Last weekend wasn't terribly kind to FC Dallas as Oscar Pareja's men lost for the first time since May 31st, falling 1-0 to Chicago. That coupled with two wins by Los Angeles and a win from Seattle certainly doesn't help FCD's quest for a top-3 finish, but Real Salt Lake failing to win in San Jose provides some relief, especially with Saturday's showdown at Rio Tinto looming. Here's the weekly look at the Western Conference playoff picture as the MLS week gets underway tonight:
1. Seattle Sounders FC
48 points(+11 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 1-0 win vs Colorado - Next match: 9/3 at Chivas USA - Last 5: W-W-D-L-W
A mid-season swoon seems to be in the rearview mirror for Sigi Schmid's side who secured all three points at home against Colorado last weekend despite not playing at their highest level. The Sounders have a two-point lead over Los Angeles with nine games left on their schedule and face a trip to Chivas USA on Wednesday night before taking the weekend off from MLS action.
2. LA Galaxy
46 points(+21 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 3-0 win vs Chivas USA - Next match: 9/5 vs Colorado - Last 5: W-W-W-W-L
The league was put on notice this week. The Galaxy are officially red-hot. A two-match week of games at StubHub Center saw Los Angeles earn all six points with blowout victories over DC United and Chivas USA. They have another relatively straight-forward test on Friday night against Colorado and could take over first place in the Western Conference soon. They look like the team to beat right now.
3. Real Salt Lake
43 points(+9 GD) - 8 games remaining - Last match: 1-1 draw vs San Jose - Next match: 9/6 vs FC Dallas - Last 5: T-L-W-W-W
Real Salt Lake won't be too disappointed with a point from a tricky trip to San Jose, but the fact remains that Jeff Cassar's side let a valuable opportunity to gain three points on FCD slip away from them. The draw at San Jose simply makes Saturday's upcoming game between RSL and FCD that much bigger. Given the form of Los Angeles and the points plus game in hand of Seattle, RSL and FCD look to be fighting it out for that third playoff spot in the west.
4. FC Dallas
42 points(+11 GD) - 8 games remaining - Last match: 1-0 loss at Chicago - Next match: 9/6 at Real Salt Lake - Last 5: L-W-W-W-W
There's no reason for panic after a 1-0 loss at Chicago in what was really a strange game from the start. With all eight games remaining against the top six of the Western Conference, FCD will have to earn their way to the top of the West, but these tough games will certainly prepare them well for playoffs. FCD has had RSL's number this year so far and Saturday will be another tough test in Rio Tinto.
5. Portland Timbers FC
34 points(+1 GD) - 8 games remaining - Last match: 3-0 win at Vancouver - Next match: 9/7 vs San Jose - Last 5: W-L-D-W-L
Wins in August don't come much bigger than that one for Caleb Porter's side. The Timbers walked into BC Place and thoroughly demolished the Whitecaps 3-0 last weekend to jump above them into the 5th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They're certainly not out of the woods, but according to Sports Club Stats they raised their chances of making the playoffs by a whopping 20% with the win.
6. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
33 points(-1 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 3-0 loss vs Portland - Next match: 9/6 vs DC United - Last 5: L-L-D-W-D
Boy that was quite the surprising result for the Whitecaps. We know how they struggle on the road, but the side is typically one of the strongest in MLS at home. They'll need to recover quickly from Sunday's loss with a tough DC United side coming to town this weekend in a match they really need to win.
7. Colorado Rapids
30 points(-3 GD) - 8 games remaining - Last match: 1-0 loss at Seattle - Next match: 9/5 at Los Angeles - Last 5: L-L-L-L-L
There were plenty of positives to take from Saturday's 1-0 loss at Seattle, but we're getting to the time of the season where moral victories don't count for much. The losing streak is at six with just one win in their last ten and a trip to high-flying Los Angeles on Friday night won't provide any respite. Let's just say the Rapids are huge Earthquakes fans this weekend.
It's hard to believe, but just nine games remain in the 2014 MLS regular season. Some teams have 11 games remaining in those nine weeks, but we're really getting down to the nitty gritty last two months and the good news is your FC Dallas is right in the thick of things!
Over the next couple months, we will do a weekly post tracking the playoff race seeing what happened the weekend before and what's up next.
