All hands were on deck this week as teams coped with injuries, suspensions and CONCACAF Champions League demands while trying to keep pace in the furious MLS stretch run.
There were a lot of understudies involved, but the drama remained first rate, ranging from tight, one-goal nail-biters to high-scoring, back-and-forth affairs.
There were four two-goal games by veteran attackers, a number of streaks ended and extended and, when it was over, two marquee names, David Beckham and Thierry Henry, sat atop the leader boards in assists and goals, respectively.
Let’s roll it back.
The Galaxy opened the week with a bitter defeat to Mexican side Morelia in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night. Up 1-0 with seven minutes to play, they gave up a pair of goals, had one of their own dubiously disallowed and fell 2-1.
Back in MLS on Saturday night, LA faced Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the last-place team in the league and seemingly just what the doctor ordered for a club looking to shake off a tough loss.
But as last-place teams go, Vancouver might be the best in MLS history. That’s no backhanded compliment: The 'Caps are a skillful, consistently entertaining team with three of the top offensive talents in the league in David Chiumiento, Camilo and Eric Hassli.
They would not be a pushover, and could be a trap game for any team taking them lightly (See: New York, Week 26).
The Galaxy kept that in mind and took care of business. Mike Magee scored two goals, Robbie Keane had a goal and an assist and Bryan Jordan and Beckham each had two assists.
Seattle Sounders FC won their midweek CCL game, downing Costa Rican side Herediano 2-1, but last time out in MLS play, they suffered a rare home defeat to Real Salt Lake.
This past weekend they battled a D.C. United side flush with optimism following a 3-0 road win over Chivas USA in Week 26. The Black-and-Red’s victory in LA had come at a cost, though, as they lost influential attacker Chris Pontius (seven goals, five assists) to a broken leg.
They missed him at CenturyLink Field, where Seattle romped to a record-setting 3-0 win. The hosts got two goals from Álvaro Fernández and two assists from Mauro Rosales to push their season point total to a club-record 51.
Rosales’ assists gave him a franchise-record 12 helpers, and the sellout crowd of 36,242 increased Seattle’s 2011 total attendance to 553,987, also a record.
Unfortunately, much like DC’s win the previous week, Seattle’s big day came at a cost: Rosales went down with an apparent MCL strain after a needless tackle by DC defender Daniel Woolard in the 90th minute of the lopsided game.
If Seattle have to make do without their best player in the coming weeks, they can take heart from Eastern Conference contenders New York and Philadelphia, both of whom pulled out gut-check victories—and ended lengthy winless skids—without the services of several key players.
The Union were missing starting goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón and attackers Justin Mapp and Veljko Paunovic when they took on East leaders Columbus (who were missing Emanuel Ekpo, Emilio Rentería, Chad Marshall and Eddie Gaven) on Saturday night.
Philly started seven players younger than 23—including 16-year-old Zach Pfeffer—and still got a crucial 1-0 win, thanks to Sébastien Le Toux’s sixth goal in the past six games. The victory halted their winless streak at eight games.
The Red Bulls faced a similar situation heading into their Saturday night game against FC Dallas. New York, who had not won since July 6, began the match on the outside looking in at the MLS playoffs, and were missing four starters, including top scorer Thierry Henry and Designated Player Rafa Márquez.
But veteran goalkeeper Frank Rost and striker Luke Rodgers returned from injury to lift New York, with Rost making several excellent saves and Rodgers bundling in a perfect cross from Juan Agudelo for the game’s only goal in the 36th minute.
New York’s win vaulted them over DC and Portland into the 10th and final playoff spot, while the Union’s victory pushed them to within two points of Columbus at the top of the crowded Eastern conference, where the top four teams are separated by two points.
The Houston Dynamo remained in that pack with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over San Jose on Saturday night. Rookie Will Bruin struck the winner in the 80th minute, one-timing a cross from Luiz Camargo past Quakes 'keeper Jon Busch.
The East’s second-place team, Sporting Kansas City, had a chance to reclaim first after Columbus’ loss to Philadelphia, but came up short against in-form Real Salt Lake, who got a header from Nat Borchers for the game’s only goal.
It was the fourth consecutive win for Jason Kreis’ men, who moved into third place in the West and have two games in hand on Seattle and LA. The 2009 champs will not be overlooked come playoff time—and they can’t be counted out of the Supporters’ Shield race, either.
The 2010 MLS Cup champs, on the other hand, are going through a rough patch. Colorado lost their third straight, falling to Toronto FC 2-1 at BMO Field, where against TFC the Rapids are 0-5 all time, oddly enough.
The Reds’ goals came from Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, who has six goals in seven MLS games this year.
Chicago have an in-form striker of their own, Dominic Oduro, and he scored his 10th of the year to lift 10-man Chicago to a 3-2 win over struggling Chivas USA in a lively one at Toyota Park.
After going up 2-0, the Fire lost defender Cory Gibbs to a red card in the 37th minute. Chivas battled back to tie it on goals by Juan Pablo Ángel and Nick La Brocca before Oduro stepped up to win it in the 85th, sending Chivas to their fourth straight loss.
While Chivas fade, Portland have won four in a row at home following a 3-0 thumping of New England at JELD-WEN Field on Friday night.
Week 27 kicked off in similarly back-and-forth fashion at Crew Stadium this past Wednesday night. Columbus lost midfielder Emanuel Ekpo to a red card 11 minutes in, but visiting Houston could not capitalize on their man advantage, and they needed a late goal by Calen Carr just to tie 2-2.