MLS week 28 review: Craziness out west and more

ATLANTA, GA SEPTEMBER 16: Atlantas starting line-up is viewed on the round video board prior to the start of the match between Atlanta United and the Orlando City on September 16, 2017 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Atlanta United FC and Orlando City FC played to a 3 3 draw in front of a record MLS crowd of 70,425. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA SEPTEMBER 16: Atlantas starting line-up is viewed on the round video board prior to the start of the match between Atlanta United and the Orlando City on September 16, 2017 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Atlanta United FC and Orlando City FC played to a 3 3 draw in front of a record MLS crowd of 70,425. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

MLS week 28 shook up the Western Conference in unexpected ways, but the Vancouver Whitecaps stay top.

MLS week 28 was a week of golazos and Josef Martinez. Kekuta Manneh notched a screamer for Columbus against his former club; Blerim Dzemaili ripped a beautiful volley to put Montreal ahead of Minnesota, until Abu Danladi returned the favor with a top-shelf winner in the dying seconds; Tommy MacNamara, MLS’s golazo king, netted one in Colorado; and Jefferson Savarino won it for RSL with a howitzer on his left foot. Martinez, meanwhile, scored six goals in two games to please fantasy owners and put himself in historic company.

On a broader level, week 28 saw significant shake-up in the Western Conference. The week in review:

Tell Me How

Saturday moved the MLS Western Conference completely off its hinges. Slumps from literally every team other than Vancouver have seemingly moved everything out of place, to the point where the teams that were first and third on July 23 have dropped out of the playoff places, and a club that has accumulated a minus-16 goal differential is in fifth ahead of a squad with plus-7.

Vancouver, who were in sixth as recently as Aug. 21, are top of the table following a six-match unbeaten streak, including four wins. They’ve taken that title from Sporting KC, who despite a 3-1 comeback win over 10-man disaster New England Revolution this week have been punchless in attack, and as a result have slowly started dropping points. They still will probably win the U.S. Open Cup, the final of which is on Wednesday, but without the ability to score they may not end up making as much playoff noise as once was expected.

Portland, having played one or two more games than the rest of the conference, are second, one behind the Caps and tied with SKC and the Sounders. The Timbers are relying almost completely on a dominant run of form from Diego Valeri, who has scored a goal in eight straight matches. They lost 2-1 in Salt Lake this week, although they had been playing relatively well up to that point.

The Sounders went to Frisco and took a 0-0 draw from FC Dallas, confirming FCD’s spot in, yes, eighth and keeping Seattle on pace among the top three in the conference. San Jose picked up an ugly, mostly uneventful 1-0 home victory over the suddenly-impotent Houston Dynamo, who have dropped from top-three for most of July and August to seventh after two consecutive bad 1-0 losses. The Quakes are now in fifth, one point ahead of Real Salt Lake, who I had counted out of the playoff race just last week. Games in hand remain an issue for both, especially RSL, but there is a legitimate chance that both qualify over clubs that once combined to beat Salt Lake 11-3 in the span of four days.

Things are getting weird, put simply. All of the teams we thought were good are dropping results and beating each other into the ground, leaving space for “please don’t give us the ball” teams like Vancouver to rise to the top, and giving room ahead of the red line to clubs we thought were waiting for this offseason to fill holes and gear up for a 2018 run, like new-signing and new-GM San Jose and youth-movement RSL.

This is the inferior conference. The first-place team, on 45 points, would be fourth in the Eastern Conference, and Toronto FC, who are not far away from mathematically clinching the Supporters’ Shield in September, are ahead of Vancouver by 17 points. Gone somewhat unnoticed, though, is that the bottom of each conference is a lot closer than we think. Sixth-place in the east is just three points ahead of its western counterpart, albeit with a game in hand, and right now out west, eight teams are seriously in contention for the postseason, with the four at the top within a point of one another and the four at the bottom in the same situation. The six playoff clubs have, for all intents and purposes, already been set in the east.

