The playoff picture is taking shape after a dramatic weekend across MLS. Liviu Bird breaks it down in his weekly Power Rankings.
After a week in which three game-winning goals and one equalizer were scored in the final 10 minutes of Major League Soccer matches, four teams have officially clinched playoff places. Two others saw their seasons effectively end with official elimination from the postseason.
The late-match drama started with the weekend’s first game, when Álvaro Saborío scored the winner for D.C. United against New York City FC in stoppage time Friday night to clinch United’s playoff spot. It finished with the last game of the week, where the LA Galaxy became the second team in the West to make it despite a last-minute draw against the Seattle Sounders (with former Galaxy forward Chad Barrett doing the honors, no less).
Elsewhere, Orlando City SC needed an 80th-minute header from substitute center back Seb Hines to avoid, or at least postpone, missing the playoffs for one more game. That result also kept Toronto FC from securing its first postseason spot in club history, although that seems all but a certainty as the Reds won again on Saturday.
Here are a few thoughts on the past week in MLS, with an abbreviated three-game week taking place during the forthcoming FIFA international fixture window:
A big week for Kansas City
What a week for Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Németh. The Hungarian international scored two big goals for his team in separate competitions, first to equalize in the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday, which SKC won in penalties, then an 83rd-minute strike to defeat the Portland Timbers in league play.
Németh came off the bench in Portland after playing the full 90 minutes (and missing a penalty in the shootout, just to show that he’s human) in Philadelphia. It’s been an inconsistent stretch for Kansas City, which has gone 2-2-1 in the last five games.
But the thing that makes it difficult to count SKC out of any knockout competition, though, is its ability to grind out results as it showed again Wednesday.
As long as Sporting gets into the playoffs, which it should barring some strange results this month, it will be a dangerous team to come up against.
D.C. dramatically ends winless streak
In the first wave of this week’s penchant for late goals, Saborío ensured D.C.’s long winless streak would end with a victory rather than a draw. The extra two points also shot United back up into second place and finally won a postseason berth for the team that once led by a massive margin at the top of the conference.
It was the league-best eighth win this season for D.C. after going down a goal and the joint-most 24th goal in the last half-hour of games. Neither of those come as a huge surprise considering the mentality that courses through Ben Olsen’s team and the motivational ability of the manager himself.
Still, as the last few weeks showed, it’s hard to expect consistent success when conceding the first goal has become a habit. In the nine matches since Aug. 1, of which D.C. won just three, opponents have scored first seven times. That could be especially troubling in the playoffs, where momentum swings quickly and every goal counts in an aggregate-scoring format.
RSL sets up big match with Portland
Real Salt Lake continues to give itself a chance to squeak into the playoffs. A 2-1 comeback win against the Colorado Rapids after conceding in the 16th minute raised the team’s record to 3-1 since the start of September.
After that poor start to the game, RSL roared back much as its season has in the past few weeks. Joao Plata scored his first goal since the 6-4 loss against D.C. on Aug. 1 to pull the match level, and only one team looked likely to score from then on. Luke Mulholland obliged on a rocket, and Salt Lake has hope yet.
A three-point logjam between places six and nine in the West will have to be resolved in the next two weeks. RSL and Portland, opponents in their upcoming Oct. 14 match, are chasing the San Jose Earthquakes. The Houston Dynamo is also in the mix, though having played a game more than the Timbers and RSL.
Bans make tough task harder for Orlando
Kaká and Brek Shea are both out of Orlando’s expansion showdown with NYCFC on Oct. 16 with yellow-card accumulation suspensions. It’ll be a desperate situation and must-win match for each side with a very different feel to it than their first game back in April, when both had hope they could buck the trend of new teams struggling.
Instead, the loser of that upcoming game will be finished. NYCFC might already be without a real chance to make the playoffs, five points behind the Montreal Impact, while the Lions are just one point back.
It’s been an unlucky first year for Orlando in many respects, including injuries and being on the wrong end of some late heroics.
Hines’ last-gasp goal in a tough match against that same Impact on Saturday at least avoided some more of the same, as officials failed to call back Dominic Oduro’s goal for Montreal despite him kicking the ball out of goalkeeper Tally Hall’s hands on the play.
The tipping point for Orlando could come in the upcoming shortened week before the Lions even have their next chance: the Impact can open a four-point gap by winning either of its games. Until it takes the field next, Orlando will cling to any hope it has that that match will have some meaning.
Week 31 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City)
DEFENDERS: Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Kevin Ellis (Sporting Kansas City), Saad Abdul-Salaam (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Luke Mulholland (Real Salt Lake), Justin Meram (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS: Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire), David Texeira (FC Dallas)