Break Up the Eastern Division

With the MLS season rounding the clubhouse turn and heading down the homestretch (I never mix metaphors, but I do enjoy beating snot out of them) the roster-tinkering and rookie-coddling and team-building stuff is pretty much over.

No more big foreign signings to hope for, no more "integrating" recent acquisitions, no more waiting for fresh faced kids to "get acclimated to the pro game" and stake claims to playing time.

Players are back from the Olympics and the recent spate of international matches (well, except for Carlos Ruiz; more later), have recovered from the jet lag and are back in the lineup.

So what you've got now is pretty much what you're going to end the season and start the playoffs (or not) with. This is the time, in short, when teams start playing what sportswriters call "statement" games, letting everyone - including themselves - know they're serious.

Games like, for example, DC, New York and Columbus played this weekend.

All three teams took out a big old stick and whooped up on an unsuspecting opponent by 3-0 scores which could easily have been twice that.

The most interesting of the three (and the one that most of us couldn't watch) was les Taureaux Rouges who took the field missing three or four key players for various reasons and proceeded to beat Western Division leading Houston like the proverbial rented mule. Maybe even a red haired rented mule.

This isn't San Jose we're talking about here, it's a Dynamo side which fully expects to raise the Cup in a couple months, yet short-handed but suddenly red-hot NYRB brushed them aside like they were somebody's reserve team.

In Columbus, the best offensive wheeler and dealer MLS has seen since Carlos Valderrama, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, continued to pile up assists and is dangerously close to doubling his next closest MLS competitor in that regard.

The fact that the guy doesn't ever make the All Star game is simply an embarrassment. If his last name was Beckham Don Garber would be wetting his pants.

And in the District of Columbia, the last couple of years the Uniteds stormed out of the gate and demolished everyone and everything in sight until right about this point in the season when they seemed to lose their edge or tire out or something.

So this season they've apparently decided to try something different: getting really good late in the season. Might just be a plan.

Conversely, a bunch of other teams desperately trying to grab playoff spots also made "statements", only in those cases the statement was: "meh".

Interestingly, this week provides us with a rarity: every MLS team has played 21 games and has 9 remaining.

As a result, there are no "games in hand" to be seen anywhere on the table; the standings you see are an entirely accurate reflection of each team's relative position.

In the East, you see teams jostling for position. In the West, you see a bunch of teams stuck in the mud.

Houston is of course five points clear, but after that the word "clear" simply doesn't apply. The next five teams are separated by only three points, and the difference between second place and dead last is only five points.

So coming into the weeks games, a whole bunch of Western division sides had the chance to make a move, a 'statement" if you will.

The results:

Of the five teams bunched within three points of each other, Dallas got one point by drawing with KC. Which makes them the big winners.

Of the other four, RSL, Colorado and LA gleaned no points after scoring a collective zero goals, a record of futility which Chivas managed to beat by scoring no goals in two games. And no, San Jose and Houston didn't score either.

Six teams battling each other for playoff spots and in seven games they collectively scored a grand total of ONE goal.

This isn't parity, it's tragedy.

That's not to say that it matters all that much to the Poobahs at MLS HQ. One team is as good as another.

Except one: they really, really, really want the Galaxy in the playoffs for obvious reasons. Beckham's team finishing out of the running two years in a row is too depressing for them to even think about.

Problem is, they're currently staring down the barrel of a scenario where the 7th and 8th playoff spots are taken by Eastern divison teams, meaning that the Gals will have to finish no lower than third in order to make it.

Fortunately for them, because everyone is bunched so closely, third place is well within their reach.

UNfortunately, they're still going to have to get it together and grab some points down the stretch.

If they do, Bruce Arena will have done Don Garber and Co. a huge favor.