Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
All eyes will be on Harrison, N.J., tonight for the New York Red Bulls' critical meeting with the Philadelphia Union.
A Red Bulls win or draw will clinch the final playoff berth for New York and eliminate the Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire. A loss, on the other hand, would allow Portland to advance with a season-ending win over Real Salt Lake and also keep Chicago mathematically alive, though the Fire's odds are far slimmer. Philadelphia, meanwhile, can move into first place in the Eastern Conference with a win but could drop into fourth and the wild-card round with a loss.
But considering the expectations that came with New York's star-studded roster this season, it's safe to say the pressure is all on the Red Bulls.
"If we win, it'll give us a lot of momentum. Momentum going into the playoffs is key," New York midfielder Dax McCarty said. "I think everyone in the locker room will admit it's been a disappointing season by our own standards because we know how good we can be. So this is what it's all about — make the playoffs and anything can happen."
Here are some more notes from around the Eastern Conference:
Midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who scored Chicago's equalizer against D.C. United last weekend moments before Diego Chaves bagged the winner, continues to be bothered by a hamstring ailment that has plagued him for nearly a month.
"He was out here earlier running, jogging, but when he tries to open up a little bit, he still feels it," Fire coach Frank Klopas said Wednesday to ESPN Chicago. "We'll see how he feels. He's day-to-day."
Striker Andres Mendoza could draw even in the Golden Boot race with a hat trick in Columbus' season finale against Chicago on Saturday (his 13 goals trail Dwayne De Rosario's 16), but the Peruvian doesn't seem concerned with his chances at earning the individual accolade.
"I'm not thinking about that," Mendoza said through a translator to MLSsoccer.com. "I want to help the team win. I'm thankful we made the playoffs and that I could help."
Despite Dwayne De Rosario's gaudy numbers (16 goals, 12 assists), the D.C. playmaker could have a hard time earning MVP honors considering his club failed to make the playoffs. But he does have a backer in Portland coach John Spencer, who endorsed De Rosario after the Timbers and United played to a 1-1 draw Wednesday.
"If [De Rosario] doesn't get MVP of the league, there's something wrong — plain and simple," Spencer said. "For the last three months of the season, since he came here, he's been the best player in the league by far — a country mile. He needs to win MVP."
At the end of an injury-plagued campaign, midfielder Danny Cruz is fit, healthy and rounding into form for Houston just in time for the postseason. Since Cruz returned from a quad strain, the Dynamo is unbeaten in five matches.
"It was pretty frustrating with injuries," Cruz told the Houston Chronicle. "Then you get on a good run, and then you get injured again. It's happened twice so far. I'm just fighting through it. Hopefully, I'm ending the season on a good note."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
With New England wrapping up one of the worst seasons in franchise history and Steve Nicol's contract set to expire, the fate of the 10-year coach has come into question. But Nicol knows how he wants the situation to pan out.
"I certainly hope so," Nicol responded when asked if he'd be back, as reported by ESPN Boston, before acknowledging he has "no idea" if the front office agrees.
Philadelphia's playoff berth may already be secured, but the Union will want to improve its seed and avoid playing in the wild-card round with a win or draw at New York on Thursday.
"It's a great stadium to play in and we will have a lot of fans there with us," midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It will be on ESPN, so we want to play well and show that we deserve to be in the playoffs."
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Leading the rookie class in goals (five), assists (five) and games played (all 33), C.J. Sapong has emerged as the clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors. Another stat that enhances his bid: Sapong has started 10 of Kansas City's 12 wins this season.
"I don't know if people realize just how good he's been for us this year," captain Davy Arnaud said to MLSsoccer.com. "C.J. has been outstanding every single game. In my mind, I don't think there is any question about who the Rookie of the Year is, to be honest with you."
In securing passage to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over FC Dallas on Tuesday, Toronto salvaged a positive outcome in what has otherwise been another dismal season for the club.
"This is the best. This is why you play soccer," forward Danny Koevermans said. "A game that was a final for us, and you beat Dallas in an away game 3-0 — it was a great team performance."