When it comes to MLS, things can change on a dime.
The Seattle Sounders, previously winners of nine straight, dropped two games in a pair of five days. Toronto FC, buoyed by last week's win over the LA Galaxy in their quest to return to the playoffs after winning it all last season, are all but toast. Jay Simpson, whose MLS stat sheet previously read "25 games, four starts, one goal" slayed the top team in the Western Conference with an unlikely double. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who appeared headed for a point that would've let them keep pace for the final playoff spot out west, conceded late and now need help in the stretch run.
Such is the nature of the wavering fortunes in MLS, whose playoff picture came into a bit more focus after an action-packed Week 30. Here's the best of the bunch:
I. It's no wonder the Galaxy won
How you could not be amped for a must-win game after a national anthem like this?
That's 7-year-old Malea Emma, belting out a glorious, Zlatan-inspiring rendition prior to LA's 3-0 win over Seattle, which kept the club's playoff hopes alive.
II. But how realistic are the Galaxy's hopes, really?
Wasn't last weekend's loss to Toronto FC supposed to bury LA? Well, mathematically, no. The Galaxy still have work to do, as they trail Seattle for sixth place by three points, though the Sounders have a game in hand and an absolutely cupcake schedule to close the season (home matches vs. Colorado, Houston and San Jose; road matches at Orlando and Houston. Combined wins between those four teams in 117 games this season: 25).
Zlatan & Co. are going to need some serious help from some unlikely sources if they are to crash the postseason party. As it stands, its shutout win over Seattle was unlikely to begin with given the club's recent defensive mark.
III. RIP, TFC
Wasn't last weekend's win over the Galaxy supposed to buoy Toronto to the postseasons? Well, mathematically, no. It had put Toronto on track to stay alive for another week, but the Reds went all out in the comically timed Campeones Cup, losing to Mexico's Tigres in a midweek clash, before falling flat against the New York Red Bulls in a 2-0 loss. It didn't help that superstar Sebastian Giovinco, injured vs. Tigres, was unavailable for the weekend bout, nor does it help that sixth-place Montreal quietly is going about its business and acruing the points it needs to shrink the playoff race.
TFC is 10 points off the pace and will be eliminated, regardless of what it does the rest of the way, if the Impact come up with six points in their final four matches. The best season in MLS history is going to be followed up with one of the most disappointing ones ever.
IV. Go Phigure
It's very MLS of the Philadelphia Union, needing breathing room in the playoff race, to snap a five-game unbeaten streak at home against a Montreal team that had won just twice away from home all season–and then go on and end Seattle's nine-game winning streak (in Seattle, no less) and topple Western Conference top-seed contender Sporting Kansas City with a glorified B Team (at least to start) in a matter of five days.
It's unselfish acts like this, from Alejandro Bedoya in setting up Jay Simpson for his second goal of the day, that show a Union side coming together at the right time.
V. A Shield showdown missing a key actor
The Red Bulls and Atlanta United meet Sunday in what is a de facto showdown for the Supporters' Shield. After each enjoyed 2-0 wins over the weekend, Atlanta maintains its four-point edge over the Red Bulls and can all but seal its first Shield with a win. The Red Bulls can pull within a point and make for one intense battle down the stretch if it can come up with a win, but it'll have to do so without its chief attacking superstar.
Bradley Wright-Phillips' needless, late yellow card vs. Toronto FC for dissent rules him out of the match, due to card accumulation, and the 19-goal-scorer isn't too pleased.
It's not the first time BWP has missed a crucial match over an abundance of cards. Four years ago *he didn't know* the card accumulation rules for the playoffs and was forced to miss the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. The Red Bulls failed to succeed without him and will be hopeful of a different resolution this time around.
VI. Head of the table
The three-team race for the two first-round byes in the Western Conference took another turn after Sporting KC's loss to the Union and LAFC's win over San Jose. Then it took a massive twist when Matt Hedges headed FC Dallas to a 2-1 win in Vancouver Sunday night.
FCD went top of the table out west with the goal, which was a massive dagger to the Whitecaps as they looked to keep pace in the race for sixth. As it stands, they're four points back of Seattle with five games to go.
VII. Seven teams passed on Julian Gressel in the 2017 draft
And one of them was Atlanta United! But with its second pick of the first round in its inaugural SuperDraft, Atlanta nabbed Providence College's German midfielder, and what a find he has been. The 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year has suffered no sophomore setbacks, and this volley was an absolute Georgia peach during a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
VIII. Caught 'em napping
The Colorado Rapids haven't enjoyed too many highlights this season, but Shkelzen Gashi provided one of them, catching the Columbus Crew napping on a restart and looping in a stunning free kick. In typical 2018 Rapids fashion, it still came in a loss.
IX. Owner crashes Bob Bradley's press conference
With Will Ferrell in the owner's suite, this is bound to happen.
X. A net positive
The Portland Timbers endured one heck of a four-day span. First, there was Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew, followed by a 3-2 loss to Minnesota United Saturday night (which included this stunner from fullback Alvas Powell).
The loss could've been detrimental, but fortunately for the Timbers, just about every team directly behind them in the table lost ground. Seattle lost twice, RSL fell at Atlanta and Vancouver let its chance to gain ground slip away. Portland sits six points clear of the playoff line and looks like a safe bet to return to the postseason in Giovanni Savarese's first year at the helm.
XI. A net negative
The Houston Dynamo, despite being out of the playoff race, trotted out a largely first-choice XI in the 0-0 draw deserving of the dead-team-walking derby vs. Orlando City. Perhaps manager Wilmer Cabrera was trying to drum up some positive momentum before Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup final showdown vs. Philadelphia, but if that was the case, it didn't succeed. Instead, the Union, who rested their starters and still beat Sporting KC, enter fresher and with more momentum for the only match left in which the Dynamo can salvage their 2018.