Monday MLS Breakdown: Playoff scenarios abound as MLS enters the final week of the regular season

The Breakdown spends some quality time working through a few key playoff possibilities after a typically tumultuous weekend slate.

The penultimate weekend clarified the most fundamental issue surrounding the MLS postseason at this point, but it still left plenty of questions unanswered ahead of the final weekend.

Barring the occurrence of a somewhat unanticipated series of events involving New York and either Chicago, D.C. United or Portland, the current ten-team playoff field should remain the same after next weekend. Its exact composition, however, remains quite uncertain.

After another weekend of frantic results – and teams simply not taking care of the business in front of them – around the league, there are still a host of scenarios to evaluate ahead of Wednesday's absolutely vital meeting between United and Portland at RFK Stadium and the final weekend of regular season action.

(Note: Before delving too deeply into the complicated scenarios up in the air this week, it makes sense to review the tiebreaking procedures used by the league in these circumstances. Three primary tiebreakers are used to separate two or more teams when they finish on the same number of points: (1) head-to-head competition between all of the tied teams [points per game with three or more teams involved], (2) goal differential and (3) total goals scored. The sequence does not end there – it finishes up with the fewest disciplinary points accumulated and a coin flip – but those three procedures will likely settle the matter.)

(Special note for three-way ties: If two clubs remain tied after another club with the same number of points advances during any step, the tiebreaker reverts to the two-club format to break the resulting deadlock.)

How many places are already booked?

The simple answer is nine.

Eastern Conference: Philadelphia, Sporting Kansas City, Columbus and Houston

Western Conference: Los Angeles (top seed/Supporters' Shield winners), Seattle (second seed), Real Salt Lake (third seed OR top wild card berth), FC Dallas (third seed OR top wild card berth) and Colorado (second or third wild card berth)

What club takes the tenth and final spot?

10. New York, 43 points, +5 GD, v. Philadelphia

11. Portland, 40 points, -8 GD, @ D.C. United, @ Real Salt Lake

12. Chicago, 40 points, 0 GD, v. Columbus

13. D.C. United, 38 points, -2 GD, v. Portland, v. Sporting Kansas City

Relevant two-way tiebreakers

NY: CHI (goal difference), D.C. (goal difference), POR (head-to-head)

Relevant three-way tiebreaker between NY, POR and CHI: Portland

POR (1.75 PPG), NY (1.5 PPG), CHI (.5 PPG)

New York remains in the driver's seat to secure the only playoff berth still available despite its 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City, but Chicago, D.C. United and Portland all hold out some hope of crashing the postseason party at the last possible moment.

New York: A win by the Red Bulls over Philadelphia on Thursday night would seal a playoff spot (Portland could theoretically catch them with two wins, but it would lose the tiebreaker on goal differential), but a draw or a loss could open the door slightly for one of its rivals. In any two-way tie situation, New York will scrape into the postseason.

Portland: With two matches remaining to New York's sole contest, Portland must finish one point ahead of the Red Bulls to safely guarantee a place in the postseason. The road to the postseason doesn't end there: John Spencer's side can also sneak through even with a defeat on Wednesday and a win on Saturday if United draws or loses to Sporting Kansas City, Philly wins at Red Bull Arena and Chicago defeats Columbus at Toyota Park to create a three-way tie on 43 points. Either way, the Timbers will have to add to their meager haul of two road wins on the season to keep their chances alive.

Chicago: The Fire must hope for three things to occur in order to hit the playoff jackpot: (1) a heavy New York loss on Thursday night, (2) a multi-goal win over Columbus to help swing the goal difference in its favor and (3) Portland to accumulate less than three points in its two games to avoid a three-way tie on 43 points.

D.C. United: Ben Olsen's side faces the most straightforward situation: win twice (preferably by heavy margins to make up seven goals in goal difference in case of a Red Bulls draw) and hope New York loses. It won't be an easy task to accomplish as United has lost four straight games and hasn't won two consecutive matches all season.

What club will win the Eastern Conference?

1. Sporting Kansas City, 48 points, +9 GD, 49 GF, @ D.C. United

2. Philadelphia, 48 points, +9 GD, 44 GF, @ New York

3. Columbus, 47 points, 0 GD, 41 GF, @ Chicago

4. Houston, 46 points, +2 GD, 42 GF, v. Los Angeles

Relevant two-way tiebreakers

SKC: PHL (goal difference with a greater margin of victory if both teams win/total goals if results match), CLB (goal difference), HOU (head-to-head)

PHL: SKC (goal difference with a greater margin of victory if both teams win), CLB (goal difference)

CLB: HOU (head-to-head)

HOU: None

Relevant three-way tiebreakers

SKC-PHL-CLB: Columbus [CLB 1.5 PPG, SKC & CLB 1.25 PPG]

SKC-PHL-HOU: reverts to SKC-PHL head to head [SKC & CLB 1.5 PPG, HOU .5 PPG]

Any one of these four sides could finish as the top seed in the Eastern Conference or find itself mired in the wild card morass in the middle of next week. Sporting Kansas City enters the weekend in the best position to ascend to the perch atop the playoff bracket, but the road-heavy schedule and the unpredictability in this table throughout the season could lead to all sorts of upheaval.

Sporting Kansas City: By the time Sporting takes the field at RFK Stadium on Saturday night, it will likely know exactly what result it requires to finish with the top seed in the East. Most of the tiebreakers fall in Sporting's favor in the event of gridlock, but it will not come out ahead if Columbus (draw) and Philadelphia (loss) finish on 48 points.

