Major League Soccer 2011, Week 31: What We Learned

FRISCO, TX - OCTOBER 15: Brek Shea #20 of the FC Dallas celebrates scoring a goal as Jay DeMerit #6 of the Vancouver FC sits dejected during the second half of a soccer game at Pizza Hut Park on October 15, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)

Week 31 produced six playoff tickets, shed some light on the MVP race and showed a game is never truly over until the final whistle is blown.

This is it. There's one week left and Major League Soccer has one final playoff spot up for grabs. Week 31 helped produce six playoff teams as FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids, the Columbus Crew, the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City all clinched.

But one spot is up for grabs with four clubs in the running. The New York Red Bulls hope to hold off DC United, the Portland Timbers and the Chicago Fire for another week. 

Final Race Is Exactly How MLS Set It Up To Be

WIth all the ugliness that is the MLS playoff format, you do have to tip your hat just a little bit to the league's front office for providing an exciting finish to the season. Going into Week 31 we only had three clubs (Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake) with playoff tickets, now we have nine. It isn't ideal to have this many clubs in the playoffs but it is ideal to have a playoff race go down to the wire. 

With four clubs still somehow in contention for the final spot, this next week will be about figuring out who gets in and where everyone will go. We know LA and Seattle will be one and two respectively in the Western Conference but after that it is nearly anyone's game.Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas are now tied on points and could flip-flop in their positioning while Kansas City, Philadelphia, Columbus and even Houston are still in the running for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Oddly enough the defending MLS Cup champions, the Colorado Rapids, could end up anywhere between fifth overall and the second wild card spot or 10th overall and the forth and final wild card spot. 

The true focus will be on New York, Chicago, Portland and DC in the final week. New York has to host Philadelphia, while Chicago hosts Columbus. Both DC and Portland have two games left, one being against one another (it was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene) and one against Kansas City and Salt Lake respectively. 

It is really anyone's guess at this point who gets that final playoff spot. 

LA Continues Their Dominance

Typically the SuperClasico in LA is a good match, one that has plenty of meaning. Well, not this time around. Chivas USA was already eliminated from playoff contention and the Galaxy wrapped up the league's top regular season prize, the Supporters' Shield a week ago. So not a lot was riding on this game, other than pride.

The Galaxy did just enough to get the 1-0 win over their Home Depot Center counterparts as Chad Barrett scored his seventh goal of the season. 

This game could have been all about Juan Pablo Angel for Chivas but LA's defense kept their former teammate bottled up all evening and didn't allow him to create many chances for the Goats.

LA continues to sit high atop the league table with 67 points after 33 games. They've gone undefeated at home this season and have won 19 games overall - which is a pretty sick number when you really consider how many games this club has played in all competitions this season. 

With that undefeated record at home this season, the Galaxy now head into the playoffs where they will be at home for every game except for one. As long as their current form stands true we could be looking at one of the best teams ever to win a MLS Cup. But as we know, history isn't always on the side of a team that is so dominant throughout the season.

Has Shea Returned To The Top Of The MVP Race? 

I will just throw this out there for a moment: The 2011 MLS MVP Race has been an odd one. It seems as though we've gone through several leaders in the MVP race. Some have put David Beckham on top, others like Houston's Brad Davis. As of late it sees some like Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux while others really like what Dwayne De Rosario has done in his short time with DC United.

Then you have some that can't decide between Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero from Seattle. Their stats give them plenty of support from voters. Others at time have also like RSL's Kyle Beckerman and New York's Thierry Henry.

Finally you have FC Dallas' midfielder Brek Shea. His goal totals aren't like De Rosario's or Henry and his assist numbers aren't on the level of a Davis, Beckham or Rosales. But at a time when no one else is truly stepping into the spotlight, Shea found a way this past week to do just that.

His goal and assist against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday were enough to remind me that he's still in this race, if not back at the front of the line again. Not to play a homer (I cover FC Dallas for Big D Soccer), but Shea continues to lead a club when they need him to most.

Both Dallas and Shea were out of it in the month of September, doing nothing on and off the pitch. Both were tired and spent due to all the travel and games. But a little rest in the early part of October has renewed both Shea and his club. Two straight wins have them in the playoffs and in contention once again for one of the three automatic berths from the Western Conference. 

This final week will tell us who deserves this award - and really there aren't too many wrong answers in this year's race. It really is anyone's guess at this point but for me - my guess will likely be Shea.

Keller Gets A Solid Send Off

64,140. I had to type the number one more time to really get a sense of how big it was. The final regular season home game for Kasey Keller wasn't just great in the stands - it was great on the field. 

Sure, Keller gave up an early goal to San Jose Earthquakes striker Chis Wondolowski (who isn't doing that these days?), but his club made sure not to let his final home game be a loss. 

Mauro Rosales returned to get his 13th assist of the season on Sammy Ochoa's first career goal, and Fredy Montero netted his 12th goal of the season to give the Sounders the 2-1 win. 

It was impressive stuff by the Sounders to send Keller off in a good fashion. Still, the story line continues to be the number of butts in those seats at CenturyLink Field. For a non-double header/4th of July/Beckham/Henry/whatever game, this number of fans was truly spectacular to see. 

Windy City Come Back Kids

This is one of those games I had to see the highlights a couple times to really understand it. For the large part of the DC United-Chicago Fire game on Saturday evening it was a total dud. For two playoff contenders to play the way they did for 90 minutes was kind of pathetic. Neither side put their foot on the gas pedal to even act like they wanted a playoff spot. 

But in the 90th minute, all hell broke loose. 

A penalty kick against Gonzalo Segares helped give DC United their first lead when Dwayne De Rosario banged home the penalty. I thought the Fire were done there - so did the Black And Red.

Chicago stormed back and got goals from Sebastien Grazzini and Diego Chaves - both were assisted by Segares. 

Now the Fire have some playoff hope - although it is a very tiny one. This team looked dead in the water for the most part of Week 31. Their game at home against FC Dallas on Wednesday provided no spark as they allowed a Dallas team that hadn't scored in over a month to get back on track and clinch their own playoff berth. For a moment on Saturday it looked as though they were going to eliminate themselves but soccer is a tricky game sometimes. 

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