Home stumbles jumble MLS race
A while ago, Kansas City coach
"Home is where the points are," Onalfo said in reference to both his team's favorable stretch-run schedule and the somewhat higher win rate for home teams in 2008 compared to the past few MLS seasons.
Yet since then, and especially over the past two weeks, home teams in desperate need of wins have flubbed those opportunities, sometimes in gruesome fashion. Logic would indicate teams failing to win crucial home games are poor prospects to make the playoffs, and dubious candidates to advance if they do make the cut.
Since there's nothing logical about how this season is wrapping up, the final weekend (Oct. 25-26) may resemble the final minute of a see-saw football game: The last team to have the ball, i.e., win, will get in. The standings are so tight, several spots could be decided on the final weekend, but it's anybody's guess if the home teams will hold an edge or not.
Kansas City, to its credit, pulled out a 1-1 tie against Chicago at CAB on Sunday, which isn't quite what it needed to jump right into the playoffs, but is a great result compared to what New York, Colorado and especially D.C. (read: Damage Control) United did Saturday night.
Those teams faltered considerably, losing by a combined 9-2 score. Toronto kept its own hopes alive by thrashing the Red Bulls 3-1 at the Meadowlands, Houston jumped on top of Colorado early and cruised to a 3-1 win of its own at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and D.C. burrowed further into the tunnel of terribleness with a miserable 3-0 loss at RFK Stadium to Chivas USA.
TFC still doesn't look like a playoff-caliber team, yet it certainly outclassed the Red Bulls, who in their last two home games have conceded eight goals. The Rapids beat them 5-4 on Sept. 27 during a weekend in which two other home teams stubbed their toes. Columbus beat the Revs 1-0 at Gillette Stadium and the Quakes lost for the first time in 10 games, dropping a 3-2 decision to Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Perhaps it's more pertinent to ask which teams look sharp and capable of reaching and winning the finals than which will make the playoffs. By beating the Revs twice in three weeks, the Crew have certainly looked the part, and so have the Dynamo, who've slogged through a congested domestic and international schedule while enduring the ravages of Hurricane Ike. Since the All-Star break, the Dynamo have lost just once in league play, and so have the Crew -- in Houston. Chicago has lost four games, including that 4-1 skunking by FC Dallas at Toyota Park on Sept. 21.
New England's recent poor run of form -- it has won only two of its last 10 league matches -- has dropped it into a dogfight with Chicago for second place in the Eastern Conference and homefield advantage in the conference semifinals. It has lost all three regular-season meetings to the Fire, so, for the Revs, winning homefield advantage takes a backseat to winning, period, in the final three games. Building postseason momentum depends on it.
Which brings us back to Kansas City, since the Wizards play New England in two of their last three games. Game one is this weekend at CAB, and the teams finish their seasons against each other at Gillette on Oct. 25. In between, the Wizards host the Quakes in yet another crucial showdown.
Houston clinched its playoff spot Saturday by beating the Rapids, but still, six of the eight slots remain unclaimed. The Revs could have clinched by beating Real Salt Lake at home Saturday; Instead, they had to rally from two goals down just to get a 2-2 tie. Oh, the incongruity!
Had Kansas City won Sunday, it could possibly have clinched by winning its last two home games. But as several teams have shown the past two weekends, at this point in the season, points aren't necessarily at home -- they're wherever you get them.