Soccer America
Tuesday October 27th, 2009

Four teams could have been into the playoffs with a victory; four came up short. It's too easy to cite a team's failures on the final weekend of the regular season as primary reasons it missed out on playoff action. So instead, here's a look on what transpired on the previous 31 weeks to create those no-tomorrow scenarios:

Late-game collapses, i.e. goals conceded, cost TFC 16 points during the regular season. But instead, its defensive frailties surfaced in the second minute Saturday at Giants Stadium and repeatedly thereafter in a 5-0 embarrassment against the lowly Red Bulls.

Adrian Serioux struggled through a shocker in the debacle, yet a team that had tried to patch up its holes by acquiring veteran defender Nick Garcia and trying youngsters such as Emmanuel Gómez never solved those problems. It also lost some bite in midfield when Carl Robinson suffered a facial injury when he was nailed by a trialist during a scrimmage.

Those late-game "collapses" wouldn't have been so costly had TFC found a way to punch home goals at crucial moments during the season; in that regard, Pablo Vitti, Chad Barrett and, yes, even Dwayne De Rosario and energetic rookie O'Brian White must be held accountable.

The meltdown at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in a 2-2 draw with Kansas City didn't surprise D.C.'s followers, who have been watching stirring moments of bravery ruined by catastrophic moments of ineptitude and the odd bad bounce all season.

Trailing 1-0 in Kansas City, United got a gift equalizer on a phantom penalty that Jaime Moreno tucked away, and took a 2-1 lead on a goalmouth scramble when hobbling defender Julius James nodded home his first MLS goal, from close range.

United gave away a penalty kick in stoppage time when Fred blocked a shot with his arm while standing on the goal line, and nearly won it in the final seconds when Rodney Wallace's shot hit the post. In that aggravating world of MLS parity, D.C. did just enough to come close but not enough to prevail, again and again and again.

Like D.C., the Rapids finished with the same amount of points (40) as a team that did make the playoffs, Real Salt Lake, on tiebreakers. Yet had it managed to extract a tie, rather than losing 3-0 in the finale at Rio Tinto Stadium, it would have edged into the playoffs at the expense of RSL.

For the second straight year, the team's fate came down to the final day of the season and in the same venue, it failed to get the result it needed. Omar Cummings and Conor Casey lost their scoring touches at precisely the wrong time, pointing out just what the team lost when Colin Clark went down injured.

In goal, Preston Burpo couldn't replace the injured Matt Pickens. What the Rapids learned in 2009 is that they need more depth.

A remarkable four-game win streak fashioned on speed and pressure had propelled the Stripes into playoff contention, but as Seattle proved while slicing up FCD in a 2-1 win Saturday at Qwest Field, its defending and transition from offense to defense isn't good enough.

Daniel Hernandez and Dax McCarty were constantly overrun as Seattle's tough, smart midfield pinged passes wide to Steve Zakuani -- who schooled Heath Pearce several times -- and wherever Freddie Ljungberg found space. Dallas' Dave van den Bergh didn't get enough of the ball or enough support to slow down the tempo, and the lighting-like thrusts of David Ferreira and Jeff Cunningham were few and far between as FCD frittered away a 1-0 lead.

Rookie George John, whose impressive play had earned a starting spot the past two months, came off at halftime injured, leaving fans perhaps lamenting the loss of fellow big men Clarence Goodson to Scandinavia and Aaron Pitchkolan to San Jose. Still, a pairing of John with veteran Ugo Ihemelu, or former U.S. Under-20 Kyle Davies, might turn into a good one.

Of the teams eliminated before the final weekend, Kansas City has to question its breakdowns and poor results at home (4-6-5); San Jose dropped from eight wins in its expansion season to just seven this year and posted a minus-14 goal difference while going through another midseason renovation; and New York has a gleaming new stadium nearly ready to house a pathetic team.

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