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Things we learned from MLS Week 21

It was a good week to look back at a few predictions made earlier in the season and see if they still hold up...

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

1. LA Galaxy is neck-and-neck in the Shield race with Seattle

Seattle Sounders lost twice this week, which allowed for some narrowing of the chasm between them and the chasing pack in Supporters' Shield race.

Sporting Kansas City is now at the top of the overall league table, but only by a point over the Sounders, who have two games in hand. D.C. United spurned the chance to move at least level with Seattle by coughing up a last-minute goal, and all the points, in Houston - but the Sounders have a game in hand on DC too. Real Salt Lake pulled within two points of the league pacesetters, but Seattle has a couple of matches in hand on RSL as well.

LA might look off the pace - five points behind Seattle with just a game in hand - but the Galaxy's performance this week made it suddenly the team to beat in the Shield race. It wasn't just that LA got two wins out of two, it was the fact the Galaxy went to Seattle and thrashed the Sounders.

The result didn't merely stop Seattle from pulling further ahead, it helped to bring the Sounders to within range of the Galaxy. LA still has a game in hand, but even if that game brings no extra points, the Galaxy has engineered a turning point in the Shield race.

Yes, if the Sounders outpoint LA for the rest of the season, they will win the Shield. But if the Galaxy can get as many points from its next 13 games as Seattle accumulates over its next 12, then the two teams will head into their final two matches of 2014 no more than five points apart.

And they'll be playing each other for the last six points of their respective seasons.

The Sounders are still ahead of everyone in the Shield race, but they are now being shadowed by the team that just humbled them in front of their home crowd.

2. But Seattle is still the best bet to get to 62 points for the season

A few weeks back, this column suggested the Shield-winning points total might be set at 62 for this year, a conservative estimate given the Sounders' rampant points accumulation at the time.

A peek at the race to 62 confirms the suspicion that even a couple of losses hasn't yet slowed the Sounders roll too significantly.

The 62-point target was picked because it represented a total Seattle could reach by being merely average (win a game, lose a game) for the remainder of its season: i.e. pick up 1.5 points per game over its last 16 matches.

Now, in week 21, the Sounders need 1.71 points per game from their remaining 14 games to reach 62. That's a lot: only four teams in the league are above that ppg for the season to date. But Seattle is the only team in MLS that can get away with averaging less than its current form has achieved (1.9 ppg) and still get to 62 points.

Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United both need 1.92 ppg to hit 62. LA requires marginally more: 1.93 ppg.

RSL would need 2.17 ppg. And Dallas, just three points behind RSL, would need 2.42 ppg, which effectively means it needs to win nine of its last 12 games and get two points from the other three.

In week 21, there are five team still realistically chasing 62 points: DC, KC, LA, RSL, and the Sounders. But only one of them can afford to get worse over the rest of the season and still make the target. (The target can, of course, be revised downwards - this is how RBNY got back into the race last year.)


3. There are currently six teams chasing 45 points for the last two playoff spots in the East

Another suggestion made by this column a couple of weeks ago was that the playoff bar in the East had dropped from 50 points (the minimum target most teams should be chasing at the start of the year) to around 45 points. This was based on the observation that only three teams in the East still looked capable of getting to 50 points or above without an RBNY-in-2013 run of form to close out the year.

Those three teams - KC, DC and Toronto FC - are still set fair for 50 points. KC and DC can get there by averaging around a point per game for the rest of the season: they will both get more than 50. TFC is on the bubble right now. The Reds need a perfectly manageable 1.5 ppg to reach 50 points, and are certainly favorites to make the target, and secure at least third place in the East.

But the only team Toronto has beaten in its last five games is Montreal, and L'Impact is so bad it is the only team in MLS that can be entirely counted out of the playoffs right now. So we'll see what happens to Toronto in the next few weeks.

The remaining six teams in the East can still be presumed to be chasing 45 points. Each would need to average more ppg than it has achieved up to this moment in the season: 45 points is 1.32 ppg, and only the three top teams in the East are doing better than that right now.

This suggests even 45 points may be too much for the determinedly mediocre mid-ranking teams of the Eastern Conference. But for now -  with RBNY needing just 1.42 ppg to hit 45, while Chicago and Houston can still get there with 1.76 ppg - the presumptive points total for 4th and 5th place in the East holds at 45 points. And only Montreal can be counted out of the race.

4. Landon Donovan is in range of the MLS assists record

Donovan bagged three assists and a goal in LA's two thumping victories this week.

He's still not at all likely to reach Steve Ralston's career record for assists in MLS (135) this season: he'd need another 11 (to tie) or 12 (to hold outright) for the record to fall his way. And that would put him at 18 or more assists on the season, which is more than he's ever achieved in the past.

But the Galaxy's latest tactic is to have Donovan in a more creative role, and this week's output was illustrative of his place in the system. If Bruce Arena can stick with this approach for the rest of the season (as much dependent on player fitness as form), Donovan is going to create a few more goals. (And he'll score a few more too: Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Donovan, in the form they showed this week, are as terrifying a three-man front as can be found in MLS.)

Coming into this season, his career-average for assists in the regular season was nine. He now has seven for this season. There are 15 games left in LA's regular season, and Donovan will play most if not all if fit. Double-figure assists for this year is not improbable.

He's on the down-slope to Ralston's record now, and his coach just gave him the tactical role to accelerate toward it. He will finish 2014 with the assist-record near the top of his to-do list for 2015.

5. Nick Rimando isn't as fond of home cooking as was assumed

Another prediction from a few weeks back: Rimando was one shutout shy of Kevin Hartman's all-time MLS regular season record, and he was going to get it at home - either in LA (near his actual hometown) or in his present home, Utah, since RSL closed out July with three games at their own stadium.

Didn't happen. Rimando's record-tying clean sheet came this week, in Colorado.

RSL's next two league games are back in Rio Tinto, but if recent experience is any guide, Rimando will probably wait until he's on the road again - 8/22 in Dallas or 8/30 in San Jose - to secure the clean sheet that will make the MLS shutout record his alone.