Major League Soccer 2012, Week 28: What We Learned

Ed Zurga - Getty Images

Seattle and Sporting Kansas City punch their tickets to the playoffs in a wild week in MLS.

One more month to go.

Call it hard to believe, but the month of September whizzed by in Major League Soccer. Ee saw two more clubs clinch playoff spots this week, one of those finally being a team from the Eastern Conference, too.

Week 28 in Major League Soccer saw the Eastern Conference race tighten up even more than it did going into the weekend. It also saw big performances out of guys like Alvaro Saborio, Thierry Henry, Graham Zusi and Steven Lenhart.

Sporting shows who's boss in the East

Sporting Kansas City came in to Friday's Eastern Conference showdown with the Chicago Fire on a quiet eight-game unbeaten run. Not many folks were talking about how they were doing atop the Eastern Conference as more folks seemed to be enamored with how the Chicago Fire had being doing since the start of August (seven wins, 21 points - you'd be talking too).

But once the dust settled on the evening, Sporting showed exactly who was the boss and who is the leader of the conference. Zusi provided the big offensive outburst with two goals on the evening to give Sporting the three points and a big push above the Fire, who entered the game just two points back.

The win clinched a playoff berth for Sporting, and the loss for the Fire left the Windy City side left to wonder what happened.

What did happen was a few missed opportunities for the Fire. Chris Rolfe had a golden chance early in the match to put the Fire on top, but shortly after his big miss Zusi scored the first of his two goals.

Sporting kept the foot on the pedal from that point on and never looked back. They showed the rest of the conference and perhaps the league what they are truly made of.

San Jose fights back

The motto all season long for the San Jose Earthquakes has been "Goonies never say die". On Saturday night, the Quakes said that not once, but twice to FC Dallas. Each time it looked like FC Dallas was going to walk out of Buck Shaw Stadium with a massive win, the league leading Quakes answered with Steven Lenhart.

The flowing mane of Lenhart headed home the game-tying goal with just seconds left in stoppage time to level the game at three-all. Lenhart was the hero 15 minutes before that as well as he tied up the game at two apiece after a pair of Blas Perez goals put Dallas in front.

Dallas proved just like so many other teams have this season that no lead is safe against the Earthquakes. San Jose was relentless in the final few minutes of the game to tie things back up and the hard work paid off.

Still, as good as the draw may have looked for San Jose's point of view, their defense has to improve before the playoffs hit. They gave up a couple of easy goals to Dallas on the night and better teams will take advantage of their defense come playoff time when games are a little more intense.

The draw for Dallas keeps them in the playoff hunt thanks to the Vancouver Whitecaps draw with Seattle on Saturday evening. A win would have pushed them into a tie with the Whitecaps, but Dallas will have to continue to wait for their chance to leap Vancouver in the standings.

Seattle's slump

The Seattle Sounders have gone from looking like a team that could press the San Jose Earthquakes for the top of the Western Conference (and the Supporters' Shield too), to a club that is starting to slump as the end of the season draws near. And all in the last two weeks.

The 0-0 draw with rivals Vancouver was just another sign that not all things are well in Sounders Land. Yes, the draw clinched Seattle a playoff spot, but it seems as though Sigi Schmid's team is running out of gas.

Seattle has one win in their last five matches and it was against lowly Chivas USA. Sounders fans are likely already freaking out that they're only beating bad teams. Since the start of June, Seattle has only two wins over potential playoff teams (Vancouver and LA).

That's not a good thing either when you consider how the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have been lately. LA got a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids this weekend, while Real Salt Lake downed Chivas 4-0 thanks to an Alvaro Saborio hat trick.

The crowded Eastern Conference race

If you need to know one thing from this weekend it is that the race in the Eastern Conference is still too close to figure out. Five teams are battling it out for four playoff spots now that Sporting KC is definitely in. From the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire sitting at 53 points a piece (New York is currently in second on tiebreakers), then D.C. United is just two points back of them at 51 points. The Houston Dynamo are two points back of that at 49 points and finally the Columbus Crew are on the outside looking in with 48 points.

In short, just five points separate second place and sixth place with just a few weeks left in the regular season.

The Chicago Fire hold the edge with one extra game in hand on everyone else, who have three matches remaining.

Everyone but the Fire got a result this week, as well. Houston downed the New England Revolution 2-0 thanks to goals from Ricardo Clark and Oscar Boniek Garcia. Columbus downed Philadelphia in a wild 3-2 game that saw Jairo Arreita bag a brace and D.C. United went out west and got a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers.

And then there was New York, who blasted by Toronto FC 4-1 thanks to two goals from Kenny Cooper and one from Henry.

Everything is still to play for in the East. The last couple of weeks will see each of these teams battling it out with one another. More than likely this race will come down to the final week of the season.

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