2011 MLS Power Rankings: Week 31

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IOctober 17, 2011

2011 MLS Power Rankings: Week 31

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    The MLS Cup Playoff picture has become clearer and clearer with every passing match. Only one spot among the wild card berths remains in contention heading into the final week of the 2011 Major League Soccer regular season.


    The Los Angeles Galaxy return to the top spot after rebounding from a harrowing road defeat to New York earlier in the month, while a few other teams punched their ticket to the postseason.


    As the World Series looms near in Major League Baseball, and the NFL and NHL seasons continue to rumble on, we take a look at this week's MLS Power Rankings.

18. New England Revolution

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    The horror show that pervaded for Steve Nicol's New England Revolution continued in deserved fashion as they were destroyed 3-0 by the Columbus Crew at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.


    "I have no idea (if I’ll be here next year)," said a very terse Nicol. "It’s disappointing. We at least wanted to give the fans something to cheer about. It’s been a tough one for them, as well. 


    "We appreciate them coming to every home game to watch us and support us, which they have done fantastically all season. So it’s disappointing we couldn’t finish up by giving them something to go home with a smile on their face."


    Well Steve, the outlook on you returning to the folk may as well be as bleak as Zimbabwe's future. There. I said it.


    Up next for the Revolution is their season finale, and it couldn't have come any sooner, quite honestly. Kickoff between the Revs and Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto, Ont. is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.

17. San Jose Earthquakes

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    It didn't matter that Chris Wondolowski scored his league-leading 15th goal of the season for Frank Yallop's San Jose Earthquakes. What mattered was that they relinquished the lead late and fell to the Seattle Sounders, 2-1.


    Wondo scored in the 24th minute for the Quakes, who didn't use a single sub the entire match. Talk about lack of trust in the players on the bench wearing black and blue. And looking black and blue to boot.


    Up next for San Jose is their season finale against FC Dallas at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.

16. Toronto FC

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    Aron Winter's Toronto FC overturned a 1-0 deficit to the Philadelphia Union to salvage a 1-1 draw on Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Ryan Johnson scored in the 57th minute for the Reds.


    Toronto will have a quick turnaround, as they face FC Dallas in CONCACAF Champions League action on Tuesday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.


    TFC end their 2011 MLS campaign on Saturday, Oct. 22 when they host the New England Revolution. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by TSN.

15. Chivas USA

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    There was nothing but misery for Robin Fraser's Chivas USA against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Not even the acquisition of Juan Pablo Angel could prevent an escape from fate in the form of another 1-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Galaxy.


    Naturally, Fraser—a former Galaxy swingman himself—was at a loss for words.


    “I don’t think we were good enough with the ball," Fraser told the press. "As a result we turned it over and put ourselves under pressure. This is another game where we seem to have made a few critical mistakes at a critical time.”


    And that has been the story of the year for Chivas, who wanted to salvage a sorry year with a victory over their long-hated rivals. It doesn't help matters when they have another tough opponent to close out their season...in the form of the Seattle Sounders.


    Kickoff between Chivas USA and the Sounders is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by KWHY TV and Fox Sports Prime Ticket.

14. Vancouver Whitecaps FC

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    It was a hit-and-miss week for Tom Soehn's Vancouver Whitecaps. First, the hit. Vancouver put a huge dent in D.C. United's playoff chances with a 2-1 victory at B.C. Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday.


    Camilo Sanvezzo recorded his 12th goal of the season just seconds into the contest. Early in the first half, Long Tan became the first Chinese-born player to score in Major League Soccer with the decisive game-winner in the 46th minute of play.


    Now for the miss. The Whitecaps had one final chance to get a win on the road. In the end, it never came, as they were shut out 2-0 by FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.


    "I felt like the soccer wasn’t there," Soehn told WhitecapsFC.com's Simon Fudge. "We held the pressure down quite well, created some counter-attacks, but in the flow of the counter-attack, we turned possession over. We really caught them short-handed, so it was unfortunate that even their first goal was against the run of play when we had the better chance. 


