It is getting to be some serious crunch time for the 18 Major League Soccer clubs. Another week down, and another week where the playoff races just get a little more interesting.
As the dust settled on this weekend, one thing remained clear, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders mean some serious business. Both dominated in their respective games this weekend, and both won by 3-0 margins. But don't look now folks, Real Salt Lake is using their games-in-hand to their advantage and are racing up the standings behind these two.
Galaxy too much for Whitecaps
Yes, it was against the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps but let's be real about the Galaxy here. When this club is on its game, they are going to be extremely hard to beat. Their record on the season at this point is already a ridiculous 16-3-10. Did you take count of that first number? Yes, 16 wins.
The team rebounded nicely after their disappointing loss in Mexico in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday. The three-headed DP monster of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham continues to be too much to handle for other clubs.
But how about Mike Magee in this one against Vancouver? Say what you will about the Galaxy and their star power, it's guys like Magee that continue to be the unsung heroes for this club here in 2011. Magee's two goals were more than enough for the Galaxy to get the three points and push their season point total to 58.
Of course in the end the question will be can they do it? Can they win it all when it matters most? With plenty of soccer left on the table we know they will likely at least be lifting the Supporter's Shield trophy this season. As long as the good form and the strong play at home continues, a MLS Cup win in their own stadium shouldn't be too far off.
Real on the move
The Western Conference standings are a crowded place to be. Five clubs sandwiched together at the top of the league's overall table make this power house conference fun to watch. Case in point, teams like Real Salt Lake doing the dirty work this weekend against the Eastern Conference's best in Sporting Kansas City.
Salt Lake is a team with games-in-hand and is playing extremely confident at the moment. They've just won their fourth in a row and their league-high 10th at home this season.
Jason Kreis knows that home-field advantage is important for his club this season in the playoffs and will want to continue to push the Sounders here in the standings. Sitting just three points behind them with those two games-in-hand will certainly go a long way.
Consider this too for RSL, they could easily be the freshest of clubs going into the playoffs this season. All the other Western Conference teams around them (not including playoff hopefuls Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers) are in the CCL. The regular season ends Oct. 23, a few days after CCL group play concludes.
Turning point in Supporter's Shield Race
Cross your fingers folks, there is potential for another bad injury for another Sounder here. MVP candidate Mauro Rosales helped lead the Sounders to a 3-0 victory over DC United but it came at a cost. Rosales was tripped up by DC's Daniel Woolard, forcing him to leave the match with a knee injury.
A MRI is scheduled for today. The extent of the injury is unknown at this point but one thing is certain. This could define the Supporters' Shield race. Seattle got the win to stand as close as they could to the Galaxy but losing a player like Rosales at this stage in the season could not only be bad for the Shield hopes but for their MLS Cup hopes as well.
Let's just put it simple here. No Rosales for Seattle and the offense will likely suffer in a big way. He is key to getting the most out of Fredy Montero and Alvaro Fernandez. You think Mike Fucito or Lamar Neagle get goals the way they do on their own? I don't see it happening without Rosales.
2010 MLS Cup teams are reeling
Fatigue is a dirty word around MLS club locker rooms and again we are hearing that a lot with last year's MLS Cup participants FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids. Both are struggling in form at the moment while dealing with the CCL group stage. In their last five games each side has lost three games as well.
Colorado has probably had a more up and down season than Dallas in terms of form on the field. The Rapids were never really that impressive for the most part of the season until Conor Casey's injury earlier this summer. After that injury the Rapids came together in a similar fashion to when FC Dallas lost David Ferreira earlier this season.
But lately the Rapids look tired. Depth has been a serious issue in Colorado all season and with the added games on the menu at the moment, things aren't going to get any easier.
Lucky for the Rapids they do have an "easier" game a head next weekend with the San Jose Earthquakes coming into town. A win there gets them to 44 points on the season, the likely magic number on the season to reach the post season.
Dallas on the other hand continues to struggle. While the Rapids lost at Toronto FC this past weekend, it was the New York Red Bulls who upset Dallas. A fluky Luke Rodgers goal was all the Red Bulls needed to get three points in this one, their first win in a matter of a couple months.
Fatigue is a serious issue with Dallas at the moment though. They were without Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez in this one and their offense suffered for it. The guys filling in were gassed and the Red Bulls played some solid defense on the road. New York manager Hans Backe said they played some good defense and even at times some dirty defense to get the result.
No matter which way you look at it Colorado and Dallas are struggling to find form.
Eastern Conference tightens up
You can say the Western Conference is the stronger conference in MLS but don't look too down on the Eastern Conference here. At the moment six clubs are easily in playoff contention with the other three holding on for dear life.
The Columbus Crew continue to struggle and are just hoping they can continue to stay where they are at, atop the Eastern Conference. It hasn't been easy for them with Sporting Kansas City and now the Philadelphia Union lurking behind them.
The biggest winners in the East this weekend had to be Philadelphia and New York. Both had been winless in their last couple months and each needed a big result to get their playoff chances back on course. Philadelphia had a strong game against the Crew and largely it was because of the offense out of Freddy Adu and Sebastien Le Toux.
The Red Bulls got the win in Dallas without their big stars like Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. Should everyone get healthy for New York, they could be a team that could find themselves back in the hunt. Still, at this point the Red Bulls cannot afford any more stumbles along the way with DC United behind them and the Houston Dynamo still hanging around above them.
DC has plenty of games-in-hand at the moment. Some how United has eight games remaining while most clubs are down to five or six. That will certainly be an advantage in some ways for DC to possible get in but they could be maxed out by the time they reach the post season.
While there are three hopefuls left in the Eastern Conference in the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC and the New England Revolution, they all join the Western three (San Jose, Chivas and Vancouver) as clubs that really have to just hope for the best at this point.
Vancouver isn't completely "out" yet but let's just call it what it is at this point and say they are. Same really should be said for San Jose and New England, who both suffered big set backs this past weekend after getting a win in the previous week.
Chivas, Chicago, and Toronto are all holding on by a thread at this point. Somehow the Red are getting results in the league at the moment. DP Danny Koevermans increased his case for Newcomer of the Year with his two goals against the Rapids while Dominic Oduro scored his 10th goal of the season for the Fire in the wild 3-2 win over Chivas.
Chivas has lost four of it's last six and are just reeling at the moment. A loss to DC this coming week will pretty much put a stamp on their season.