It was a game that had the potential to make Seattle's run-in that much more difficult, not to mention see the Cascadia Cup depart to hated rivals Portland Timbers in front of almost 67,000 people at the C-Link Stadium. But in the end, the Sounders ran out fairly comfortable 3-0 winners against the Timbers, who came into the game only needing a tie to clinch the Cup themselves – their last possible consolation from a season of upheaval.
The game was preceded by the expected hype and spectacle. First the Emerald City Supporters paraded the Cascadia Cup through the streets of Seattle, during their traditional "March to the match", before a huge tifo was unfurled showing a card table scene and the message "Tonight we go all in" – a possible riposte to Portland fans "King of Clubs" display from last season. So far, so typically extraordinary for this intense rivalry.
Had the Sounders dwelt too much on the occasion they could have frozen, instead of delivering what the two sides' league form this year suggested should happen, namely a home victory. The game was largely settled in the middle of the first half when first a Futty Danso own-goal, under pressure from Fredy Montero, then a superb first-time shot across his body from Twitter international Eddie Johnson, opened up a 2-0 lead in a four-minute burst after a cautious start. Montero was credited with forcing the ball over the line for a third just after the hour, and while Portland pressed and created chances they could not manage a goal, let alone to make the game a viable contest in the closing stages.
The Sounders moved into third place in the West, behind Western champions San Jose and second-placed Real Salt Lake, who beat the Galaxy on Saturday night in our Guardian live game. The Sounders are three points behind RSL and have a game in hand and two goals more, but possibly have the most intrigue-laden run-in of any of the sides contesting the playoffs. They have to face RSL next, followed by a Dallas side scrapping for an own outside playoff chance, before a final away game against the Galaxy that could yet prove to be an unofficial wild-card contest. It is quite feasible the loser of that game could end up in the fourth-placed finish that would mean hosting a one-off, official wild-card game to reach the conference semi-finals against San Jose. Hardly the easiest route to MLS Cup.
But it would be harder still, had the Sounders let this weekend's game, and the destiny of the Cascadia Cup, distract them. They didn't. Vancouver Whitecaps must now keep a similar eye on the main prize when they meet Portland in the final Cascadia Cup game, in the next round of crucial MLS matches. GP
Anyone watching the most recent New York vs Sporting KC game, or the two breakaways by Chicago that saw Sherjill Macdonald twice outstrip the defense to give Chicago the win on Saturday, will have been alarmed at the sluggishness of the New York side in yet another vital game. It was something that was alluded to by the newly arrived general manager, Jérôme de Bontin, at his introduction to the New York media prior to Saturday's game, when he said of budget priorities for next season:
"Clearly we have to look at the situation of our medical staff, we have to look at the nutrition of our players – everything that goes around the running of a professional club. We just have to do better."
De Bontin might not have expected to be quite so prescient. Thierry Henry in particular looked particularly lethargic – strolling around the middle of the park, except for the frequent moments when he experienced a turnover, when pride would impel him to race back and tackle rashly (picking up a yellow for one such challenge on Chris Rolfe). So off the pace was he that in Hans Backe's post-match press conference he was asked if his star player was injured. Backe denied it, though he could have been forgiven for complaining about his own problems – the arrival of de Bontin for Erik Soler (who has been relegated to an internal consultant's role) this week was widely seen to leave Backe as a lame-duck coach.
Certainly the impression left by the changes, including the little-remarked temporary assumption of sporting director duties by Red Bull's overall group sporting director, Gérard Houllier, suggests that the Scandinavian experiment of Soler and Backe is in its final phase, unless – though probably even if – the latter can produce a currently unlikely run to MLS Cup.
While the hosts were laboring, Chicago managed to stop the rot of two successive defeats and put themselves in second place again, with their defense recording a morale-boosting clean sheet. Arne Friedrich had a vital block on Henry as well as playing a part in the opening goal, while Austin Berry looked every inch the rookie of the year contender he deserves to be.
Depending on remaining results, these two sides may meet again in the playoffs. They have to get there first of course – Chicago's playoff spot, if not position, is now assured, following Columbus failing to get more than a point against Sporting KC on Sunday, but New York's path pits them against Sporting at home and a Philadelphia side who would take great pleasure in ruining the Red Bulls' season in their final game.
Simply put, now is the time of year when sides need to show they are capable of beating their nearest rivals. On Saturday, Chicago did. New York didn't. GP
A dip in San Jose's results usually coincides with a dip in form for Chris Wondolowski. This season, that hasn't happened. Consequently the 'Quakes are on the verge of lifting the regular-season title after another impressive win.
On Saturday night against Colorado, Wondo smashed home a hat-trick in a 4-1 win to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, with 62 goals. The Bay Area native overtook one of his childhood heroes, Ronald Cerritos, to complete the feat, with 60 of his goals having come in the past three seasons.
Wondolowski's 2012 season tally stands at 25, and with just two games left he needs three more to better Roy Lassiter's MLS record of 27, which dates back to 1996, the league's inaugural year. Expect plenty of San Jose players to be caught dallying on the ball in their last few games, as they try to help Wondo complete the remarkable feat.
Wondo is a poacher. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jimmy Greaves ever got together and adopted a son, Wondolowski would be their choice. Even from a wide midfield position, Wondo pops up in the box in the right place at the right time. He's had the second-most shots in the league, 117, and has put 51 of them on frame. But another aspect to his game has developed this term – assists. This season Wondo has eight; across his previous eight MLS seasons he accumulated just seven.
