Red Bulls likely blew their chance at first place when they dropped a home decision, 2-0, to Kansas City, last week. Now the Bulls, tied on points with DC, at 50, will try to hold off DC United for the third spot in the East, and to avoid the dreaded single elimination play-in game.
Portland vs. DC United.
United meanwhile has to travel cross country to take on the lowly Timbers, as they try to keep pace with N.Y., while keeping an eye on the rear-view, at Houston, with 46 points, and Columbus, sitting sixth with 45.
Houston vs. New England.
Houston dropped a 3-1 shocker at Philadelphia last Saturday, and can’t afford to slip up at home to another also ran, the New England Revolution. The Revs shut down Lee Nguyen, their clever attacker for the season, sending him for shoulder surgery as they look to 2013. For the Dynamo, last year’s beaten MLS Cup finalists, missing the playoffs would be a disaster, so it is up to Dominic Kinnear’s crew to step up.
Columbus vs. Philadelphia.
The Crew have cooled off recently, dropping three of their last five, and find themselves one point out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Philadelphia have played less games, 28, than any other team. Because of that quirk, the Union are still in the playoff picture. It’s just that they are way in the back of the shot, and pretty blurry at that.
Vancouver vs. Seattle.
It’s been a rough couple of months for Martin Rennie and company in the Pacific Northwest, as they try to avoid tumbling out of the playoffs. Before last week’s 2-2 tie at home to Colorado, the Caps had lost five games on the trot, a 2-1 home victory over RSL on August 11, their last three pointer. FC Dallas are lurking just two points back, so every match is is a big one for Vancouver. Seattle are in the hunt for a top three spot and a chance to avoid the play-in. The Sounders are one point behind both Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy, but Seattle have a game in hand.
San Jose vs FC Dallas.
Dallas have the unenviable task of playing the league’s best team, in their house, needing points in the playoff chase. The Eartquakes have clinched a playoff spot, as have L.A. and RSL, and the Supporters Shield looks like theirs too. San Jose manager Frank Yallop has to guide his team to the finish line, while deciding who needs a rest, and who he wants to look at before the playoffs. It is a good problem to have, but some teams have lost their edge in similar situations.
Chivas USA vs. Real Salt Lake.
Chivas are playing out the string, while Salt Lake are battling the Galaxy and the Sounders for the second and third spots in the Western Conference. The top three positions come with a first round bye, and right now, L.A. and Salt Lake are level on 49 points with four games to play. Seattle are just one point behind, with an extra game remaining.
Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
The weekends lone Sunday matchup could see the return of David Beckham to Bruce Arena’s lineup, although Becks is considered day to day. Colorado are still technically in the playoff race, but just. The Galaxy are in that three way tussle with RSL and Seattle, so Colorado should expect no favors.
Just a word on this year’s MLS playoff format. The top five teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs. The first three teams get a first round bye. Teams four and five will play a one game “play-in.” The second round, the conference semifinal, will be a home and away, total goals series.
The Conference Finals are played in that same home and away format. The lower seeded team will host the first match, with the conference champions meeting in the MLS Cup. The MLS Cup will remain a one game showdown, although in a new twist, it will no longer be held at a neutral site.
For the first time in league history the final will be played at the home of the finalist with the best regular season record. Another reason these last few weeks results are so important.