Major League Soccer, 2011 Week 29: What We Learned

Marco Pappa #16 of the Chicago Fire celebrates his goal with Dominic Oduro #8, Logan Pause #12 and Daniel Paladini #11 during a game against Real Salt Lake during the first half of an MLS game September 28, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

FC Dallas continues their slide, D.C. United doesn't look like a playoff team, the Fire stay hot and the LA Galaxy are inching closer to the Supporters' Shield.

You may love or hate the new playoff format that Major League Soccer has, but you have to give the league credit. Going into the final couple weeks of the season, 15 of the 18 clubs are still mathematically involved in the playoff race. 

That is indeed the glass half-full kind of view of the playoff system. We've discussed the flaws and beaten it down enough here at SB Nation and on our various personal twitter feeds. 

But looking at Week 29 in MLS, every game had meaning for the playoff race and for the league's Supporters' Shield. Not a bad thing if you ask me, considering so many other leagues that reach this stage in the season rarely have this much excitement. 

Galaxy close in on Shield

It's hard to argue with the notion that the Los Angeles Galaxy are the best team in the league. After 31 games, Bruce Arena's bunch has racked up 64 points and has a ridiculous goal differential of plus-23 (if you want the opposite end of the GD, look at Toronto FC and their minus-23). LA now has the league-record for most wins in a season (18) and are closing in on that league-record for points in a season (68).

LA didn't wrap up the Supporters' Shield this weekend but the moves very close to it. All they need to do is get a win in one of their final three games and the league's regular season title is all theirs. 

It is hard not to be impressed though with the Galaxy after seeing them come-from-behind at home to beat Real Salt Lake on Saturday. It may have not been too pretty at times but I'm sure guys like Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane will take it any way they can. 

RSL and Dallas head in wrong direction

I could probably spend hours explaining the reasons why FC Dallas is headed in the wrong direction at the worst possible time. But I will do a quick one here, their offense is in shambles (being shutout in five of their last six matches), their defense isn't what it once was and their midfield possession has been lacking. All that and the amount of travel and ware on this club over the last two months has really done a number on Schellas Hyndman's team. 

But as for Real Salt Lake, this one is a tougher nut to crack. We've seen this out of them already this season when they lost four of five back in the summer and looked completely out of their element at times losing home games to teams they normally wouldn't lose at home to. 

Taking a look at their last three games, which happen to be their last three losses and you wonder too if they peaked too early and are now stumbling into the playoffs. They had two losses this week alone and the loss of Kyle Beckerman to a suspension isn't going to help any either. 

So what can these two clubs do in the final three games? Simple, have a little heart and get a little lucky. I can tell you up front with Dallas that the luck hasn't gone their way in a while. That is how soccer is sometimes, the ball just doesn't bounce right for you every game and Dallas is struggling with that. Over these last three games, so is RSL.

Eastern teams fail to make up ground

With teams like Dallas stumbling against the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City not winning against the San Jose Earthquakes, it was a big weekend for teams like the Philadelphia Union, the New York Red Bulls, the Houston Dynamo and DC United to make a move. 

Yet none of them did. The Union got a big win in the midweek but struggled to hold on to a lead out in California against Juan Pablo Angel and Chivas USA. Peter Nowak's side still has a game-in-hand at the moment but you have to wonder if they really want to be the first place team in the Eastern Conference when they know they'll likely get a club like the Columbus Crew or the Dynamo in the first round of the playoffs instead of a team like Dallas or Colorado. 

New York continued to leave points on the table, this time in Toronto. The Portland Timbers didn't make matters any easier on the Red Bulls either yesterday with their win in Vancouver. Those two sides are level on points but given the two teams remaining schedules, you may have to give the edge to the expansion Timbers in this one. 

Houston tied the surging Chicago Fire on Saturday, a draw that didn't seem like the worst thing in the world until the Columbus Crew upset DC United to jump them in the standings. 

Speaking of United, even with the games-in-hand on everyone at the moment, it doesn't seem like Ben Olsen's club has the maturity to get the job done this season. Even with the MVP-play of Dwayne De Rosario, it hasn't been enough to get them to win back-to-back games this season. Not being able to do that this late in the season is going to be the difference between reaching the post season and watching it at home. 

No club is hotter than the Fire

An interesting figure for you, since August 1 the Fire (along with the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy) are one of the hottest teams in MLS. Since that date the Fire have racked up 19 points. Consider before this impressive run the Fire could do nothing more than draw a game. 

Still their surge seems like it could be a little too late. With three games left, the Fire absolutely have to win out. They host a struggling FC Dallas squad next weekend, go to DC and close out the season at home against Columbus. Oh, and they have a huge US Open Cup final tomorrow in Seattle. 

With nine points left on the table, the task is really simple, win-out and the likelihood of reaching the post season is there. If they do close out the year with those nine points, you have to figure them to be one of the teams no one wants to face going into the playoffs. 

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