MLS Power Rankings Week 28: Foursome of draws sets the tone for playoff races
- Four important results from around the league, all of them draws, could go a long way toward clarifying the playoff picture as the final few games of the season approach
In the immortal words of Jack Edwards: That’s why he’s here. The Galaxy coaxed Landon Donovan out of retirement for the explicit purpose of making big plays, and that’s exactly what Donovan did in the penultimate game of MLS' Week 28. Donovan's late strike gave the Galaxy a 2–2 draw at Sporting Kansas City, a result that keeps the Galaxy in the second spot out West—an especially important position to solidify, considering that the conference's top two seeds get a bye from the one-and-done knockout games that kick off the MLS Cup Playoffs.
That wasn't the only draw that could have big playoff implications around the league. From the beginning to end, Week 28 in MLS featured multi-goal ties that could have a lasting impact on all sections of the league's playoff standings.
The league's Week 28 slate started off with one such draw, as D.C. United battled back to force a 2–2 draw at the Chicago Fire in the league's Friday matchup. Both of D.C.'s goals came in bizarre circumstances, with Rob Vincent's strike happening thanks to the all-too-rare indirect free kick in the penalty box:
Bobby Boswell later capped off a frantic move to score the tying goal in stoppage time, the second week in a row D.C. has come back from two goals down to earn a point away from home. Those two points may not seem like much, but in the ultra-tight Eastern Conference, they could turn out to be huge. D.C. United is now just two points out of a playoff spot, with a game in hand on the teams ahead of them. As for Chicago, whatever mini-run they may have made towards the playoffs is now over; it's time for coach Veljko Paunovic to start looking at which pieces of the Fire puzzle will be worth keeping around next year (if he hasn't already started doing that).
The trend of important draws continued on Saturday in what should have been the league's marquee match of the week, with NYCFC hosting league-leading (and U.S. Open Cup champion) FC Dallas. But while Chicago will be disappointed it allowed a late game-tying goal, FC Dallas should come away feeling OK about a 2-2 draw in which Khriy Shelton scored a 78th-minute equalizer. The lost points could hurt in the race for the Supporters' Shield, but the tie is still enough to secure a spot in the playoffs for FC Dallas.
For NYCFC, the result leaves them in a dogfight with local rivals New York Red Bulls for second place in the East. One could argue that the rest and recovery that comes with a first-round playoff bye will mean even more to NYCFC, which relies on multiple veterans for the spine of their team (David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, the now-injured Frank Lampard, and goalkeeper Josh Saunders).
Week 28 wrapped up on Sunday with, you guessed it, another important draw, this time a 3–3 thriller between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls. The draw gave the squad sole possession of first place in the East (with a game in hand on those below them). The playoffs don't start for a little over a month, but it's already clear that the road through the East goes through Toronto.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls will mourn their second consecutive draw that should have been a win. Jesse Marsch's side blew a 3–1 lead in this game, now making it a league-worst 18 points lost from leading positions this season (h/t to Matthew Doyle for the stat).
Offensive player of the week: Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution
In a Power Rankings edition that saw no movement in the top six, the Revolution are by far the biggest risers. Jay Heaps' team has now won three in a row against difficult competition, and the dynamic play of Rowe has been a big reason why. At his best, Rowe can be one of the league's top playmakers, equally adept at setting up teammates, providing important linking play, and finishing with aplomb. Rowe (and, in fact, the majority of the Revs) hasn't been up to form for most of 2016, but he was on fire this week, scoring twice and providing an assist in the Revs' win at Montreal. If Rowe keeps this up, there's reason to believe New England could complete a miracle run to the playoffs after an otherwise disappointing season.
Defensive player of the week: Jake Gleeson, Portland Timbers
The Timbers' 2–1 win over Philadelphia may be remembered for Darren Mattocks' great performance on the offensive end, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Gleeson stood on his head at a few different points early in in this game to to set the table for Mattocks' impact. That includes this very nice kicksave, made not moments after taking a foot to the face while batting away a Fabian Herbers breakaway:
Gleeson has been nothing short of fantastic since taking over the Timbers' starting role mid-season, and the defending champs stand a much, much greater chance of returning to the playoffs because of his play.
A draw at home might not have been what Toronto wanted going in to this weekend, but the manner in which the team fought back from an early own goal and a bad defensive breakdown will give it plenty of reason for confidence going forward. The Canadian side have gone an astounding 7–1–2 in their last 10. At the moment, no team in the league is in better form.
FC Dallas had a banner week away from MLS, winning the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. On Saturday they faced a tough task at New York City FC, and even though Tesho Akindele missed a golden opportunity to win it, a 2–2 draw will suit Dallas just fine.
The Red Bulls let a two-goal lead slip away and had to settle for a draw for the second consecutive week. The Red Bulls are also riding a 12-game unbeaten run and are firmly ensconced in the Eastern elite. It’s hard to know which stat is more indicative of the state this team is in, but I’m leaning towards the latter.
