Chivas USA's playoff hopes increased dramatically Tuesday. Major League Soccer added two teams to the postseason mix.
The league boosted its playoff participants to 10 teams with the addition of two single-game wild-card showdowns, which should be welcomed by Chivas and Columbus, Chicago and D.C., K.C. and New England, even Toronto FC.
The Galaxy and the like? Are you kidding?
Here's how the postseason works this year:
The top three teams in each conference qualify for the main draw, which is just like before: home-and-home conference semifinals, one game conference finals, MLS Cup. The next four best teams, regardless of conference, take the wild-card slots, with the No. 7 seed playing 10 and 8 playing 9 and the winners advancing to play the regular-season champs, and … well, you know how it works.
This system will cut down on all that confusing cross-conference movement in the playoffs, which led to an all-West showdown in last year's Eastern Conference final, an Eastern Conference title (en route to MLS Cup glory) by Real Salt Lake in 2009, and a Western championship by New York in 2008.
Had this system been in place last year, K.C. would have been the No. 3 seed in the East and opened against Columbus, which the then-Wizards might have won. Which would have left them 90 minutes from MLS Cup.
One wild-card battle would have matched Colorado against San Jose. ... Hey, they did play -- in the Eastern Conference final. The Rapids prevailed, then won the MLS Cup crown. (The other wild-card matchup would have been Seattle-Chicago; the Galaxy likely would have opened against Colorado.)
MLS has had eight playoff teams since its 1996 start, when there were only 10 clubs. As the league slowly grew to 16 teams by 2010, eight playoff berths seemed sufficient. Portland and Vancouver make for 18 teams this season and Montreal for 19 next year, and eight still sounds perfect.
L.A. would have reached the 2006 playoffs had this format been in place, but nothing could have saved the Galaxy in 2007 and 2008. And forget Chivas last year or in 2005.
Had this format been in place all along, Columbus and D.C. would have been in four additional MLS Cup hunts, and K.C., Colorado and San Jose would have been three more times. Only Seattle (made the playoffs in both seasons), Toronto (no postseason in four years) and Houston (easy qualifier until last year) would gain nothing.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
The 2011 season started, sort of officially, with a chippy 0-0 draw in which -- it's a rare occasion -- the home team was the real victor.
The Columbus Crew, in rebuild mode after the exit of a dozen players -- including team leaders up front and at the back -- wasn't supposed to give visiting Real Salt Lake much of a game in Tuesday's night's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg. Now another draw, as long as goals are scored, in next Tuesday's second leg in Sandy, Utah, will send the Crew to region's club final four.
Columbus' real advantage was in red cards. Two RSL players saw red, just one Crewman, and all are suspended from the rematch. The biggest loss for the Utahns is Nat Borchers, an MLS Best XI center back, who railed afterward against Crew forward Edgar Renteria.
Both were sent off after a 72nd-minute altercation, and Borchers told The Salt Lake Tribune that Renteria had tried to elbow him in the throat and that had he not leaned back, “I probably would have been in the hospital.” Renteria responded that Borchers had been hitting him all night and tripped him.
“The analogy for me is what I did was petty theft,” Borchers said. “What he did was first-degree felony. He should be banned for five games. Me, I should have got a yellow card. Maybe just a foul.”
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“About scoring goals and being the go-to-player, I -- not on a bad way, don’t get me wrong -- I’m past that. I’m more now of the mind making the team play better, if you know what I mean; that’s very important for me. The game against Chivas [de Guadalajara last week], I played in the middle. It was important for me to make this team click, give a pace to the game. After that, Juan [Agudelo] can score four goals every game, Dane Richards or even Bouna [Coundoul, the goalkeeper] comes up on a corner and scores. Seriously, it’s not my main concern anymore to be the go-to guy.”
“You go through that at one point in your career where you want everything on you: It’s me. Corner kick, free kick, it’s me. Leave me everything, give me everything. Then you realize one of the most important things in the game is to be able to make the guys around you play better. That’s way harder. The other day [against Guadalajara], I actually enjoyed the game, I really did, being able to put people through open the space for someone else. It’s going to be about that this year. I hope everybody else is going to be on the same page, making everyone better.”
ON THE WEB
SI's Grant Wahl challenges FIFA, declares for presidency (Sports Illustrated)
What's up with former U.S. star John O'Brien? (MLSSoccer.com)
French great Eric Cantona looks to revive storied Cosmos name (The New York Times)
Revs' Shalrie Joseph wants to put past behind (ESPN.com, written before … well, see below)
Former Galaxy striker (twice!) Carlos Ruiz, captain of Guatemala's national team, has signed with Philadelphia, returning to MLS after 2½ years away. The MLS MVP and scoring champ in 2002, when he led L.A. to its first MLS Cup crown, Ruiz played in Paraguay (with Olimpia), Mexico (Puebla) and Greece (Aris Thessaloniki) since departing MLS after the Galaxy traded him to Toronto FC in 2008.
Midfield general Sharlie Joseph, the team captain, and defender Kevin Alston were sent home from New England's training camp in Florida for disciplinary reasons. No word on their futures with the club.
Columbus Crew defender Chad Marshall (Riverside/Rubidoux HS) missed the CONCACAF Champions League match after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after he was struck in the head during training Monday. Marshall, who was on the U.S. World Cup preliminary roster, has suffered several concussions, nearly ending his career.
Crew coach Robert Warzycha wants winger Robbie Rogers (Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach/Mater Dei HS), another preliminary World Cupper, to become more productive. Rogers, 23, scored six goals in 2008, when the Crew won the MLS Cup title, assisted five goals in 2009 and managed just one goal last year. “I don’t have to tell him that we need more. He knows. It’s obvious ...,” Warzycha told national soccer writer Steve Davis last week. “His last decision [near goal] was always questionable. That needs to be better.”
Sporting Kansas City rookie midfielder Konrad Warzycha, the Columbus coach's son, is out six to eight months because of a femoral condyle defect in his right knee. Depending on his contract situation, he could be collecting unemployment soon.
The Chicago Fire finally completed the signing of Diego Chaves from Uruguay's Nacional, and GM Frank Klopas declared the 25-year-old Uruguayan striker a starter. Fire roster cuts included Amani Walker, the UC Irvine forward the Fire took in the supplemental draft.
The first tournament of MLS's preseason kicks off Thursday, with FC Dallas facing third-tier USL Pro side Orlando City (the Austin Aztex, moved to Florida) and Houston Dynamo meeting Toronto FC in Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic semifinals. ESPN3.com will stream Saturday's final (5 p.m. PT) and third-place game (3 p.m. PT).
The 98th U.S. Open Cup begins June 14, with USL Pro and amateur clubs, and the Galaxy is among six MLS teams with byes into the June 28 third round. Chivas USA will compete in qualifying matches for one of two remaining MLS slots.
MLS reached agreement with Fox Soccer Channel on a one-year, $6.5 million extension. The league also has contracts with ESPN and Galavision/TeleFutura and in Canada with TSN.