (Oct. 7 at CenturyLink Field), while the Timbers face the Whitecaps in the teams' regular season finale on Oct. 21 at BC Place.

Galaxy quietly returning to 2011 form

If you blinked you probably missed it. The LA Galaxy have quietly and ever so dangerously returned to the form that won them a MLS Cup a season ago.

LA made easy work of the Colorado Rapids on Friday night, winning 2-0. Robbie Keane scored a goal, as did newcomer Christian Wilhelmsson.

The Galaxy have now won 11 out of their last 16 games this season - form that is good enough to place them in a tie for third place with Real Salt Lake.

LA is getting contributions from all over the field these days. Keane or Landon Donovan finishing in the attack. Marcelo Sarves or Juninho providing the muscle in the midfield to give LA the pace and tempo that Bruce Arena likes to see. And of course their defense playing in the same fashion that guided them to a title in 2011.

It's all coming together so nicely for LA in these final weeks of the season.

Fernandez finding a good place in Chicago

Sometimes being the odd man out can be a good thing in soccer. For Alvaro Fernandez he was the odd man out in Seattle. The Sounders traded him a few weeks back to the Chicago Fire - a move that has easily benefited both sides.

Fernandez has really boosted the Fire attack in the last few weeks along with Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald and Patrick Nyarko.

MacDonald and Fernandez have been a major boost for the Fire who have skyrocketed up the standings over the last few weeks - winning six out of their last seven games. The two combined well in the Fire's come-from-behind win on Saturday against the Montreal Impact.

Fernandez has two goals and one assist in those seven games. Rolfe has added four goals of his own in that stretch.

The Fire are in the middle of a big race in the Eastern Conference. If they have any hopes of winning the East or at least having home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they'll need to continue to get more out of Fernandez and company.

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