    "That wasn’t just the first half, I felt like it was the entire game. A lot of credit goes to FC Dallas. They made it hard for us to play."


    Vancouver will look to end a difficult inaugural year on a winning note when they host the Colorado Rapids. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET and will be televised by Rogers SportsNet One.

13. Portland Timbers

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    John Spencer's Portland Timbers aren't out of the playoffs yet, but their final two games of the season have all the makings of do-or-die after falling to the Houston Dynamo 2-0 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore.


    "I'm still telling them, we're going to try to get maximum points in the next two games whether we're 20 points out of the playoff race or not," a still-optimistic Spencer told the press. "We'll not be changing our philosophy. For us, we're going to try and look to get as many points this year as possible."


    The midweek contest with D.C. United has all the makings of an elimination game. Kickoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. ET/8 p.m. ET and will be televised by ROOT SPORTS.


    And even if Portland wins that match, they have a tough finale on the road when they take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET and will be televised by KPDX TV.

12. D.C. United

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    Ben Olsen's D.C. United are also running out of time before their playoff run is done and dusted. On Wednesday, Brandon McDonald recorded his second goal of the season in the 58th minute of play, but it wasn't enough as they lost in shocking fashion to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at B.C. Place.


    On Saturday, D.C. thought they had rebounded after Dwayne De Rosario slotted home a penalty in the 90th minute of play against the Chicago Fire. But unforgivable defending in stoppage time proved to be all the difference in another 2-1 defeat at RFK Stadium.


    "The crazy thing about this [playoff race] is that we are still not out of it," Olsen told the media. "There’s still a scenario or two in which we can get into the playoffs. So, we’ll move on. It’s just a tough [loss]—I’m not going to sugarcoat it."


    D.C. now have a virtual elimination game on Wednesday at home against the Portland Timbers. A loss or draw will effectively seal United's fate. Kickoff is scheduled for Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.


    If D.C. defeats Portland, then it will set the stage for everything to play for against Sporting Kansas City. Kickoff at RFK Stadium is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Comcast SportsNet Plus.

11. Real Salt Lake

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    Jason Kreis's Real Salt Lake are in need of some firepower. Sure, they defended their Rocky Mountain Cup by way of a scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods park in Commerce City, Colo., but does that leave the RSL manager satisfied going forward?


    Apparently, that would be a yes. Why? Because firepower can also come from rock-solid defending and not just from an offensive standpoint, argues Kreis.


    “We’ve got so many things going wrong I think it’s important to try to focus on one thing and build from that," Kreis told the press. "For me that was this week, competing as a team, showing some pride and getting back to all the defensive details that we built this team upon. 


    "So tonight to see them walk out of here with a nil-nil draw, shutout, that means something to us, and we’ll look to build on it in the next week.”


    If there is any silver lining to this result, it's that the four-game losing streak is history. But now the question becomes: When will Real Salt Lake return to their winning ways?


    The answer will lie in their performance on Saturday, Oct. 22 against the Portland Timbers. Kickoff at Rio Tinto Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT/9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by ESPN 700 and Juan 1600 AM.

10. Red Bull New York

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    So what did Hans Backe's New York Red Bulls do for an encore after a landmark 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy?


    How about get humiliated on the road by Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., by the same scoreline? Even better...Thierry Henry was sent off in the 27th minute of play.


    The result opens the door for the Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire and even D.C. United in the race for the final playoff spot.


    And as if things weren't pinch-infested enough...New York has the Philadelphia Union to put up with to close out the season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Talk about riveting.


    Kickoff is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

9. Chicago Fire

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    Like the Vancouver Whitecaps, Frank Klopas's Chicago Fire suffered a hit-and-miss week. The difference: It was in reverse.