1. Seattle Sounders FC
45 points(+10 GD) - 10 games remaining - Last match: 4-2 win at Portland - Next match: 8/30 vs Rapids - Last 5: W-D-L-W-L
The Sounders bounced back from a disappointing draw at home against San Jose to trounce their Cascadia opponents in Portland with a comprehensive 4-2 win. With the win, they broke a three-way tie at the top of the Western Conference. Seattle has a three point lead and a game in hand on both Real Salt Lake and FCD, but have a fairly tough schedule with six of their last ten against current playoff teams.
2. FC Dallas
42 points(+12 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 win vs Real Salt Lake - Next match: 8/30 at Chicago - Last 5: W-W-W-W-D
FC Dallas has burst back to the top of the Western Conference having won four of their last five and six of their last seven. FCD hasn't lost since May 31 but face a trick test this weekend traveling to a Chicago side that has been very tough to beat this season with just six losses and 14 draws. A win in Saturday's game in Chicago would be huge for Dallas' hopes of finishing in the top three of a tight race.
3. Real Salt Lake
42 points(+9 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 loss at FC Dallas - Next match: 8/30 at San Jose - Last 5: L-W-W-W-T
Real Salt Lake had a three-game winning streak halted by FC Dallas last weekend in Frisco, but still bring a solid 42 points to the playoff race. They've got two games left against both Chivas USA and San Jose, so there are definitely winnable games left on the schedule, but their match in San Jose will certainly be pivotal this weekend.
4. LA Galaxy
40 points(+15 GD) - 11 games remaining - Last match: 2-0 win vs Vancovuer - Next match: 8/27 vs DC United - Last 5: W-W-L-D-W
Los Angeles beat a listless Vancouver squad 2-0 at home on Saturday night and they have the inside track on the #1 seed at this point with more games left than anyone else. The big advantage that Los Angeles has is seven of their last 11 games are at the StubHub Center and tonight they have a huge match against DC United that, with a win, could propel them into second place in the Western Conference. FC Dallas has two remaining games left against LA that will prove vital.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
33 points(+2 GD) - 10 games remaining - Last match: 2-0 loss at LA Galaxy - Next match: 8/30 vs Portland - Last 5: L-D-W-D-D
Vancouver has once again been a Jekyll and Hyde team, almost unbeatable at home but woefully poor on the road. Only six points from their last five matches is not enough to keep pace at the top of the west, opening a large gap between fourth and fifth, but they've got the biggest game of the season on Saturday when they'll host Portland.
6. Portland Timbers FC
31 points(-2 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 4-2 loss vs Seattle - Next match: 8/30 at Vancouver - Last 5: L-D-W-L-W
It's looking like the hole that Portland dug early in the season will prove too much for them to pull out of. With Vancouver's two points and game in hand advantage, Portland really has to put all their chips into Saturday's game at Vancouver. According to Sports Club Stats, their playoff odds will go down to just 10% with a loss on Saturday, so it really is make or break right now for a Timbers squad that is also dealing with CONCACAF Champions League.
7. Colorado Rapids
30 points(-2 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 4-3 loss vs LA - Next match: 8/30 at Seattle - Last 5: L-L-L-L-L
That last five matches. Ouch. Technically the Rapids are still in with a decent shout when you look at the point totals, just three points behind Vancouver, but in reality things are pretty bleak for the Rapids. Losses in their last five matches and the season-ending injury to Drew Moor has sent the club into a bit of a tailspin and a trip to Seattle this weekend means there will be no rest for the weary.
The accolades keep rolling in for FC Dallas this week on the back of their 5-0 win in San Jose. FC Dallas had two players and their head coach named to the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week, while three FCD players also appeared on the Week 23 Castrol Index Top 20.
On the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week, we saw Fabian Castillo, Tesho Akindele and Oscar Pareja make the weekly best XI. Here's what they had to say:
F: Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas) – Two great solo goals, an assist, and easily the best player on the pitch. Virtually unplayable at times against the Earthquakes.
Coach: Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas) – In what was supposed to be a must-win for San Jose, Pareja and FCD turned the game at Buck Shaw into a laugher.
