Monday, October 17, 2011

Football Americana Week 31: DC's playoff attempt collapses

An electric and brim-full Major League Soccer week shook the playoff picture into shape as the season winds to a dramatic end.

Chicago Fire kicked off the week's fixtures looking to better their chances of a playoff spot, but suffered a setback at home, losing 2-1 to FC Dallas. Jackson opened the scoring for Dallas just before half time, racing on to a loose ball and sliding it past a weak hand from Sean Johnson. Daniel Cruz's bicycle kick, later copied with some aplomb by one Mario Balotelli, made it 2-0 on the other side of the break. The Fire went down to ten men with ten minutes to go, Pavel Pardo seeing red for a scissor tackle. Chicago's late goal, scored brilliantly by Sebastian Grazzini, was scant consolation.

DC United missed the chance to gain points over Chicago, losing 2-1 at Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver's first goal came after just 42 seconds, Camilo ghosting in at the far post to crash home a poorly defending cross from Jordan Harvey. The ball was crossed from an identical position just a minute into the second half and Long Tan rose high to thump in a superb header to further damage United's hopes. Brandon McDonald did pull one back, redirecting Santino Quaranta's free kick past Joe Cannon.

When Chicago and DC met at RFK Stadium, a stunning finale saw United grasp and then discard their playoff hopes, which now require a miracle after a 2-1 loss to the Fire. Dwayne De Rosario looked to have won it in the 90th minute, coolly firing in his 15th goal of the season. But Chicago got their gun off in stoppage time, with Grazzini's brilliant snapshot levelling matters in the 92nd minute and Diego Chaves winning it with a 94th minute goal after Marc Burch's mistake.

Dallas celebrated reaching the playoffs with a 2-0 home win against Vancouver. Marvin Chavez got them off the mark with a stunning finish after Brek Shea's finish, and Shea got the second himself with a controlled half volley in the 54th minute.

There were no goals on offer in the Rocky Mountain Cup game between Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, one of the USA's bitterest rivalries. The most controversial moment came less than half an hour in, Sanna Nyassi going over dramatically under a challenge from RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and escaping a booking. Fabian Espindola was arguably lucky to escape a red card for an entirely unnecessary challenge on Drew Moor.

Houston Dynamo emerged victorious from a huge game against Portland Timbers, winning 2-0 at Jeld-wen Field. Andre Hainault scored the first, glancing in Brad Davis' typically well placed free kick. Danny Cruz created a flashpoint in the 49th minute, earning just a booking for a horrible assault on former Dynamo star Mike Chabala, and then rubbed salt into the wound. His 59th minute strike was curled into the top corner from almost 35 yards and left Troy Perkins with no hope of saving it.

Sebastian Le Toux and Ryan Johnson scored the goals as Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC shared the points with a 1-1 draw. Le Toux scored his tenth goal in eleven games, curling in the pink Jabulani at the end of the first half to give the Union the advantage. Johnson's equaliser came in the 57th minute after Joao Plata's crossfield ball had found Nick Soolsma and he put it on a plate for the former San Jose man.

New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry was in the headlines as usual, only this time it was negative headlines against Sporting Kansas City.He was sent off after 28 minutes, picking up a straight red for a collision with Roger Espinoza - it was a controversial decision, but I've seen Henry do worse and I think it was deliberate. Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong made the Red Bulls pay, the US international volleying in the first and his rookie team-mate CJ Sapong striking to make it 2-0 just after coming off the bench.

Columbus Crew tore New England Revolution a new one with a 3-0 win at Gillette Stadium. Andres Mendoza (pictured) scored the first after 31 minutes, punishing awful defending. Half an hour later it was Dilly Duka who broke free of Kevin Alston to score his first MLS goal. Mendoza quickly followed that with his second of the game, a powerful finish at the back post from Emilio Renteria's cross.

Seattle Sounders went one down at home to San Jose Earthquakes but came back late to win 2-1. Inevitably it was Chris Wondolowski who scored for the Quakes, racing onto a through ball and finishing without hesitation. There was a minor incident in the 56th minute when a number of players came together in an ugly but ultimately toothless confrontation after Alvaro Fernandez escaped censure for kicking Bobby Burling. Sammy Ochoa scored Seattle's equaliser, firing in off the post with less than ten minutes to go, and Fredy Montero's goal four minutes later secured the three points.

The week ended with Sunday's derby match between LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. With nothing but pride at stake, Chad Barrett scored the only goal in LA's win. He jumped to head home Adam Cristman's cross to bank yet another three points for Bruce Arena's side.

So then, the tables.

Nine of the ten playoff spots are now filled. Supporters Shield winners LA are joined from the West by Seattle, Salt Lake, Dallas and Colorado, while the East will put forward Kansas City, Philadelphia, Columbus and Houston.

The remaining spot comes down to a shoot-out between four teams. New York have a three point advantage over Portland and Chicago, and five points over DC. United and Portland will play each other in midweek and then all four teams will have just one game left. It's set to be one hell of a finale.

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