MLS Week 25: Tracking Back

It was a slam-bang weekend in Major League Soccer, with a hat-trick in Seattle, an MVP-type performance from Lando in LA, and a rockfight at the HDC between Chivas USA and Kansas City.

Also: De Ro (left) delivered at crunch time to keep Toronto’s hopes alive, and the Rapids duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings struck again, each scoring his 10th goal of the year.

Let’s break it down:

Player of the Week

Blaise Nkufo, Seattle. The Swiss international scored his first MLS goal—and his second and his third—as Sounders FC came to Columbus and ripped the East leaders 4-0.

It was the week’s most surprising result—and a total buzz-kill on dollar-beer night at Crew stadium.

Runners-up: Landon Donovan scored two late goals to help LA avoid the embarrassment of a home loss to last-place DC United, and Dwayne DeRosario scored two scorching goals off Toronto free kicks—one of them in the 90th minute—to lift the Reds past Houston, 2-1.

Here is Nkufo’s hat trick (Note: Brian Carroll and Frankie Hejduk still haven’t watched these highlights):

Playoff Picture

We are looking at the real possibility, likelihood even, of six Western Conference teams qualifying for the postseason against a mere two from the East.

If the playoffs were held today, these would be your matchups:

Columbus vs San Jose

New York vs Seattle

Los Angeles vs Colorado

Real Salt Lake vs Dallas

Still in the hunt are Toronto with 31 points, Kansas City (30, and two games in hand on Toronto), and Chicago (26, two games in hand).

Chivas USA, Philadelphia, New England, and Houston are all mathematically alive, but Houston coach Dominic Kinnear’s quote from the weekend applies to all four:

“The season’s over. … It’s sad to say it, but it is a reality.”

DC United is mathematically kaput.

Darkhorses?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

They’re playing well enough right now that they don’t qualify as genuine darkhorses, but San Jose and Colorado could come from back in the pack to do some damage in the playoffs.

The Rapids pasted New England 3-0 this week, and they’ve added local boy Brian Mullan—who looked rejuvenated in his debut—and former Red Bull Mac Kandji, who assisted on Colorado’s third goal in that game. Next up: A huge road test at Salt Lake.

We’ve been impressed with San Jose all year; they’ve battled through some injury woes and Chris Wondolowski (nine goals) is having a breakout year. He got the winner vs Philly in Week 25. Next week, the Quakes can do damage to a team trying to overtake them in the playoff chase as they visit Toronto.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

On Sunday night, Kansas City won a chippy affair between two teams fighting (sometimes literally) for their playoff lives, downing Chivas USA 2-0 on the road.

Kei Kamara scored one goal and set up the other (by rookie Teal Bunbury).

The Wizards have a winnable mid-week game at Houston (see coach Kinnear’s comments above), then host FC Dallas on the weekend.

Two results and they could be firmly in the postseason picture, and battle-tested to boot.

The Elite

Parity is on the wane in MLS, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s doubtful that there will be a sub-.500 team in the playoffs, much less the final, this year (see the past two MLS Cups), and there are several teams whose quality is a cut above the pack.

Real Salt Lake outplayed Chicago this week and won 1-0 to extend its home unbeaten streak to a record 23 games.

Los Angeles struggled against last-place (but hard-fighting) DC United, then got two late moments of brilliance from its best player to pull out a win.

After the game, Donovan said, “I want to make sure we finish top of the league, and I want to be the MVP again.”

Both goals seem within reach as Donovan, Edson Buddle (who scored in the previous week’s win over Columbus) and David Beckham are finding their form again.

Beckham hit two 45-yard balls to Buddle in the DC game that had to be seen to be believed. He will be a weapon down the stretch, believe it.

New York trotted out new acquisition Mehdi Ballouchy against Dallas in Week 25, at the expense of Juan Pablo Angel, who started on the bench.

We have to believe that was coach Hans Backe’s way of kick-starting Ballouchy’s assimilation into the team, and not a reflection of the first-choice lineup going forward.

Ballouchy scored a goal in the 2-2 draw, but he showed minimal chemistry with Thierry Henry up top. Angel has got to be the Frenchman’s strike partner, and the Red Bulls need to settle on a lineup for the stretch run.

The recent knock to Henry throws up an obstacle in that regard, and time is running short for this team if it is serious about contending for the title.

Dallas is a tough out, as their 15-game unbeaten streak and 12 ties suggest. But the Red Bulls game took a toll on them—they lost defensive midfielder Daniel Hernandez to a pulled hamstring, keeper Kevin Hartman to a sprained MCL, and winger Brek Shea to a two-game red-card suspension.

Can they regroup in time, and, you know, actually beat some teams instead of tying everyone?