Philadelphia: Peter Nowak's side has the opportunity to apply some pressure with a victory over New York on Thursday night. A big win would help immensely as it would force Sporting to run up the score at D.C. on Saturday to exceed Thursday's score line, while a draw or a loss against the Red Bulls would create an opportunity for Sporting, Columbus and Houston (if the Union lose and the Dynamo win) to hop ahead in the pecking order.

Columbus: A win combined with no victories by either Philadelphia or Sporting would see the Crew nab top spot. A draw plus losses by both of those sides would complete the trick as well. Otherwise, it's down to scoreboard watching to determine the final placement in the table.

Houston: It will take a win, a draw or a loss by Columbus and losses by Philadelphia and Sporting to land atop the East.

Will Real Salt Lake or FC Dallas finish third in the Western Conference?

3. Real Salt Lake, 52 points, +8 GD, v. Portland

4. FC Dallas, 52 points, +5 GD, @ San Jose

Relevant two-way tiebreaker: Real Salt Lake (head-to-head)

RSL will book a Western Conference semifinal date with Seattle if it matches FCD's result on Saturday. FCD can avoid its cushy spot as the top seed in the wild card round (and the Eastern Conference bracket, with a victory over the fourth seed) in one of two scenarios: (1) FCD win + RSL draw or loss or (2) FCD draw + RSL loss.

So how exactly does Colorado figure into the mix?

8. Colorado, 46 points, +2 GD, @ Vancouver

9. Houston, 46 points, +2 GD, v. Los Angeles

10. New York, 43 points, +5 GD, v. Philadelphia

11. Portland, 40 points, -8 GD, @ D.C. United, @ Real Salt Lake

Relevant two-way tiebreakers in Colorado's favor: HOU (head-to-head), NY (head-to-head), POR (head-to-head)

Relevant three-way tiebreakers in Colorado's favor: COL-HOU-NY / COL-HOU-POR:

Relevant four-way tiebreakers in Colorado's favor: COL-HOU-POR-NY

Two-way tiebreaker between POR-HOU: HOU (head-to-head)

Colorado's strong performance against the surrounding teams in the wild card race means the Rapids will finish as the second or third wild card seed. Given the significant advantage of playing a midweek fixture at the mile-high Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Colorado will likely want to seal that second seed (and a potential Eastern Conference path if the top wild card seed stumbles) and the corresponding home match on Thursday. Anything less than a win at B.C. Place opens the door for Houston to jump into that second spot (or send an Eastern Conference rival down to it) with a victory against Los Angeles on Sunday.

Five Points – Week 31

1. A dull meeting had to happen sooner or later between these two rivals: Colorado and Real Salt Lake usually serve up entertaining fare when take the field to wage war for the Rocky Mountain Cup. Not in Friday night's 0-0 draw. There were flashpoints – notably Caleb Folan's header off the bar with eight minutes to play – but little in the way of tangible quality between two teams still trying to find their bearings ahead of the postseason.

2. Henry's selfishness could cost New York dearly: Henry's decision to stick his knee into Roger Espinoza's back and procure a compulsory red card from referee Kevin Stott torpedoed New York's chances to get a point at Sporting Kansas City. The stumbles by D.C. United and Portland ensured that the ten-man, 2-0 defeat at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park will not prove fatal to the Red Bulls' playoff chances, but his retribution will place his teammates in the awkward spot of trying to get a result without him against Philadelphia on Thursday night.

3. Robust forward duo could prove critical to Columbus' postseason chances: Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza combined to terrorize New England in the Crew's 3-0 victory at Gillette Stadium with a mixture of movement (mostly from Renteria) and power. Robert Warzycha knows he can rely on Eddie Gaven (and, increasingly, Dilly Duka) to provide some creativity through midfield and his solid back four to keep opposing teams out. If he can lean on this combative front pairing to produce a goal or two a game (net result against the Revs: two goals from Mendoza, two assists from Renteria), the Crew may just find a way to break its streak of two consecutive conference semifinal exits.

4. FC Dallas' revival in full bloom: Plenty of questions buzzed around FCD over the past couple of months after a hectic fixture list and the sudden passing of Bobby Rhine took a heavy toll on results. Those concerns have diminished a bit this week after Schellas Hyndman's side followed up a 2-1 midweek win at Chicago with a straightforward 2-0 victory over Vancouver at Pizza Hut Park.

Promising signs abound from those two matches. Jackson's move up front has sparked the dormant attack, while Brek Shea's 11th goal of the season (the rasping second tally in the win over the Whitecaps) marked his first MLS tally since Aug. 13. If the defense and Kevin Hartman can continue to find their groove, FCD will once again prove a handful when the postseason starts.

5. Sellout crowd, Keller and influential substitutes drive Seattle to comeback win: It almost looked like Chris Wondolowski would place a damper on Kasey Keller's final regular season home game and the third-largest standalone crowd (a 64,140 sellout at CenturyLink Field) in MLS history.

Wondolowski scored in the first half as San Jose continued its recent run of promising form. Keller conjured up a couple of fine saves to keep his side in it until Sammy Ochoa's fine finish – created by a stellar ball from Mauro Rosales – and Fredy Montero's somewhat controversial winner to wrap up the story as expected.

(Note: San Jose midfielder Brad Ring could blame two people for his giveaway to set up Montero's winner: [1] Earthquakes teammate Simon Dawkins for the ill-advised initial pass to put him under pressure and [2] referee Michael Kennedy for not blowing the obvious foul on Ochoa as he challenged for the ball and forced the turnover.)

While the final result held little tangible importance for a Seattle side that had already clinched the second seed in the Western Conference, the performances of key figures like Keller and Rosales (as an influential substitute) bode well for one of the MLS Cup favorites heading into the playoffs.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.