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Things we learned from MLS Week 22

This was the week we learned Landon is leaving soccer and San Jose is parting from the legacy of its 2012 season...

Kevork Djansezian

1. Landon Donovan won't be breaking the MLS assists record after all

Despite the gentle encouragement of this column, LD's decision to retire at the end of the season - announced after the All-Star game - means he almost certainly will not take over Steve Ralston's title as MLS's assist king.

Donovan has 14 regular season games left in his career, and he is 11 assists short of tying Ralston's all-time MLS record (135). That is an improbable achievement - to the point it would be disrespectful to suggest he can make it, because if LD does catch up with Ralston, he'll have put in one of the most astonishing bursts of statistically recognized creativity in the history of the league.

It isn't going to happen. Or at least, if it does, Donovan deserves the satisfaction of having the feat recognized as extraordinary and unexpected. So best to say it isn't going to happen. If he really wanted the record anyway, he'd be sticking around for another year.


2. The Bash Brothers era is officially over in San Jose

The last three games have seen the Quakes line up without a big man up front - either Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon - and results (two wins and a draw) would appear to support the hypothesis that San Jose had become too predictable when playing with a physical target man leading the line.

San Jose has turned its season around by turning its tactics around: Chris Wondolowski is now supported by cunning and technique (in the form of Yannick Djalo and Matias Perez Garcia) instead of chasing knockdowns and the space cleared for him by the big bodies he used to shadow.

This week's result - a creditable 2-2 draw in LA, achieved with the same formation and approach as the preceding two matches, despite Djalo's absence - and the subsequent trade of Alan Gordon to the Galaxy, confirmed what had been suspected: the Quakes have moved on from the style and personnel who spearheaded their 2012 Supporters' Shield run.


3. Portland and San Jose will probably decide each other's seasons

There has been suggestion the Western Conference playoff race heated up substantially this week. Certainly it is close, but not as clustered as the East, and every team in the top five of the West has good reason to feel better about its chances of making the post-season than the bottom four.

Still, three of those bottom-four teams in the West are pretty good: Colorado, Portland and San Jose. The Rapids and Timbers are just two points behind fifth-placed Vancouver, while San Jose is eight points behind, but with two games in hand (on the Whitecaps; three games in hand on Colorado and Portland).

In essence, there are three teams in the West well placed to nip into the playoff mix should any of the top five stumble. And one of the top five will probably stumble - because this is MLS.

Unfortunately for Portland and San Jose, they have one additional hurdle to clear: each other. The seventh and eighth placed teams in the Western Conference play each other three times in MLS this season - and all three of those games are yet to be played.

For San Jose, those three games could be framed as the three matches the Quakes currently have in hand over the Timbers. For Portland, three matches is more than 25% of the 11 remaining games in its regular season.

Either way, the nine points at stake between these teams would appear likely to play a significant part in their respective abilities to effectively challenge for a playoff place in the West.

4. Vancouver is in the wrong Conference

The Whitecaps' 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City was the fourth occasion this season that Vancouver has taken three points off a team in the East. In nine matches this year against Eastern Conference opponents, the Caps are unbeaten: four wins and five draws. And those 17 points count for more than half of Vancouver's current points total (32).

The record suggests Vancouver would be running away with the East if it  could find a way of getting MLS to overlook the fact it is one of the league's Western-most locations.

Still, the Caps can give thanks to the East for graciously donating points to their cause this year. Unfortunately for Vancouver, there is only one more game against Eastern Conference opponents remaining on the schedule - vs DC in Vancouver on 9/6.

Vancouver probably needs another 18 points or so to grab a playoff place (though even 50 points might not be enough for a top five place in the West). A team that has accumulated 17 points from nine games shouldn't be too troubled at the prospect of picking up 18 from 12 - but that is the Caps' record against Eastern Conference teams.

Against those in its own conference, Vancouver has managed just 15 points from 13 matches. With 11 of their remaining 12 matches to play against Western Conference opponents, consider the Whitecaps the most vulnerable of the current top five in the West.

And this is the team that perhaps best illustrates the general strength of the West as compared to the East: Vancouver just needs a point against DC to complete an unbeaten season against Eastern Conference opponents in MLS, and it still might not make the playoffs.

5. All we really know about Toronto FC is it is better than Columbus Crew

TFC beat the Crew 3-2 in Columbus this week, a solid result which put the Reds into a position of isolation in the Eastern Conference: four points ahead of fourth-placed RBNY and five points behind D.C. United. Toronto has third place locked down.

But the win over Columbus also happened to be TFC's third over the same opponents this season.

Beating the Crew is the one thing Toronto appears to be able to manage to do consistently this year. It will need to find a new source of points for the remaining matches of the season if it is to transition from being merely the least inept of the bottom eight teams in the East into a legitimate challenger to the KC-DC duopoly presumed to be running away with the conference in 2014.