The Forecast notes the importance of taking a week off for international matches in November and sorts through the Week 31 fixture list.
MLS has coped with a deluge of deserved criticism for its flawed playoff format, but it did one thing right when it drew up the postseason schedule.It left one week open for the international window in mid-November.
U.S. players still involved in the chase for MLS Cup may or may not feature in a friendly or two that may or may not take place during that period, but the more important fixtures in this discussion – surprisingly enough – take place in Europe.
It is not out of the realm to suggest that two of the league's most influential players could spend that week participating in the Euro 2012 qualifying playoff between Estonia and the Republic of Ireland.
While the powers that be at the league office likely did not decide to lay dormant during that week for this particularly implausible scenario, those two countries could call upon key figures who may or may not still feature in the postseason at that juncture. Then again, they may not have the opportunity to do so.
Los Angeles striker Robbie Keane would almost certainly captain his Ireland squad if fully fit. Keane's fitness, however, remains uncertain after he suffered a grade two tear in his thigh during Ireland's 2-0 victory over Andorra last weekend. Keane could miss the next four-to-six weeks, according to his own comments to The Guardian, and might not feature at all in the Galaxy's postseason run.
While Keane's inclusion hinges on fitness, New York midfielder Joel Lindpere must decide whether he wants to return to international duty. Lindpere has shunned calls from his country since last summer, but an Estonian federation official told Estonian Public Broadcasting that Estonia coach Tarmo Rüütli would consider calling Lindpere into the squad for the two-legged tie. Lindpere sidestepped the topic of a potential call-up when queried by MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, but one would expect that the prospect may prove too tempting for the former Estonia captain to ignore even if the Red Bulls are still alive in the playoff race.
In the end, it may not matter for either player. Keane may not recover in time to play, while neither club may advance far enough to turn this into a full-fledged dilemma. Fortunately for all parties involved, MLS' decision to take this week off from playoff action allows them some leeway in the matter. Such foresight won't cure the travel problems faced by wild card winners or remove the competitive imbalances involved within the system as a whole, but it does provide some measure of solace in case either player faces a particularly difficult decision next month.
Last week: 0/2 (0%)
For the season: 92/237 (39%)
Real Salt Lake @ Colorado – 10:30p.m. (ESPN2)
Colorado coach Gary Smith sure picked an odd time to go public with his internal spat with Rapids technical director Paul Bravo. The disagreement provides a little additional sizzle to the buildup to this already feisty derby match. Expect both sides – minus the suspended Kyle Beckerman and Miguel Comminges – to get stuck in from the opening whistle and grind through a tense and tight affair.
Houston @ Portland – 10:30p.m.
Portland couldn't ask for a better opportunity to take its playoff pursuit to the final day: it likely needs to defeat a team John Spencer knows particularly well at JELD-WEN Field. The Timbers will have to hold off their nerves (admittedly, they have struggled to do so at times this year at home) and rise to the challenge of facing a similarly physical side. It's a tough test for the young Timbers but it is one the they can pass with the right mix of application and poise.
Prediction: Portland win.
New York @ Sporting Kansas City – 4:00p.m. (Telefutura)
Odd to see Sporting choose to play a midweek friendly in the middle of a heated playoff chase. The 2-2 draw with Chivas Guadalajara shouldn't offer much of an impact here as Peter Vermes used his subs wisely and Sporting will possess the energy to make a push in this vital affair. New York could vault over Sporting with a victory here, but the high stakes may just subdue the expected tempo battle – New York wants to keep it steady and Sporting wants to push it into the stratosphere – and lead to a stalemate.Prediction: Draw.
Toronto FC @ Philadelphia – 4:00p.m. (TSN)
The outcome of this game could hinge on Aron Winter's approach to team selection. This match does not materially impact the Reds in the league table, but the energy expended in it could matter ahead of Tuesday's crucial CONCACAF Champions League tilt against FC Dallas. Winter will likely juggle his lineup to keep some first-team regulars fresh after the international fixture date. Even a small amount of turnover could benefit a Philadelphia side that won at Seattle last weekend and could place one hand on the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory here.
Prediction: Philadelphia win.
Chicago @ D.C. United – 7:30p.m.
The numbers do not lie ahead of this affair: three Fire starters ruled out through suspension (Dan Gargan, Cory Gibbs and Pavel Pardo), two Eastern Conference teams with flickering playoff hopes and one home team with the ability to preserve its game in hand and snuff out the Fire's longshot bid with a victory here.
Prediction: D.C. United win.
Columbus @ New England – 7:30p.m.
One team would like to win this game to send its fans off on a high. The other team needs to win the game to boost its fight for a spot among the top three in the Eastern Conference. Bet on the latter to come away with a positive result here.
Prediction: Columbus win.
Vancouver @ FC Dallas – 8:30p.m.
FCD coach Schellas Hyndman will have one eye on Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League date with Toronto as he ponders his lineup for Vancouver's visit. Hyndman may want to stay the course, however, after his side pulled out of its doldrums with a 2-1 victory at Chicago on Wednesday night. Vancouver has played well at B.C. Place in its past two matches (including its 2-1 midweek win over D.C. United), but the youthful Whitecaps may find this away chore a bit too arduous despite their recent uptick in form.
Prediction: FC Dallas win.
San Jose @ Seattle – 10:30p.m.
Seattle has already sold over 59,000 tickets for Kasey Keller's last regular season match as a professional. San Jose picked up a solid 2-1 victory at New England last weekend, but it'd be foolish to expect a similar result in an exponentially more difficult road setting.
Prediction: Seattle win.
Chivas USA @ Los Angeles – 9:00p.m. (ESPN2)
This dead rubber match won't lack for passion, but it could lack for stars with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane essentially ruled out and David Beckham likely to rest ahead of Thursday's important CONCACAF Champions League tie at Motagua. Los Angeles may lean on its squad depth (especially at right back with Sean Franklin hurt and Frankie Hejduk suspended), but Chivas USA can rely upon a motivated Juan Pablo Ángel to push its efforts to secure a derby result.
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 email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.