The Galaxy’s draw against Sporting Kansas City extends the team’s unbeaten run to six games, but four of those six have been ties. If Landon Donovan can keep making big plays like he did against KC, though, Los Angeles’ draw problem may go away just in time for the playoffs.
This weekend’s 2–2 draw with league-leading FC Dallas may not stop the momentum that NYCFC have built up in the second half of the season, but a calf injury to Frank Lampard might. The Englishman’s play has been a huge factor in NYCFC’s second-half surge, and if he misses significant time it will be a big blow to the team’s hopes in the postseason.
Despite being near the top of the league, the Rapids are one of MLS’ lowest-scoring teams. Right next to them there is San Jose, so perhaps it’s no surprise that their Saturday matchup ended in a 0–0 draw. Given their games in hand and upcoming schedule, the Rapids still have a great chance to grab one of the West’s top two seeds and maybe, just maybe, steal the Supporters’ Shield from FC Dallas.
The Revolution caught fire with Kei Kamara out of the lineup, and they kept the good results coming as he returned to the fold for a 3–1 win at Montreal. Kamara started up top alongside Juan Agudelo, but Kelyn Rowe was the star of the show as described above. Three straight wins, and all of a sudden the Revs occupy the final playoff spot in the East.
RSL’s previously-unbeaten home record is now sullied with a loss, and it came against the least likely of opponents in the Houston Dynamo. That’s RSL’s second straight loss, and it’s the type of result that could be the difference between hosting a do-or-die playoff game at the still-formidable Rio Tinto Stadium, or traveling to who knows where to take their chances on the road.
The Union faced a tall task facing the Portland Timbers and their MLS-best home record this weekend. With that in mind, a 2–1 loss isn’t that bad on its own, but if you zoom out a little the picture gets worrying. Philadelphia hasn’t won in three games, and they face a brutal upcoming schedule with road trips to Toronto FC and the Red Bulls. The playoffs are still likely, but Philly’s seeding in them may be taking a big hit.
After three straight disappointing results, the playoff push is back in in Seattle thanks to a 1–0 win over Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps. Jordan Morris’s 10th goal of the season was all the Sounders needed, and thanks to that strike Seattle now has reason for confidence. Sporting Kansas City currently holds the West’s last playoff spot, but the Sounders are five points behind with two games in hand.
Darren Mattocks’ brilliant play on the flanks set up two goals en route to a 2–1 win over the Philadelphia Union. The win is Portland’s second in a row, the first time the team has put two positive results together since mid-July. The Timbers have the league’s best home record but have amazingly been unable to win away all season. They’ll have a chance this coming week at lowly Houston.
Another week, another comeback draw for D.C. United. Just like last week against New York, Ben Olsen’s side left things late against the Chicago Fire, with a stoppage time header from Bobby Boswell securing a vital point away from home in the playoff race.
Sporting had the win in hand against the Galaxy, but then lost track of the league’s best-ever player at the top of the box. That’s a recipe for disappointment. With this week’s draw against the Galaxy, KC drops in the standings and now must face the very real possibility of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2010 (when they were still known as the Wizards).
The Earthquakes are among the best in the league at grinding out ugly results, and that’s exactly what they got on the road with a 0–0 draw at Colorado. It’s hard to complain about a point away from home at one of the league’s best teams, but fact of the matter is San Jose hasn’t won in over a month, a span of five games. They need three points soon to have any hope of making a late playoff push.
The Dynamo got a little lucky that RSL rarely managed to seriously test goalkeeper Joe Willis on Saturday, but even so a 1–0 win to break Salt Lake’s undefeated home record is nothing to sneeze at. Wade Barrett has had his team playing better soccer, little by little, since being named the interim coach earlier this season. Now the results are beginning to come.
The Impact appear to be in trouble in a volatile Eastern Conference, and Saturday’s 3–1 home loss to New England is the latest example. Montreal generated plenty of chances, but Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba simply weren’t sharp enough in front of goal, with their only tally coming via a (dubious) penalty kick.
Chicago was oh-so-close to getting a win over D.C. United at home, but allowed the visitors three opportunities at goal in stoppage time before Bobby Boswell buried a rebound header. On the plus side, Razvan Cocis and David Accam each had good games. It’s all about building for next season in Chicago, and it’s been that way for a while.
In the thick of the race for one of the final playoff spots in the East, Orlando City came out against Columbus with as flat and uninspired performance at home as I’ve seen all season. Orlando simply didn’t look interested in defending for much of the game, a worrying sign that drew well-deserved boos from the crowd. It’s Orlando’s second-straight loss, and they’ve conceded four goals in both.
Columbus got a nearly goal and never let up in a 4–1 win at Orlando City. The win means Columbus, amazingly, still has a narrow shot at making the playoffs. But in order to do it, they’ll need to be pretty much perfect until the last day of the season, plus have some other results go their way. Stranger things have happened, but not many of them.
The Whitecaps had chances against Seattle, but couldn’t finish any of them in a 1–0 loss at CenturyLink field. Giles Barnes’s second-half breakaway attempt that hit the post will linger in the minds of Vancouver players should the Whitecaps miss the playoffs. With each passing week, that’s looking more and more certain.