On the weekly Castrol Index, rookie Tesho Akindele finished in the top spot overall after scoring a hat trick against San Jose. Fabian Castillo finished fifth on the list while goalkeeper Raul Fernandez who earned a shutout in the win finished 10th.
Here's your Keys to the Match pres. by Toyota for Saturday's big game:
For the second week in a row, an FC Dallas player has made MLS Team of the week. This week Zach Loyd made the team with his stellar defensive efforts at centerback helping keep the clean sheet for FCD. In addition, Fabian Castillo made the bench for his offensive prowess on Sunday night.
"D: Zach Loyd (FC Dallas) – The veteran right back helped his team blank Chivas USA on the road, limiting red-hot forward Erick Torres in the process. He's officially back in Oscar Pareja's good graces, and for good reason."
Here's your Toyota Keys to the Match for tonight's international friendly vs Aston Villa with summer intern Taryn Bray stepping in for on vacation Scott Brown!
Matt Doyle & Dan Haiek of MLSsoccer.com break down Saturday's game vs New England:
2014 World Cup Group G
How they got here: Steamrolled their UEFA qualifying group winning 9 out of 10 games.
2010 World Cup: Fell 1-0 to Spain in the semifinals.
Best case: Germany has been to at least the semifinals in the last three World Cups and while this team is banged up, Germany goes into every World Cup looking to win it. In a bracket where they won't face a Brazil or Spain until at least the semifinals, Germany is really contending with Argentina for that semifinal spot. Given the South American location, you'd think the Germans would be happy with a semifinal appearance.
Worst case: Key injuries leave Marco Reus sidelined and other key German players hobbled heading into a tough group. As crazy as it sounds, it's not inconceivable that Germany slips up against Portugal, then draws the US and Ghana. It's a long shot, but not out of the question.
Player to watch: Winger Mesut Ozil comes into this tournament relatively healthy and coming off his big money move to Arsenal. Ozil is truly world class and with others hobbled around him will be relied on to create much of the German attack.
X Factor: Bayern Munich's diminutive winger Mario Gotze solidified his first team position as the season went on and he's coming into this tournament firing on all cylinders.
How they got here: Defeated Bob Bradley's Ghana side in the qualifying playoff.
2010 World Cup: Defeated the United States in the round of 16 and were extremely unlucky to fall to Ghana in the quarterfinals.
Best case: They enjoyed some good luck and punched above their weight in 2010, but if things come together they can advance from this group. They'll have to beat the USA in that first game to have any chance.
Worst case: With aging stars, Ghana is unable to repeat their heroics of 2010 falling to the United States in the first match and failing to recover with two more losses to Portugal and Germany.
Player to watch: Kevin Prince-Boateng, brother of Germany defender Derek Boateng, is one of the top attacking players on Ghana. He's a veteran of AC Milan, Tottenham and Schalke 04 among others.
X Factor: Michael Essien is an old 31 years old and can he reconjure his greatness for one more tournament. Their central midfield becomes a litle weak without him.
How they got here: Defeated Sweden in that epic playoff qualifying round
2010 World Cup: Fell to Spain in the round of 16
Best case: Ronaldo. Ronaldo. Ronaldo. The Real Madrid superstar goes into beast mode and takes Portugal onto his back leading them out of the group stage and past Belgium in the round of 16 into a quarterfinal match.
Worst case: Cristiano is hobbled by his muscle issue(unlikely) and Portugal struggles to find another offensive option crashing out at the group stage.
Player to watch: Look out for Portugal's big forward Eder. The 26-year-old has recently broken into the Portugal team and has a big body that could give the US defenders a lot of problems.
X Factor: Well this one is kind of easy. Portugal will go as far as Cristiano Ronaldo takes them, end of story.
How they got here: Won their CONCACAF qualifying group
2010 World Cup: Fell to Ghana in the round of 16 after winning their group.
Best case: The United States finally exorcises their Ghana demons and earns a point from either Portugal or Germany to advance second from the gorup with four points.
Worst case: The USA's tournament is practically over before it starts after a third-straight loss to Ghana. With two tough games after that, it's a very real possiblity that the old US & A could finish with 0 points.
Player to watch: Outside back Fabian Johnson has been arguably the USA's best player in the kickoff series games. The Borussia Moenchengladbach signing could prove to be an attacking force from the back for the United States making them much more dynamic.