    First, the miss. A tough home tie with FC Dallas in the Brimstone Cup resulted in a 2-1 defeat at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Sebastian Grazzini scored in the 85th minute for the Fire.


    Now for the hit. Grazzini delivered an equalizer in the second minute of second half stoppage time before Orr Barouch delivered the game-winner in the fourth and final minute to give Chicago a 2-1 victory over D.C. United at RFK Stadium.


    Combined with the Red Bulls' demise, Chicago is still in the playoff race heading into the final weekend. But they have a very tough opponent to deal with in the form of the Columbus Crew, who are itching for payback.


    Kickoff at Toyota Park is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT/8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.

8. Colorado Rapids

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    Gary Smith's Colorado Rapids had a number of chances to send one over the end line at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, but they could not decipher Real Salt Lake's defense and were consigned to a scoreless draw.


    In spite of the result, the Rapids punched their ticket to the playoffs.


    “I’d like to think that everyone who came here tonight is starting to see a side with some of that passion, desire and confidence we showed [last year],” Smith told MLSSoccer.com's Nick Thomas. “I think they are getting back into the groove.”


    Up next for the Rapids is some CONCACAF Champions League action, and a must-win match against Santos Laguna at Estadio Corona in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Kickoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. MT/8 p.m. ET.


    Colorado wraps up its league season at B.C. Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. MT/7 p.m. ET.

7. Columbus Crew

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    Robert Warzycha's Columbus Crew were firing on all cylinders in their 3-0 blowout victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday at RFK Stadium.


    Andres Mendoza scored a brace for the Crew, with goals in the 31st and 63rd minutes. Dilly Duka opened his scoring account in the 59th minute of play.


    “There was a tough stretch lately and people thought we weren’t going to make the playoffs,” Warzycha told thecrew.com's Craig Merz. “We kept working and now we’re getting some results. I’m proud of the team. They never gave up even through the bad stretch and all the injuries.”


    Up next for Columbus is their season finale, against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by ONN-TV.

6. Philadelphia Union

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    Peter Nowak's Philadelphia Union lost a little bit of their doop power when they drew 1-1 with Toronto FC at PPL Park. Sebastien Le Toux scored his 11th goal of the season in the 42nd minute of play.


    Despite the draw, the Union punched their ticket to the playoffs with the result.


    “It’s big-time, man,” said defender Danny Califf to philadephiaunion.com's Andy Jasner. “It feels great that we achieved this goal. I think it’s awesome we’re in the playoffs. We’re not finished yet, either. I’m stoked we’re here because these guys have worked so hard.”


    The Union will look to tune-up for the postseason when they take on a team looking to punch a ticket of their own in the New York Red Bulls. Kickoff at Red Bull Arena is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.

5. Houston Dynamo

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    Another team that can make postseason plans is Dominic Kinnear's Houston Dynamo, who shut out the Portland Timbers 2-0 at Jeld-Wen Field.


    Andre Hainault opened his scoring account in the 36th minute, while Danny Cruz put the game out of reach in the 59th minute of play.


    The result means that Houston is now in the MLS Cup Playoffs, with the season finale against the Los Angeles Galaxy remaining.


    "It was a bit of a grind out there. There weren't many chances either way, so I'm obviously extremely happy with the win and the way the guys fought," Kinnear told the press after the match. "This is a tough place to play, especially in the second half they were chucking balls forward like crazy and bringing some pressure, but I think Tally (Hall) and the back four did a great job of not giving too many chances away. Our goals were good goals, and it was enough for us to get the win tonight."


    The match with the Galaxy could potentially be a preview of a Western Conference semifinal should the Dynamo progress to that round, so it will be important for the Men in Orange to approach it that way.


    Kickoff at Robertson Stadium in Houston, Texas, is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. CT/7 p.m. ET and will be televised by Galavision, KHOU 11.2 and Fox Sports Houston Plus.

