Blame it on the fatigue or the scheduling or an aversion to leaf peepers in New England if you must, but this playoff chase has turned into a playoff fait accompli.
Most of the sexy, big ticket items are off the table. Barring any sort of magical run from the Wizards from Kansas City, the eight playoff teams are set. With Los Angeles' professional 1-0 victory in Philadelphia last night now in the books, the Supporters' Shield and the Western Conference title will probably head to southern California unless a peculiar result or two occurs. The Eastern Conference crown remains on the table, but going one for four won't even give you a regular gig in the major leagues these days.
While most of the drama may be gone, some intrigue still remains. There are some important scuffles worthy of attention – New York's bid to hold off fading Columbus for supremacy in the East and Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas tussling for home-field advantage in the first round out West – but one particular battle merits more consideration than it has received to date and it isn't one that pops out at first glance.
The race for fourth spot in the Western Conference stands out for one simple reason: it is exactly the place where Colorado, Seattle and San Jose don't want to land.
It takes an outside-the-box approach and an understanding of the convoluted playoff system to comprehend why three teams wouldn't want to finish as high up the table as possible.
At this stage of the season, the focus falls on playoff positioning. With six teams set to emerge from the West, the playoff pairings require some tinkering. The top four teams in the West will comprise the West bracket, while the fifth and sixth placed teams in the West will slide over to the East to play New York and Columbus.
It isn't a particularly significant leap to suggest the fifth and sixth placed teams out West have a slightly easier road to travel if they work their way into the East. The reasons continue to pile up as time progresses. Real Salt Lake stampeded out of the East last season and lifted MLS Cup. The fourth place team in the West would have to defeat two from FC Dallas, Los Angeles and RSL just to reach MLS Cup. Most importantly, the regular season data – with one exception – indicates the three West sides would likely stand a better chance of success of a first-round upset in the East.
COL/SJ/SEA v. Los Angeles: 1-3-1
(Notes: San Jose currently holds both positive results (1-0-1) against LA, while Seattle has conceded seven goals to the Galaxy in its two losses this season. Colorado visits the Home Depot Center on Oct. 16 to complete the mini-league.)
COL/SJ/SEA v. New York: 2-3-1
(Notes: Each of the three Western teams holds at least one positive result against New York, but Colorado is the only team without a victory against the Red Bulls.)
COL/SJ/SEA v. Columbus: 2-1-3
(Notes: Colorado is the only team to lose to Columbus, while San Jose is the only team without a victory against the Crew.)
Past performance doesn't dictate future success or failure, but matchups do matter. As the season winds to a close, the situation bears watching as these three teams jostle for position and vie for the right to slide out into the East for the postseason.
Last week: 4/8 (50%)
For the season: 88/177 (50%)
Columbus @ Chicago – 9:00p.m. – Goal.com Preview
Neither team looks like a great pick for victory here. Columbus will play its third game in seven days and hasn't won in its past four MLS matches, while Chicago hasn't scored a goal in five of its past six games. One point won't keep the Fire in the playoff hunt, but it's probably the best possible outcome here.
Real Salt Lake @ New York – 4:00p.m. (Telefutura) – Goal.com Preview
It's tough to know quite how to approach this match given the form and the strength of these two sides. RSL should improve after finally having a full week to rest and train, while New York will have to meander its way through without Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) and Dane Richards (Jamaica). The edge – as is so often pointed out with these two clubs – will fall to the side that can use the ball well in possession.
Colorado @ FC Dallas – 6:00p.m. – Goal.com Preview
Expect FCD to carve out its place in the record books by extending its unbeaten streak to 19 matches with some style.
Prediction: FC Dallas win.
San Jose @ D.C. United – 7:30p.m. – Goal.com Preview
Credit United for continuing to plug away under Ben Olsen's stewardship, but the Earthquakes always seem to find a way to obtain the results they need against lesser sides.
Prediction: San Jose win.
Seattle @ Kansas City – 8:30p.m. – Goal.com Preview
This match represents a true six-pointer for the Wizards and they couldn't have asked for a better time to play it in the aftermath of Sounders FC's Open Cup victory on Wednesday night. Two key areas to watch: the center of the park (Seattle's central midfield duo versus Kansas City's midfield three) and the narrow slivers of space on the flanks (can Ryan Smith return and make an impact?). Seattle clinches a playoff berth with a point in this game, but the Rave Green may just have to wait for one more match to celebrate.
Prediction: Kansas City win.
Toronto FC @ Chivas USA – 10:30p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel) – Goal.com Preview
One point for the home side will finally snuff out the Reds' faint playoff hopes. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red-and-White emerge with all three points given the circumstances.
Prediction: Chivas USA win.
New England @ Houston – 8:30p.m. – Goal.com Preview
In this heated rivalry, one odd fact should give hope to the visitors: the Revs have never lost (3-0-1) at Robertson Stadium.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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