Just as we think the Eastern Conference is going to fold up like a tent and be irrelevant, a couple of teams decide to beat up on their Western Conference foes in Week 28. The playoff race became a little more cluttered this week after some midweek results shook some clubs up and after the weekend slate of games pushed things even further around.
At the end of it all, the Western side still looked the same with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake sitting comfortably in the top three spots. In the Eastern Conference it was a different story, as the Houston Dynamo of all clubs rode a win over rivals FC Dallas to move into the top spot in the East. Yes, the Dynamo are now first place in the East. Sometimes you have to type things like that twice to believe it is true.
But there was a bigger story out of the East this weekend, and it may not be the one you are thinking.
DeRo Pushes Himself Into MVP Discussion
Can you name a single player in any sport, in any league, that has been traded twice in one season and then became an MVP candidate? It's possible the stat nerds at ESPN could cook something up if they had to, but the chances of this kind of thing happening in some other league before this season in MLS is feeling highly unlikely.
DC United attacker Dwayne De Rosario began the year with Toronto FC, as we all know. In the middle of the year he was traded to the New York Red Bulls, who only kept him for a few weeks before sending him off to DC. After a few weeks of being with United, DeRo has gone from the unwanted to the most valuable.
Just look at his performance against Real Salt Lake this past weekend. Three goals, all in the first half. Now, out of nowhere, De Rosario is the league leader in goals. Just look at his stats right now too, 13 goals and 11 assists. Those are monster numbers.
You may not like DeRo, but you have to give credit where it is due. He is an MVP candidate in the fullest sense right now.
(Also, did anyone notice RSL's lineup for this game? Most key players sat out of this one, something that really came back to bite Jason Kreis in the butt.)
No Rafa, No Problem
Naturally going into the weekend the big story around the league was the suspension of New York defender Rafael Marquez for his comments about his teammates after the 3-1 loss on Wednesday to RSL. Some thought the Red Bulls were done, finished, dead in the water after that game but some how teams like this rally in weird ways. I've said for a while that the Red Bulls just needed the right push to get back on track and it is possible this outburst from Marquez was just the push that they needed.
Oddly enough all the shutouts this season have come when Marquez was not in the starting XI. It may say something about Marquez or it may say something about the rest of the club. Either way, Hans Backe has some serious work to do with this club going into the final stretch of games here. Play Marquez or not play him? It may be time to consider moving him back into the midfield too.
New York is sitting once again in the playoff zone today at the 10th and final spot. With the Portland Timbers, DC United and even Chivas USA sitting behind them, the Red Bulls have to continue to take care of business. There are four big matches left for the Red Bulls which see them go to Toronto and Kansas City, while hosting the Galaxy and rivals Philadelphia. Look for that final game against the Union to be a huge playoff battle that could determine whether or not one of those two gets into the playoffs at all this season.
The Slide In Dallas
Make no mistake about it, FC Dallas is in a major slump right now. Losing again at home for the fifth time this season, Dallas has lost all the luck that was riding them through the summer months when nearly everything was going right for them.
Dallas dominated the Houston Dynamo for the majority of the second leg of the Texas Derby on Saturday afternoon but once again the offense could not find the back of the net. It wasn't a spectacular effort by a keeper that did them in this time, it was the crossbar and the post. Dallas hit the woodwork three times against the Dynamo.
Even with Brek Shea back and Marvin Chavez coming off the bench, Dallas still struggled. Schellas Hyndman may need to go back to the drawing board a bit with Shea, who has gone from MVP candidate to a player that is constantly neutralized from game to game now.
Until Shea or Hyndman figure out a plan on how to get him more involved again, this club will continue to struggle. They do sit in the wild card zone and have a favorable final stretch of games but something has to give with their current form.
But let's give a lot of credit to the Dynamo for grinding out their first road win of the season though and moving into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Seattle Takes First Trophy Of 2011
Okay, the Cascadia Cup may not be something people outside of the Pacific Northwest really care about but for the Sounders this could be a sign of things to come. With their 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Sounders proved that they can manage just fine offensively without Mauro Rosales.
Fredy Montero netted two goals, his first in what seemed like ages probably for some Sounders fans. They came at just at the right time too, when the game was at a 1-1 deadlock. The goals were Montero's eighth and ninth of the season.
Back to the Cup talk for a little bit. The Supporter's Shield is likely out of reach but I'm pretty sure Sigi Schmid and company would easily tell you that they have bigger fish to fry between the MLS Cup, the US Open Cup and down the road in the CONCACAF Champions League.
I've been saying it for a few weeks, there is something special about this Seattle squad but their first major hurdle will be advancing in the playoffs, something that they have failed to do so far as an MLS club.
Looking at the Eastern Conference standings today, your head could begin to hurt a good bit. The Dynamo sit at the lead with 42 points followed by Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew at 41. The Philadelphia Union are inches behind at 40 points while New York sits behind them at 39 and DC brings up the back end with 38.
Get all of that? One thing to take away from this logjam is the fact that the East is closing in on the West. With FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids stumbling in recent weeks, their leads in the wild card standings are looking as comfortable as they once did. Dallas holds an eight point lead over DC at the moment but United do have several games in hand. In other words, nothing is set in stone just yet in the wild card or in the East.