4. Sporting Kansas City

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    Yet another team that is gearing up for the postseason gauntlet is Peter Vermes's Sporting Kansas City, who shut out the New York Red Bulls 2-0 on Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park.


    Teal Bunbury opened the scoring with his ninth goal of the season in the 57th minute while super sub C.J. Sapong slammed the door shut in the 74th minute of play.


    "You have to credit the players," Vermes said when asked of the team having a resilient mentality. "When you look at them and how hard they work and the perseverance of the group, it’s tremendous and it's happening right before your eyes on a daily basis. That’s a great thing.  


    "Most people only see the game on the weekend. What goes on throughout the week and the amount of effort these guys put in on a regular basis is tremendous."


    Sporting will get to prepare for the postseason against an opponent that may or may not be in the hunt for the final playoff spot. That team: D.C. United.


    Kickoff at RFK Stadium is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. CT/7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by KSMO-TV.

3. FC Dallas

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    Schellas's Hyndman's FC Dallas got a big break this week, with two solid wins. First off was the second leg of the Brimstone Cup. Goals from Jackson Goncalves in the 41st minute and Daniel Cruz in the 52nd minute propelled the Hoops to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.


    Dallas followed that up with a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Goals from Marvin Chavez in the 35th minute and Brek Shea in the 54th minute were all the difference.


    The results bring in some much-needed momentum heading into the CONCACAF Champions League match with Toronto FC. Kickoff at Pizza Hut Park is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.


    Dallas wraps up its MLS regular season on the road when it takes on the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 9:30 p.m. CT/10:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest Plus.

2. Seattle Sounders FC

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    Sigi Schmid's Seattle Sounders provided a proper farewell to Kasey Keller in the form of over 64,000 strong at CenturyLink Field...but it wasn't easy.


    The Sounders were forced to leave it late in their 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. Sammy Ochoa opened his scoring account with the equalizer in the 82nd minute. Fredy Montero recorded the game-winner, his 12th goal of the season, in the 87th minute of play.


    “This was the most nervous I’ve been for a game since the World Cup because I just didn’t want to disappoint,” Keller told SoundersFC.com's Matt Gaschk. “We’ve done it so many times this year that once again, you definitely don’t want to leave this stadium early because we’re going to make things happen at some stage of the game—it might be a little bit late but we’ll make it happen.”


    Seattle will return to CONCACAF Champions League action when they host defending champions C.F. Monterrey. Kickoff at CenturyLink Field is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.


    The Sounders wrap up their league season on Saturday, Oct. 22 when they travel to Carson, Calif., and the Home Depot Center to take on Chivas USA. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by KONG 6/16.

1. Los Angeles Galaxy

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    While Kasey Keller's contributions to football were being recognized up in Seattle, down at the Home Depot Center, it was Gregg Berhalter night. The defender announced this past week that he would also retire from the game and resume his obligations to Bruce Arena's Los Angeles Galaxy as an assistant manager.


    Donning the captain's armband in place of Landon Donovan, Berhalter helped lead the Galaxy to a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA before another sellout crowd at Victoria Street. Chad Barrett, the hero in the first leg, was the hero again with the game-winner in the 53rd minute of play.


    “It was emotional, it definitely was, just to think that this is my last regular season game in a Galaxy uniform," Berhalter said. "I had a lot of good times here, met a lot of nice people, my teammates are great, the coaching staff, the front office, everyone involved has been great. To know you’re closing an 18-year career is something emotional and I started to feel it, for sure.”


    Of course, for the Galaxy, the job is far from done, as a must-win game against C.D. Motagua looms large for Los Angeles. A victory over the Tegucigalpa powerhouse in CONCACAF Champions League play will send them through to the knockout rounds.


    Kickoff at Estadio Nacional in Tegus is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.


    The Galaxy wrap up the MLS regular season on Sunday, Oct. 23 against the Houston Dynamo. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Sports West and Galavision.