By THOMAS FLOYD
Much has been made in recent weeks of the games in hand at D.C. United's disposal. But as the club has learned, those extra matches aren't particularly helpful if you lose them.
In what coach Ben Olsen called an "unacceptable performance," United fell 2-1 Wednesday at the Vancouver Whitecaps, dropping crucial points against the league's worst team. With the loss, D.C. is now five points behind Houston and New York for the final playoff spot with just one game in hand.
But not all is lost in the nation's capital. United closes the season with three home games in eight days — a scheduling quirk crafted when Hurricane Irene postponed a match in August — starting with Saturday's game against the Chicago Fire. United then faces Portland on Wednesday and Kansas City three days later.
"We're going home, we're playing teams that are certainly beatable, and it’s a big task," Olsen said. "But it's one we can certainly do."
As captain Josh Wolff said, "You're not in the playoffs until you're completely in and you're not out until you're completely out. We're not in, so we have to be doing anything and everything we can."
Here are some more notes from around the Eastern Conference:
Although Chicago made an unlikely late-season surge into playoff contention, the Fire's postseason hopes are likely over after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas. The blow was particularly tough considering Chicago also saw its U.S. Open Cup dreams crushed just eight days ago when it lost to Seattle in the tournament final.
"I don't want to use any excuses, but I think it's probably obvious that [the Open Cup loss was] a bit of a letdown that kind of burst our bubble a little bit," defender Dan Gargan told MLSsoccer.com. "But we still needed … to come out and play a game at home that we needed to get three points from and we didn't come out strong enough, we didn't come out fast enough, and that's nobody's fault but our own."
When it comes to getting over the injury bug, it's looking like the Crew certainly has good timing. With the playoffs just around the corner, midfielder Tony Tchani (knee surgery) is the only player on the roster not training because of injury.
"It's a good sign," defender Chad Marshall said to MLSsoccer.com. "It's a good time of the year to have that."
Although Houston currently has its hands full trying to secure a playoff berth, a few players took some time this week to look ahead to next year by touring the site of the team's under-construction stadium.
"It's a big statement for the team and the direction of where the team is going," midfielder Adam Moffat said to the Houston Chronicle. "For us as players, you love to see that. You want to play in a brand-new stadium, and the fans will love it as well. It's great to come out here and actually see progress. I look forward to coming back in a few months again to see how much progress is made."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
With the Revolution wrapping up another losing campaign, captain Shalrie Joseph has grown frustrated with the organization's struggles of late and could very well be on his way out of New England at season's end.
"This is a championship town," Joseph said to ESPN Boston. "This franchise deserves better. If we can't be one of those sports teams people talk about, there's no point for me to be here."
NEW YORK RED BULLS
While Juan Agudelo has been called into every U.S. national team camp since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as coach, the young striker's minutes have been sporadic. So to play the entire second half against Ecuador on Tuesday was an opportunity Agudelo was ready to embrace.
"Any time I get to go in the game, it gives me a lot of experience," Agudelo said to NewYorkRedBulls.com. "And all I try to do is improve myself every time I step on the pitch."
Striker Danny Mwanga, out since Sept. 17 with a hip flexor strain, was included on Philadelphia's travel roster to Seattle this past weekend and seems poised to play a role in the Union's final two matches as the club hopes to clinch a playoff berth.
"Obviously I'm glad the team is doing well but, at the same time, it's tough because you want to be out there," Mwanga told MLSsoccer.com. "You want to be a part of it. But I know I still have a couple of games, and then we'll hopefully make the playoffs. So I'm working hard to be fit by then and be able to help my team."
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Kansas City and Chivas de Guadalajara may have played to a 2-2 friendly draw Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, but Omar Bravo, a longtime Chivas striker who found himself playing against his former club, felt the MLS side played well enough to earn the victory.
"With all due respect, we were superior as a team tonight," Bravo said. "I said it before, sometimes there is a lot of ignorance that MLS is inferior soccer, but games like this show that the level of the league is actually higher than people think it is."
The 2011 campaign has turned out to be a lost cause for Toronto from a competitive standpoint, but the club has to be happy with the development of some of its youthful talent, including defenders Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan and midfielder Matt Stinson.
"It's kind of sad because we have a great team now and the season is ending," Henry said to MLSsoccer.com. "But we know for sure next year, if we have the same players and the same mentality about winning, we should be doing well. I'm really looking forward to next season."