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Things we learned from Week 32

It was a very good week for Seattle, and a pretty good week for Columbus, DC and Vancouver...

Big week for the Sounders and Obafemi Martins
Big week for the Sounders and Obafemi Martins
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

1. Advantage Seattle Sounders (to win Supporters' Shield)

Almost 70 minutes in to Seattle's first attempt to clinch the Supporters' Shield against LA, it seemed as though the pressure of winning a major title that isn't US Open Cup was too much for the fragile Sounders to take.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins had started the game by bickering with each other, and were each carrying yellow cards into the final 20 minutes of the match. Worse, the Sounders were two goals down. They were going to lose the first game in the two-match series to decide this season's Shield winner, and that would send LA to Seattle next week needing no more than a draw to pinch the regular season title from the Sounders in front of their own fans.

And then the whole scenario flipped. In less than four minutes, Seattle found two goals, equalized the match and suddenly it was LA in disarray. Omar Gonzalez's second-yellow ejection from the game in the 88th minute merely put an added exclamation mark on what was already a substantial advantage for the Sounders heading into next week's Shield-decider. The Galaxy will head to its next match hoping to win with a sub-optimal defense on Seattle's sub-optimal pitch.

Now it is the Sounders who will have the momentum. The pressure of expectation is transformed to the luxury of home advantage: tens of thousands of neon-clad fans cheering on a team that only needs a point at home to win its first Supporters' Shield.

2. Advantage Obafemi Martins (to win MLS MVP)

The shortlist for MLS MVP would appear to have come down to four candidates: Lee Nguyen, who leads the league in game-winning goals; Bradley Wright-Phillips, who leads the league in scoring; Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins, who jointly lead the league in leading league-leading teams.

Weeks 32 and 33 conveniently pit Keane and Martins against each other in a two-game series to decide which of their respective teams will win the Supporters' Shield, as well as which of their respective MLS MVP candidacies holds greatest weight.

After this week's first installment, the advantage must lie with Martins.

Keane's major contribution to LA's 2-2 tie with Seattle was an off-target header in the 41st minute. Martins, on the other hand, fought first with a teammate, then an opponent (he flirted with getting himself sent off for off-the-ball skulduggery), and finally with the referee (about the yellow card he thoroughly deserved).

But when he got his head in the game, he set up both goals for the Sounders - sending his team and himself back home to Seattle for a regular-season finale that increasingly looks likely to be the crowning moment of a best-ever year in MLS for him and his club.

3. Advantage Vancouver Whitecaps (to make Western Conference playoffs)

Nine of the 10 teams who will contest the 2014 MLS playoffs are already known; the tenth place will be claimed next week by either Portland Timbers or Vancouver, with the other team missing out on the post-season entirely.

This week, both teams contrived to draw 0-0. The Timbers put in the more impressive performance against the tougher opponent: they fashioned 23 attempts on goal against Real Salt Lake, a playoff-bound opponent.

The 'Caps struggled to contain San Jose Earthquakes, currently the worst team in the West and second-worst in the league.

Yes, Vancouver was playing in San Jose, but the Timbers beat the Quakes at Buck Shaw Stadium on October 5. The suspicion is that Portland is probably better than Vancouver at the moment (not least because the Timbers beat the Caps by three goals twice, home and away, in the course of their recent surge back into playoff contention).

But this race is not for the swift. The points table doesn't lie, and the standings currently say that Vancouver's work over the duration of the season is worth one more point than Portland's efforts over the same period.

The 'Caps hard-won point in San Jose keeps them above the red line heading into the final round of the regular season. And their final game is at home against Colorado Rapids, a team that has claimed two points from its last 13 games (and won just twice in its last 20).

Portland must travel to play FC Dallas; FCD hasn't lost a home game since May 31.

Furthermore, the Timbers will kick off first. By the time Vancouver starts its game against Colorado next week, Portland's match in Dallas should be substantially over. If the 'Caps don't know exactly what they have to do (if anything at all - they go through without needing any points should the Timbers lose) by the time they start playing the Rapids, they will certainly know by half-time.