Who out west will finish the season at the top is anybody’s guess, and the race for the final two spots is also hard to gauge. A quick-fire look at each of those team’s week 28 results, and what they say about their chances:

— Vancouver Whitecaps 2 Columbus Crew 2: After a routine 3-0 midweek fly-by of Minnesota, the Caps needed a late Tony Tchani equalizer to save a home draw with Columbus in the long-awaited battle of the exes. Aly Ghazal played well and Vancouver continued to dominate set pieces and counter-attacks. They probably would have liked a win, but this result is fine against a visiting Eastern Conference team.

— FC Dallas 0 Seattle Sounders 0: Another game, another uninspiring home draw for FC Dallas, who continue to send out that same 4-2-3-1 every week. If you’re Oscar Pareja, it’s time to design something different, and give others (cough, Paxton Pomykal, cough) some opportunities over underperforming stars. It’s a dogfight at this point for the Hoops.

This result is okay for Seattle. Not much more to say than that.

— Sporting KC 3 New England Revolution 1: SKC gave up an early deflected goal at home against the Revs, but Krisztian Nemeth elbowed a player in the face for no reason and took a dumb red card in the 11th-minute, allowing Sporting to cruise. The dominant defense is still there, but Diego Rubio has not been Dom Dwyer, and they still struggle to create chances.

— Real Salt Lake 2 Portland Timbers 1: This was a must-win game for RSL, and they got it done, courtesy of Savarino’s late banger. Their midfield is still a soft spot, but this young attack is on fire. Portland need all the results they can get, given all their rivals’ games in hand, so this is a tough loss for them.

Meanwhile, Valeri is putting himself in serious MVP contention.

— San Jose Earthquakes 1 Houston Dynamo 0: San Jose said before the game this was a match with the importance of a playoff contest, and they were right, as they used a Danny Hoesen goal to escape with a home win over Houston. The Quakes played well defensively with Florian Jungwirth in defensive midfield, shutting down a Dynamo attack that finally started Tomas Martinez. The tables have turned.

Next: The best under-20 player on every MLS team

Weekly awards

The best team in the league: Toronto FC, who picked up their sixth straight multiple goal win on Saturday with an easy 4-0 victory on the road in LA. This is despite leaving Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Steven Beitashour and Nick Hagglund at home. Just another example of the league’s best ever team nailing down results without any hassle.

The worst team in the league: The Colorado Rapids scored in the 88th minute to salvage a 1-1 draw at home against NYCFC, who will walk out of the week angry at being unable to hold that lead.

Random result of the week: Minnesota beat Montreal 3-2 at Stade Saputo. In a wild back and forth affair, Minnesota United pulled off a 3-2 victory over the Impact, who can pretty much say goodbye to their playoff chances. Abu Danladi, quietly moving up the Rookie of the Year list, shredded Laurent Ciman and scored a beautiful golazo to win it for the Loons.

Montreal’s attack has gone dead over the last few weeks, ruining any chance they had to climbing up the Eastern Conference table. Options outside of Blerim Dzemaili and Ignacio Piatti have been lacking.

Predictable result of the week: Chicago beat D.C. United at home 3-0, in a game involving an ugly Ian Harkes own goal. That’s the third game of eight that an own goal has occurred in a D.C. United game.

Attacker of the week: Do I really need to tell you?

It’s Josef Martinez, obviously. Six goals in two games is pretty good. Tosaint Ricketts, Dzemaili, Victor Vazquez, some Atlanta attackers, Dom Dwyer and Albert Rusnak also deserve some recognition.

Biggest result of the week: San Jose’s 1-0 win over Houston, which not only keeps the Quakes in the playoff race but puts them in a position to overtake the Dynamo and/or FC Dallas.

Goalkeeper howler of the week: Sean Johnson vs. Colorado. Johnson has been great this year but he should have saved the Rapids’ late equalizer:

While the west is stuck in a dogfight, the Supporters’ Shield race is over after this NYC draw.