Plenty of praise has flown his way over the past few seasons, including recognition from Jürgen Klinsmann. However the US national team coach hasn't been bowled over by Wondo. Maybe the Euro snob inside Klinssy wants to see Wondolowski scoring in Europe? Well apparently Hannover 96 have been sniffing around and Wondo didn't exactly quash those rumors in a recent interview.
Whatever happens, the MLS player of the month for September is a dead cert for his third straight Golden Boot – technically, he lost the 2011 title to Dwayne De Rosario on count-back, due to a lack of assists – and a fired-up Wondo aiming to grab yet another MLS record is great news for the 'Quakes.
Something else to make San Jose smile: qualification for the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League came courtesy of Saturday's victory over the Rapids. Wondolowski is hoping that is just the start of the accolades rolling his and SJ's way over the next few months. Two regular-season games against LA and Portland stand in Wondo's way of rubber-stamping himself in the MLS history books and claiming the Supporters' Shield.
Nobody ever thought Wondolowski would catch Lassiter's season record. However, Lassiter hopes that the San Jose man can do it.
"I'm hoping he gets this because I just feel all records are meant to be broken. If his mind is focused less on the record and more on helping his team win games, he'll get the goals he needs."
The Whitecaps didn't play this weekend, but it was a good weekend for them. They'd done their part earlier in the week when their offense, which has been somewhat indifferent of late, finally got it together to rattle four unanswered goals past a Chivas USA side experiencing that particular scoreline for the third time in seven dispiriting losses. Then, on Sunday night, Vancouver watched happily as that same Chivas side belatedly rediscovered their pride to virtually derail the playoff ambitions of the one side who can overhaul the Whitecaps, Dallas.
On Wednesday, at BC Place, the Whitecaps took an 11th-minute lead with a rifled effort from Gershon Koffie and by the time Barry Robson smashed a similarly emphatic effort in the 73rd minute, Dane Richards and the excellent Camilo, who was at the heart of much of Vancouver's attacking movement, had piled on the misery for the hapless Chivas, who since giving up a 3-0 lead against New England at the end of August have managed only one goal in that string of defeats.
There is an assumption that sides with no playoff position to play for make dangerous opponents at this stage of the MLS season, because individual players are playing for their contracts next year. As theories go, it tends to ignore the reason these players' contracts might be under question in the first place, and generally the evidence in support of this premise was slightly patchy this weekend.
True, Philadelphia Union did pick up a third win in four games courtesy of a Jack McInerney goal that strengthened his starting claims for next season, and Toronto were obdurate opponents for 87 minutes against DC United – only for their goalkeeper to gift DC a vital winner. But Colorado Rapids looked more like a side in shell-shock than one fighting for futures, as San Jose crashed through them. Then on Sunday night, Chivas finally cut loose to give Dallas an almighty scare, coming from behind and going within a desperate block off Kevin Hartman's legs of taking all three points.
Chivas' efforts mean that Dallas now lie four points behind Vancouver with two games to go. Looking for the win that will put them over the top, Vancouver face a tricky local game against Portland (what a time to get their first Cascadia Cup win that would be) and a final weekend trip to resurgent Real Salt Lake. No gimmes there. But then Dallas must go to Seattle in two weeks' time, before facing, you guessed it, Chivas USA in a final-day fixture that suddenly looks a lot more tricky than it did on Sunday afternoon.
Of course the scenario could still arise in which the final playoff spot comes down to goals scored – in which case Wednesday's four goals against Chivas, which placed the Whitecaps within range of Dallas, may prove crucial. Chivas may be out of playoff contention themselves, but they could have a big say in the destiny of the West. GP
In the five games since DC captain Dwayne De Rosario suffered a season-ending MCL injury United have won four times and tied once, conceding just twice in the process.
Ben Olsen has successfully (and impressively) remodeled and refocused his side without their talismanic attacker. Tweaking DC'soffense to cope with the loss of the 2011 MVP hasn't been easy but United have looked solid across the midfield and defense, recording three clean sheets in five outings.
But, understandably, they've struggled going forward without De Rosario. With the fulcrum of the team yanked away, extra pressure has been placed on Chris Pontius, Maicon Santos, Lionard Pajoy and Hamdi Salihi and offensive fluidity has completely disappeared. However Salihi came up trumps in the dying embers of Saturday's trip to a chilly Toronto. DC's only designated player reacted first to Milos Kocic's mistake in the 87th minute to prod home the winner that catapulted United to third place in the East.
The playoffs seem inevitable now, with United needing a single point from their final two games to guarantee a first postseason appearance since 2007. Yet with a banged-up side short of creativity and a cutting edge, Olsen must be concerned for his teams well-being at the dance. Not at all.
"We found a way. Most of our games can go either way. We are just finding ways to win right now. We're not saying we're the top team in the league, but there is something about us, with our spirit, where we are finding ways to win."
The four victories – the last three have all been 1-0 with second-half goals – that have transformed United's season from a hard-luck story to playoff certainties, have been hard-fought, scrappy and ugly affairs. DC's style resembles their coach's personality. Olsen is a wily competitor and his teams' reluctance to give up, their ability to hit opponents hard at pivotal stages of games and their ability to hang on to what they have will all work well in the postseason. Players like Perry Kitchen, Lewis Neal and Brandon MacDonald possess steely determination that will make United a hard side to play against. Plenty of teams will be hoping to avoid the capital club this postseason.
With a huge away matchup with Chicago to finish the regular season, United will fancy their chances of gaining home-field advantage, with all the pressure on the Fire. DC certainly won't go down without a fight, as they've shown only too often since losing their main man. Many predicted that without De Rosario United's season would peter out. Olsen's team have defied the doubters. JPW