Sweeping up after the MLS weekend party, here are 10 things I found lying around:
1. Just like butter, they're on a roll. How good is Columbus right now? Clearly not at its best, Columbus still managed a 2-2 draw at Chicago on Sunday.
And it was well-deserved. Only some sloppy finishing prevented the Crew from clinching matters before Brian McBride's late equalizer.
On the other hand, here's a warning for all of Crew-ville: The first signs of slippage in mental sharpness are showing. Twice Columbus left McBride loosely marked on set-piece plays. How'd that work out for them? About like you'd think. An unattended McBride scored after balls fell to him on a corner kick and a free kick.
2. A good guy falls. The news on Steve Ralston stinks. There's no other way to say it. Ralston will miss 6-8 weeks after breaking his right fibula, the small, non-weight bearing, lower-leg bone.
Bad news for Ralston is awful news for the Revolution, whose chances of landing in a fourth consecutive MLS Cup are crumbling. Ralston, 34, has been outstanding this season, leading the Revs in goals (8) and assists (7). New England's offense has been surprisingly (and dangerously, as we now see) dependent on their ageless midfielder.
No one else on the Revs can really stand up in the attacking midfield spot. Manager Steve Nicol has experimented a bit with Shalrie Joseph there, but Joseph is clearly more comfortable when everything is in front of him. New England could switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2, but the Revs never truly look comfortable defending with four in the back.
3. Playoff reset. Who's in: Columbus, Houston, New England, Chivas USA and Chicago.
Who's officially eliminated: No one yet. Fifteen matches remaining over the next two weeks.
The inside track: Nine teams are battling for three remaining spots. The standings and schedule give Real Salt Lake and Kansas City a slight edge.
4. The target on Rogers. Here's another reason for dynamic young Crew attacker Robbie Rogers to explore overseas opportunities: In a league where officiating is frequently too indulgent, he's simply too tempting a target for overly aggressive challenges. Shane Moody, in the middle at Toyota Park on Sunday, declined to issue cautions as Chicago's Brandon Prideaux kicked Rogers from behind, and then later as defender Gonzalo Segares intentionally fouled Rogers from behind to prevent a developing counter attack.
This from the Columbus Crew's Web site about Rogers, the league leader in fouls suffered: He has drawn 15 yellow cards, one straight red and earned two penalty kicks this year. Consider that Crew teammates Alejandro Moreno and Guillermo Barros Schelotto have earned 12 cautions between them.
5. Look who's an offensive machine. Three weeks ago, Marvell Wynne had no goals and one lone assist for Toronto. Well, he certainly has been showing something lately, using speed and smarts to notch either a goal or an assist in three consecutive matches. Asserting himself so passionately could take Wynne to the next level as a player. Saturday's nicely taken goal looked like the game winner until a late, controversial PK decision helped Dallas split the points.
6. Speaking of which. Toronto is going on about being "robbed," as coach John Carver said after Saturday's 2-2 tie at Dallas. Indeed, it was a gritty and dogged effort from a depleted TFC side. But Carver really shouldn't play the victim card here. You may disagree with referee Mark Geiger's decision, and that's fine. Still, rookie defender Julius James did enough to prompt consideration, at least, wrapping up and then yanking Adrian Serioux to the ground as the FCD defender challenged for a header near goal.
For Carver not to acknowledge some culpability on James' part is to create a victimization complex and fails to shape the accountability that every club needs.
As for Dallas, which got bailed out again: The Red Stripes are 1-2-2 in home matches recently. Clearly, that's not good enough. There's a real problem with Duilio Davino, whose reintroduction after injury appears to have destabilized the defense when backup Aaron Pitchkolan had performed quite well.
Outside of Andre Rocha, there's isn't much attacking pep from the FCD midfield. Dallas may still make the playoffs, but the club shouldn't be fooled. The roster is full of holes.
7. Crayton on top. The box score says United goalkeeper Louis Crayton made two saves Sunday against Houston. But his 90 minutes were nothing less than heroic; he was a beast in eliminating opportunities inside the penalty area and, a few times, beyond the 18.
Looks like he was extra focused, perhaps on a mission of redemption after last week's howler in a home loss to Chivas USA. Crayton's performance Sunday helped keep United's postseason dreams alive a bit longer.
8. Determined Chivas. Look how Chivas USA's dogged, continued pursuit of Houston for the Western Conference crown is affecting the bigger picture:
If the AmeriGoats weren't nipping at Houston's behind, Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear could possibly have rested some starters Sunday against D.C. United, assisting players to manage that crowded fixture schedule. As it is, with home-field advantage in the conference finals potentially at stake, Kinnear had to go with more or less a first-choice lineup.
9. The dvB factor. Consider for a second the season Dave van den Bergh is having. The Dutchman has seven goals, second on the team, and that total includes some critical strikes, such as in Thursday's 1-1 draw in Utah.
New England's Ralston is the only other MLS midfielder with more goals.
Van den Bergh missed three starts recently due to injury; the Red Bulls lost all three.
10. Derelict in duty. I won't name names here, but veteran TV and print reporters aren't doing their jobs if they don't know, after all these years, that MLS referees may be interviewed after matches to clarify important decisions. The mechanics of the process are tightly controlled, but the opportunity exists. So reporters or announcers who don't take advantage -- or worse, who erroneously claim that league rules prohibit such clarification efforts -- should do a bit more homework.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.