After clinching Cascadia Cup in Week 31 and a CONCACAF Champions League berth this week (thanks to Toronto's draw with Montreal), Vancouver might cap the regular season by clinching a playoff place in the final round of matches.

4. Advantage D.C. United (to host MLS Cup)

DC clinched the Eastern Conference title this week with a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire, completing an emphatic turnaround from last season's record-setting awfulness.

But the draw between LA and Seattle raises an interesting possibility: DC United has a better-than-expected shot at home advantage for the MLS Cup final.

Of course, the most important factor in securing such an advantage is reaching the final round of the playoffs - so DC still has a lot of work ahead. But, if it can win its last game of the regular season (on the road in Montreal), the Eastern Conference champion will finish on 61 points - and with 18 wins for the season.

And if LA loses next week in Seattle, it will have 61 points and 17 wins for the season: i.e. DC will be ahead of the Galaxy in the overall standings.

It is not an outrageously improbable combination of results: best beats worst in the East; Sounders win at home. And it would mean that the only team DC would have to travel to play in the MLS Cup final will be Seattle.

Since MLS changed its rules to switch MLS Cup away from (usually) neutral ground, the title has been won by the home team every time (only three years of data to consider, but still...). Prior to the rule change, MLS Cup was twice contested by a team that called the host stadium home: in 2002, when New England Revolution lost in Gillette Stadium; and in 1997, when DC claimed its second title (of four to date).

Hosting MLS Cup is by no means a certainty for D.C. United, but until Lamar Neagle's 72nd minute equalizer in LA, it was extremely unlikely. Seattle or LA will be everyone's favorites to win MLS Cup this year, and had the Galaxy won this week, it would have put both those teams ahead of DC in the standings, regardless of results in the final round of the regular season.

Now, DC has a substantially better chance to play for MLS Cup on its home field than it did at the start of week 32.

All of which is to explain why DCU fans will likely be cheering for Seattle to win next week, before urging the Sounders to lose in the playoffs.

5. Advantage Columbus Crew (to advance in Eastern Conference playoffs)

To reach the MLS Cup final, D.C. United is probably going to have to take down at least one conference rival in very good form. DCU itself has reason to be confident: it is unbeaten in its last five games and has lost just twice in its last 10.

But of all the teams heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs, Columbus has perhaps the greatest reason to be cheerful after this week.

The Crew just beat the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena - where RBNY had won seven straight until this week, and hadn't lost since May 24. The win was convincing: sufficient to suggest Columbus will be confident of winning should the teams meet again in the post-season, despite the fact RBNY had won the last meeting between the two clubs 4-1, and taken a 1-1 draw from its last trip to Ohio.

The result bolsters the Crew's already impressive credentials against almost every other team in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. Top seed D.C. United? Columbus beat DCU 3-0, at RFK, in week 1. Since then, the teams have ground out two draws (1-1 and 0-0). And all three of those results came in the first half of the season, when the Crew won just four games (of which three were its first three matches of the year). Columbus is undefeated against DC United in the regular season, and it is a better team now than it was when it last played the Eastern Conference champ.

New England has won eight of its last 10 league games, including a win over the Crew on October 4. But the single loss the Revs have suffered in that sequence was in Columbus (1-0 on September 20). And the Revolution lost at home to the Crew on July 26, 2-1.

The only team Columbus has reason to really worry about is Sporting Kansas City, to whom it has lost on both occasions the clubs have met in the league this year. But KC lost again this week: its sixth loss of its last 10 league matches.

Furthermore, the results this week make it quite unlikely the Crew will face KC in the playoffs unless both teams make the Eastern Conference finals. With DC clinching the conference title and the Revs having clinched the second seed, the only way Columbus can run up against KC before the final round of the playoffs in the East is if both the Crew and Sporting lose in week 33.

Otherwise, Columbus can look forward to playing a team it just thrashed (RBNY), or has beaten home and away (New England), or to which it has yet to lose (DC United) before giving any thought to its problems with KC.