Wednesday September 5th, 2007

Bouna Coundoul
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Rapid recovery
A month ago, Colorado's playoff hopes looked bleak. A 10-game winless streak dropped the Rapids to 4-9-6. The attack was nowhere to be found. Fans were calling for coach Fernando Clavijo's job. Then Colorado found the spark that may have saved its season from an odd source: the Dynamo's Dwayne De Rosario. An own goal by the reigning champs on Aug. 11 ignited the Rapids' stunning surge -- the four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1) includes victories over then-division-leading Houston and New England -- that has catapulted them back into the playoff race. Unless Kansas City continues to struggle, the battle for the last spot will be a three-team battle between Colorado, Columbus and Chicago. And after Sunday's crucial road point at Columbus, secured by a late Conor Casey strike, the Rapids may be in the best position to claim that No. 8 spot. The reason? The schedule. Chicago -- currently only two points behind the Rapids with a game in hand -- has turned its season around since the arrival of Cuauhtémoc Blanco, but the Fire face a grueling task over the final six weeks. Their remaining eight opponents have a combined record of 80-58-36, while Colorado's seven opponents are just 50-62-34, buoyed by four matches against the teams with the three worst records: Los Angeles, Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. And don't forget about Columbus, which is tied with the Rapids on 28 points but has a worse goal differential. The Crew's remaining opponents are 60-61-33. Then again, a lot can change in a month ... just look at the Rapids.
Five key matches to watch
Staying on the subject of the season's final six weeks, here's a look at the five matches that could have the biggest impact on the MLS playoff races -- both at the top and the bottom.

1. Chicago at Columbus, Saturday -- Yet another huge six-pointer for the Crew and Fire.
2. New England at D.C. United, Sunday -- Winner of this one will get leg up in East race.
3. Colorado at Real Salt Lake, Sept. 22 -- Win at improved RSL will help Rapids' cause.
4. Kansas City at New York, Oct. 13 -- N.Y. knocked K.C. out of race on final day in '06.
5. Houston at Chivas USA, Oct. 20 -- Will this season finale decide the West's No. 1 seed?
News and views from around the league
The clock struck midnight in extra time in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Tuesday night. Both FC Dallas and New England needed 120 minutes to do it, but both MLS squads ended hopes of an all-USL Cinderella final. The Hoops beat USL-1 side Seattle 2-1 -- all three goals were scored in extra time -- while the Revs got a 93rd-minute goal from Pat Noonan to knock out Carolina. The final will be held Oct. 3 at Pizza Hut Park. New England has never won the U.S. Open Cup; Dallas is seeking its second title (the Burn won in 1997). ... Is this a troubling omen for FCD's MLS Cup hopes? The Hoops' record against the five teams with 36 or more points -- D.C., New England, Chivas USA, Houston and New York -- is only 1-7-2 and they've been outscored 17-6. Against the seven teams with the fewest points, FCD is 10-1-1. ... Real Salt Lake could play a huge role as a spoiler down the stretch. RSL's three new Argentian imports -- Javier Morales, Fabian Espíndola and Matías Mantilla -- have made an instant impact. Real doubled its win total for the entire season in the past week, winning back-to-back games for the first time in 13 months.
RankPrev. Team
14
D.C. United (13-6-3)
The RFK fortress: United has not lost at home since April
23
New England Revolution (12-5-6)
Who needs grass? Revs are 7-1-2 on FieldTurf this year
35
Chivas USA (11-6-3)
Have lost just once in league play in the last nine weeks
41
Houston Dynamo (11-7-6)
Ten matches in 41 days have taken toll on the offense
52
FC Dallas (11-8-3)
No miraclulous rally from 3-0 down against D.C. this time
66
New York Red Bulls (11-9-3)
Kovalenko finally looks ready to return after car accident
77
Kansas City Wizards (9-9-6)
Just seven points in eight games since the All-Star break
88
Chicago Fire (7-10-5)
Fire let Bulls' Ángel slip free just once -- and it cost them
910
Colorado Rapids (7-9-7)
Conor Casey finally has started to emerge for the Rapids
109
Columbus Crew (6-7-10)
Crew's 10 ties -- with just six Ws -- may be their undoing
1113
Real Salt Lake (4-11-6)
Think the Galaxy wish they could undo the Findley trade?
1212
Toronto FC (5-12-5)
Goals scored in the 9 games O'Brien hasn't played: zero
1311
Los Angeles Galaxy (3-11-5)
Have conceded three or more goals in six of 19 matches

1. Ben Olsen
D.C. United

2. Matías Mantilla
Real Salt Lake

3. Dane Richards
New York Red Bulls
Thursday, Sept. 6
Chivas USA 2, D.C. United 2 (ESPN2) -- Could this be a preview of the MLS Cup final?
Saturday, Sept. 8
Chicago 2, Columbus 0 -- Blanco has been fantastic, but Fire need more from Wanchope
Houston 1, Real Salt Lake 0 (HDNet) -- Ailing Dynamo muster up enough to hold off RSL
FC Dallas 3, Toronto FC 1 -- Denílson won't enter the match facing 4-0 deficit this week
Colorado 2, Los Angeles 1 (FSC) -- Rapids must take advantage of beaten-down Galaxy
Sunday, Sept. 9
D.C. United 1, New England 0 (TeleFutura) -- Two great rivals in another huge showdown
Chivas USA 3, New York 1 -- Red Bulls have conceded 21 goals in 11 road matches
Wednesday, Sept. 12
D.C. United 3, Real Salt Lake 1 -- RSL is improved, but D.C. just does not lose at RFK
Thursday, Sept. 13
Chivas USA 4, L.A. 1 (ESPN2) -- Goats win SuperClasico season series for the 1st time
Last Week: 6-3; This season: 57-63
MLS Free Kicks will return in two weeks.

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