Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union have become the latest two casualties in the race for a postseason spot in Major League Soccer.
While the Orange Crush were beaten by MLS Cup hopefuls DC United in stormy Texas, the Zulus let a two-goal lead slip in defeat to the Columbus Crew.
Too little too late
Both outcomes were incredibly harsh for two sides that have made significant strides since the mid-season international break, but the Eastern Conference has become a ruthless beast in recent weeks, and the points that were dropped in the spring have proved costly.
The Dynamo responded to a run of two points from eight games by recruiting World Cup stars DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido. The rewards were imminent, with Dominic Kinnear's men undefeated on home turf until the Black-and-Red visited on Sunday.
Though this streak dragged Houston back into the play-off hunt, only two teams in the entire division have lost more games this year - and that makes it immensely difficult to progress.
Cup run takes its toll
The Union, meanwhile, were resurrected by John Curtin's appointment as interim manager, and began turning defeats into draws, and draws into wins. Just a few short weeks again, Philadelphia looked set to breeze through to the league's finals.
And then came the US Open Cup final.
Having overcome prestigious opponents in New York Cosmos, the New England Revolution and FC Dallas, title-chasing Seattle Sounders FC proved too strong for the Pennsylvanians. Their cup exploits should have been a positive, but the loss prompted a five-match winless stretch
Though neither outfit has been without their faults - even in their improved states - the brutality with which they were dispatched at the weekend shows how the Conference has ameliorated.
For a long time this term, Western clubs left their Eastern counterparts lying in their wake, but Real Salt Lake and Dallas have been reeled back in, as the Dynamo, the Union and the New York Red Bulls have spiced up the chase.
It will be little consolation to Kinnear and Curtin as they watch the MLS Cup unfold from their sofas at home, but in taking the fight into the final month of the regular season they have made a significant contribution to a memorable campaign.
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