X Factor: Jozy Altidore's two goals against Nigeria were perhaps the best development of the last month. If Altidore can find his goal-scoring touch, paired with Dempsey, Bradley and the other proven stars, the USA could advance from this group.
Germany 1st, Portugal 2nd, United States 3rd, Ghana 4th
Boy the USA really got a raw deal with this group and prior to Tuesday's Portugal thrashing of Ireland, I thought maybe the USA could pull off the upset, but this is just too much for them.
I feel like the United States will beat Ghana in their first match, but Portugal's draw with Germany in the first match paired with 4 points from Ghana/USA means we'll see Germany 5, Portugal 5, USA 4, Ghana 1.
What do you think?
2014 World Cup Group F
How they got here: Finished first in CONMEBOL qualifying
2010 World Cup: Beat 4-0 by Germany in the quarterfinals.
Best case: Argentina is one of the few teams that can say they have a real chance to win this tournament. Their trio of Messi, Di Maria and Aguero is better than any in the world and if the defense can hold up, they're going to cruise to at least the quarterfinals. They can't possibly meet Spain or Brazil until at least the semifinals, so the stage is set for Argentina...
Worst case: It would be shocking to see Argentina not at least advance to the quarterfinals. Perhaps the worst case is falling to a team like Germany or Belgium in the quarterfinals which, while possible, would be a huge disappointment for a team with championship aspirations.
Player to watch: Who else but Lionel Messi? He's the best player in the world and he's been in decent form with Argentina heading into this tournament. As unfair as it is, the 2014 World Cup will go a long way to determining whether we see Messi as the best of all-time.
X Factor: We know about Messi and Aguero, but if Angel Di Maria can play as well as he has been recently with Real Madrid, Argentina becomes almost unbeatable. Di Maria, now 26 years old and in his absolute prime, will be a huge piece of the Argentina offense.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
How they got here: Won their UEFA qualfiying group, beating Greece on goal differential.
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: Playing in their first World Cup, B&H leans on their stars, Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, and those two star forwards score the goals that get B&H through a relatively easy group. The USA must be wondering why they couldn't have been drawn here.
Worst case: With a no-name defense and a first-time World Cup squad, the stage is just a little bit too big and Nigeria is able to beat the Europeans, sending them out at the group stage.
Player to watch: We've seen him do the business with Manchester City winning two EPL titles and Dzeko can solidify his name among the best forwards in the world if he can lead Bosnia out of the group stage.
X Factor: Miralem Pjanic is the creative, attacking engine of this team and he will need to pull the strings to create the goals Bosnia needs.
How they got here: Finished first in AFC qualifying, ahead of South Korea
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: This Iran team is pretty much unknown with a squad that plays almost exclusively in Iran so it's incredibly tough to call. If they win a game, they'll be very pleased with themselves.
Worst case: Iran is simply overmatched against three solid teams with very different styles and they go out without a point from the group stage.
Player to watch: One of the few that plays in Europe, Ashkan Dejagah had an up and down season for Fulham, but is capable of scoring great goals and would be the one who likely scores if Iran could nip a 1-0 win.
X Factor: I'd be lying if I said there was a player other than Dejagah that I've ever seen play. The X Factor for Iran isn't simply one player, it's staying compact defensively against Nigeria and Bosnia.
How they got here: Defeated Ethiopia in their qualifying playoff.
2010 World Cup: Did not win a match, going 0-1-2. They haven't won a World Cup match since 2002.
Best case: Playing in a manageable group, the Super Eagles return to their former success advancing from the group stage for the first time since 1998.
Worst case: Nigeria is unable to cope with the European talent on Bosnia and they fall in that group-deciding match failing to advance from the group.
Player to watch: Ogenyi Onazi is the central midfield engine of both Nigeria and Lazio. At just 21 years old, Onazi is primed to move to a big European club with a solid World Cup.
X Factor: Peter Odemwingie has been a decent forward in the EPL since 2010 and while he's had an up and down career for Nigeria, he's likely their best forward option and will need to score some goals for the Super Eagles to advance.
