PLAY-OFFS HEAT UP

Paris Saint-Germain’s Maxwell, right, and Chelsea FC’s Romelu Lukaku go for the ball during the second half of their soccer match at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, July 22, 2012. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams
AP Photo/Lindsey Anderson

The MLS play-offs race is heating up as the regular season nears its end. There are 10 play-off positions available in MLS, five from each conference, and to date, only three teams, in the West, have officially clinched play-off berths.

In the Eastern Conference, first-place Sporting Kansas City (55 pts.), Chicago Fire (53 pts.) and New York Red Bulls (50 pts.) are the top three teams likely to see post-season play, while the two other play-off spots still up for grabs are being contested by DC United (47 pts.), Houston Dynamo (46 pts.) and the surprising first-year expansion club Montreal Impact (40 pts.), which has a long shot.

In the Western Conference, leader San Jose Earthquakes (60 pts.) officially clinched a play-off berth over a week ago, and the late-surging defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy (49 pts.) and Real Salt Lake (49 pts.) are also officially assured post-season play. The fourth play-off spot most likely will be occupied by the Seattle Sounders (48 pts.), while either the Vancouver Whitecaps (37 pts.) or FC Dallas (36 pts.) will be the fifth team in the post-season.

Last Saturday, there were two crucial draws that kept teams ahead in their Eastern Conference play-off quests. Montreal Impact’s goalless draw with Sporting Kansas City kept the Canadians in the hunt for one of the last two Eastern Conference berths. Kansas City also certainly treasured the point as well as it stayed two points ahead of the Chicago Fire. The other draw, a 1-1 result, involved the New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution. New England (29 pts.) is out of the play-offs, but the Red Bulls are still in a tight battle; the tie helped the Red Bulls to stay within reach of second place Chicago and maintain a slim three-point margin ahead of DC United.

The Red Bulls blew the chance to come away with three points in New England Saturday to be within a point of Chicago. Leading the game 1-0 after Joel Lindpere’s second-half stoppage time goal in the 91st minute, the Red Bulls failed to secure the lead as the Revolution came the other way three minutes after Lindpere’s tally to tie the game from a header by Darrius Barnes. Chicago maintained its second place position with a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew (45 pts.), which has a slim chance of making the play-offs.

In the Western Conference, Juninho and Irish international Robbie Keane each scored two goals to help the Los Angeles Galaxy beat Toronto FC, 4-2, to win its fourth straight game and clinch the play-off spot. Terry Dunfield and Luis Silva scored for Toronto FC (22pts.), which is out of the play-offs. Meanwhile Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola scored to give to give Real Salt Lake a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers to also ensure post –season play. Despite Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 loss to San Jose Earthquakes, the Sounders are virtually assured the fourth spot in the West.

Once the five play-off teams in each Conference are official, the fourth and fifth place teams in each conference will face-off to create a four-team semifinal bracket in each Conference. In the semifinals, the fourth-place teams will play their respective Conference winners, while the second and third-place teams in their respective Conferences will play each other. The four semifinals and the two Conference finals will be two-game series with the most aggregate goals producing the winners. In case of draws after the two-game series, two 15-minute periods then penalty kicks if needed will determine the winners. The first games in each series are hosted by the lower seeds. The 2012 MLS Cup, the championship final, is a one-game affair hosted by the higher seed and the same resolution to determine draws will apply.

Terry retires from England

Former England captain John Terry, recently embroiled in an accusation of racial abuse of Queens Park Rangers (English Premier League) player Anton Ferdinand and found not guilty in a British court, resigned from international soccer last Saturday. According to several London news outlets, the Chelsea FC captain said the English Football (Soccer) Association has made his position on the England team “untenable”. The 31-year-old Terry’s resignation came four days before the England FA was scheduled to begin its investigation into the allegations.

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