I used to do these “First Looks” when I covered the Seahawks. This one is done for me by MLS.
The defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew became the first team to earn a spot in the 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs after their 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy and unfavorable results for teams near the lower half of the standings. This Saturday night at Crew Stadium, they will try and maintain their MLS-record home unbeaten streak when Seattle Sounders FC make their first appearance in Columbus.
Sigi Schmid has guided the expansion Sounders FC into playoff contention; of course, a season ago, Schmid led the Crew to the first MLS Cup championship in club history and their second Supporters’ Shield. It’s the second time Schmid has faced his former club this season: the teams played to a 1-1 draw May 30 at Seattle’s Qwest Field, a Nate Jaqua goal for the home side canceled out an early Alejandro Moreno strike.
Sounders FC are trying to emulate the 1998 Chicago Fire and become the second team in MLS history to qualify for the playoffs in their expansion season. After their 2-1 loss to New England over the weekend, where Shalrie Joseph led the Revolution back with two second-half goals, Seattle finds itself still holding on to one of the wild card spots, but just one point ahead of eighth-place New England and two ahead of ninth-place D.C. United entering the week.
The Crew are still unbeaten at home in 22 consecutive regular season games. Looking ahead to Tuesday’s crucial CONCACAF Champions League match against Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa — where the Crew can clinch a place in the knockout stage with a win — Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha chose to rest reigning MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto (12 goals, 3 assists) against LA.
Saturday’s contest will also match one of the league’s top attacks against one of its outstanding defenses. The Crew have scored 40 goals this season, second (along with Colorado and D.C. United) only to FC Dallas, which has 44. But the Sounders and the Houston Dynamo are the only two teams to have allowed less than a goal per game, each with 26 goals conceded in 27 contests.
The Sounders’ season has been keyed by candidates for MLS Newcomer of the Year at both ends of the park. Colombian Fredy Montero scored his 12th goal on the season last weekend, a Goal of the Week candidate that hammered off the underside of the crossbar from 35 yards. At the other end, Kasey Keller is second in the league with nine shutouts and an 0.91 goals against average.
Playoff update: You can follow the playoff standings here.
Thirteen teams are still mathematically in contention for the remaining seven spots with four weeks to go.
Coming up in Week 29, the following scenarios could occur:
Houston Dynamo will clinch a playoff berth IF:
Houston defeats Kansas City Sunday OR IF
Houston ties Kansas City Sunday AND D.C. United fails to win against Chivas USA Saturday
Chicago Fire OR LA Galaxy will clinch a playoff berth IF:
They win (against the other) Friday AND
D.C. United fails to win against Chivas USA Saturday.
Note: Neither Chicago nor LA can clinch this week if they tie each other
San Jose will be eliminated from playoff contention IF:
Chivas USA, Seattle AND New England all win OR IF
San Jose loses Saturday against New York AND
New England earns more than one point from two games OR
D.C. United wins against Chivas USA
FC Dallas will be eliminated from playoff contention IF:
FC Dallas loses to New England Wednesday AND any two of the following occur:
-D.C. United wins
-Chivas USA wins or ties
One last thing: As a voting member of the North American Soccer Reporters, I nominated Shalrie Joseph for MLS Player of the Week. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one, but he won.