Argentina 1st, Nigeria 2nd, Bosnia & Herzegovina 3rd, Iran 4th
This one is pretty straight forward for first place, but second is a toss-up between Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. They play second in the schedule and I think Nigeria playing Argentina 3rd could play into the Super Eagles' hands.
I like Nigeria to earn 5 points out of the group which will be enough to advance second.
What do you think about this group?
2014 World Cup Group E
How they got here: Finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: Playing in South America, Ecuador punches above their weight a bit and finishes at the top of a group that's there for the taking. With a matchup against the weak second place team in group F, Ecuador makes it all the way to the quarterfinals.
Worst case: Ecuador is unable to take advantage of the South American conditions and fall to a pair of teams that, on paper, are probably better than Ecuador, sending the South American's out at the group stage.
Player to watch: Jefferson Montero is a dynamic attacking midfielder who has found lots of success in Liga MX for Morelia after washing out of Europe. He'll be a player Ecuador will be relying on for a lot of offense.
X Factor: Antonio Valencia is the one name on Ecuador that will be known by most soccer fans and he's got the ability to make Ecuador a very tough team to beat. It will be interesting to see where the versatile player lines up.
How they got here: Came from two goals down to defeat Ukraine in UEFA qualifying playoffs
2010 World Cup: Disastrously crashed out at the group stage failing to win a game.
Best case: France continues their yo-yo World Cup trend and dominates a group that, on paper, they're clearly the best team. The 1998 champions will miss Franck Ribery, but Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba pick up the slack for a France side that strolls to the quarterfinals.
Worst case: A younger French squad fails to gel together, Ribery is badly missed and the in-fighting once again plagues the French team who falls at the group stage for the second straight world cup.
Player to watch: With Franck Ribery out, a French winger named Antoine Griezmann could be set for a big tournament. Having played his whole career at Real Sociedad in Spain, the 23-year-old isn't terribly well known, but he's impressed in the Champions League and has scored three goals in France's World Cup warmup games.
X Factor: He's as streaky of a forward as you'll find, but Karim Benzema will have to be good for France to advance far in the tournament. If he can create his own chances and punish weaker defenses of Honduras and Ecuador, a guy like Benzema could be a dark horse for the golden boot.
How they got here: Finished third in CONCACAF qualifying.
2010 World Cup: Finished with one point in their group and did not score a goal.
Best case: For Honduras, they'll remember the lessons of 2010 and have a better World Cup. That doesn't mean they'll advance from the group, but perhaps they can score a couple goals.
Worst case: Another winless and goalless tournament is very possible for Los Catrachos.
Player to watch: A player that long-time MLS fans will be familiar with, former DC United Homegrown signing Andy Najar has done very well since moving to Anderlecht in Belgium. Still just 21, the winger has a chance to be Honduras' most famous and best player ever.
X Factor: Another former MLS'er, midfielder Roger Espinoza will be key to Honduras' hopes. Having played in the Premier League, Espinoza will not be out of his depth at the World Cup and could earn a move to a bigger team than Wigan with a nice tournament.
How they got here: Won their UEFA qualifying group.
2010 World Cup: Had a respectable 1-1-1 showing including a win over eventual champions Spain, but failed to advance from the group.
Best case: A young and dynamic team has one of their myriad of youthful attacking players step up to another level and Switzerland finds the goals to make them a formidable team in the tournament advancing from the group.
Worst case: Where do the goals come from? There are some very good players on the Switzerland team, but the lack of depth proves consequential and the Swiss simply can't find the goals to beat anyone in the group.
Player to watch: Tiny Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri could be set for a breakout tournament. He's been somewhat hidden by the mass of attacking talent at his Bavarian club side and the World Cup gives him the stage to shine.
X Factor: Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio can be among the best in the world when on the top of his game, but he's fallen off the map a little bit recently with Wolfsburg. Benaglio is a player that could earn Switzerland a result almost single-handedly.
France 1st, Ecuador 2nd, Switzerland 3rd, Honduras 4th
I really think France could be set for a surprisingly good tournament. Rumors have abounded that Ribery's absence may turn out to be a positive for Didier Deschamps' side and I like them to have a relatively easy group stage win.
After that, I'm going to take the South America factor for Ecuador to get them past Switzerland.
What do you think about this one?