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Friday MLS Forecast: Week 32

By Kyle McCarthy

It all comes down to this.

A regular season that opened in Seattle on March 19 will end with its 225th and final match in Columbus early Sunday evening.

By the time the final whistle blows at Crew Stadium, the remaining six playoff hopefuls will be sliced to two second-season certainties, the nebulous conference semifinal pairings will take shape and the excluded seven teams can start thinking about next year.

The best part? Every match means something heading into the weekend.

Clear out your calendars and find a comfy spot on the couch, at the local bar or any other venue with Direct Kick. Expect passion and drama in all of those matches, even the ones including those spoilers who have yet to quit on the season. Take a moment or two to escape from the ridiculous playoff permutations to bid good riddance to the decrepit concrete sinkhole at the Meadowlands as it hosts its last MLS match. Most of all, hop along for what will certainly be a wild ride over the course of two days.

The Forecast will hope to end the regular season on a high note after stumbling down the stretch. Fortunately, all of the focus will be on the field rather on the prognostications.

Last week: 3/7 (43%)
For the season: 85/188 (45%)

The Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 32

(For full rundown of tiebreakers, click here. The key updates after Chicago's 1-0 win over Chivas USA last night: the Fire clinched second spot in the East with the win, Columbus clinched the Supporters' Shield with Chivas USA's loss and Los Angeles can now win the West with a victory over San Jose.)
(X – Denotes clinched a playoff spot, S – Denotes clinched Supporters' Shield)

Eastern Conference
1. Columbus (13-6-10, 49 pts., v. New England) – X, S
2. Chicago (11-7-12, 45 pts.) - X
Western Conference
T1. Los Angeles (11-6-12, 45 pts., v. San Jose) – X
T1. Houston (12-8-9, 45 pts., @ Chivas USA) – X
T1. Chivas USA (13-10-6, 45 pts., v. Houston) – X
Wild Cards
2. Seattle (11-7-11, 44 pts., v. San Jose) - X
3. Colorado (10-9-10, 40 pts., @ Real Salt Lake)
4. Toronto FC (10-10-9, 39 pts., @ New York)
==
FC Dallas (11-12-6, 39 pts., @ Seattle)
New England (10-10-9, 39 pts., @ Columbus)
D.C. United (9-8-12, 39 pts., @ Kansas City)
Real Salt Lake (10-12-7, 37 pts., v. Colorado)

Out: Kansas City, San Jose, New York

Saturday

Toronto FC @ New York – 7:30p.m.   


Carl Robinson | Toronto FC will need someone to inject calmness into the team with a playoff berth on the line, but Robinson (broken cheekbone) still isn't available to fill that role

This fixture looks just a bit too fortunate for the Reds, doesn't it? A win over the Red Bulls would hand them a first-ever postseason berth. These are exactly the types of situations TFC has flubbed in its short history; it's almost too easy. This is also the type of game where if I'm Chris Cummins, I'd love to have the injured Carl Robinson (broken cheekbone) in the starting XI somewhere to calm things down and add some steel to a side that just doesn't know how to close out games quite yet. Two other things Cummins should consider: keeping the in-form Brian Edwards in the lineup even if Stefan Frei recovers from his dislocated finger and playing four at the back (instead of the three-man setup used in last Saturday's 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake) to combat New York's speed in the wide areas. In the last game at Giants Stadium, it'd be apropos for New York to go up early and throw away a lead in impossible circumstances. The match probably won't proceed that aptly. If TFC is going to make the playoffs, it'll likely have to hold on for dear life until the final whistle to do it. For once, the Reds may just have the luck to do it.

Prediction
: Toronto FC win.

D.C. United @ Kansas City – 8:30p.m.

Kansas City might be the right team for United to face in the final match of the regular season, but this isn't the right venue for D.C. in a must-win game. In order to obtain the required victory, United is going to have to emerge out of a deep, hard slog against a Wizards side that didn't show much quit in last Saturday's 3-2 loss to Seattle. Gritty matches don't really suit this particular United side. Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Toluca could give United some bounce and D.C. did show up in the draw that ended its season in similar circumstances at Columbus last campaign, but will it be enough? United will have to look to Ben Olsen for drive and to Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno for creativity in order to ensure a different fate this time. Given the up and down season, the poor performances over the past couple of months and the difficulties posed when a footballing team has to play pinball, it's hard to plump for United here even if this is a game it should win.

Prediction: Draw.

Colorado @ Real Salt Lake – 9:00p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)

The Rocky Mountain rivals meet again to cap off a somewhat disappointing campaign for both sides. RSL has ended Colorado's season in each of the past two campaigns and it looks odds on to keep its own distant playoff hopes alive by doing the same at Rio Tinto on Saturday night. Colorado hasn't looked like the same team without its wide players (0-2-4 since Sept. 12) and hasn't created much from the run of play (one non-PK tally in its past four matches) recently. Then again, these two teams haven't exactly lit up the scoreboard with playoff placement on the line in the past (three goals in the two previous meetings on the final day), so one goal might be enough to lift the Rapids to the playoffs. When all is said and done and despite my hasty proclamations to the contrary, it doesn't look like 40 points will be enough to make the playoffs. At least the Claret-and-Cobalt can take solace in two facts with a home win: the tiebreakers favor them if chaos reigns and the Rapids will join them on the sidelines if it doesn't.

Prediction
: Real Salt Lake win.

FC Dallas @ Seattle – 10:30p.m.



Jhon Kennedy Hurtado | The Colombian center back will have to join with Tyrone Marshall to keep Jeff Cunningham in check

One more win (and maybe a touch of help). That's all the Hoops need to win a fifth match in six and complete an improbable run to the playoffs. FCD's recent run of form (7-1-3 with 27 goals since a 6-0 demolition of Kansas City kickstarted the campaign on Aug. 1) means there are plenty of people in Columbus and Chicago rooting for Sounders FC to take care of business and knock Jeff Cunningham and company out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. With top spot in the West and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs still up for grabs, Sounders FC has plenty of motivation on its end, too. Perhaps the most pressing priority for Sigi Schmid's side: obtaining a win at Qwest Field. Seattle hasn't won in the Emerald City since defeating Houston 2-1 on July 11, a span of four games (0-1-3). Perhaps the best approach to obtaining that win involves sticking with Peter Vagenas and Osvaldo Alonso in the middle of the park – the duo started together in Kansas City with Brad Evans at right back in place of James Riley (ankle) – to sit in and restrict David Ferreira's space to create. It may limit Seattle's thrust through the middle, but the Hoops require an defensive adjustment or two given their recent form. Will FCD's fairy tale run have a fairy tale ending? Unfortunately for the Hoops, their story may not end in a playoff run.

Prediction: Draw.

San Jose @ Los Angeles – 10:30p.m.


The task is simple for the Galaxy: beat the Earthquakes and win the Western Conference. One look at the tape from the 2-2 draw between San Jose and Chivas USA last Saturday will betray that obtaining a victory won't be as simple as it sounds. Bruce Arena will certainly name Landon Donovan in his starting XI after bringing him on as a second-half substitute in last Sunday's 0-0 draw in Houston, but fellow substitute Alan Gordon (one-match ban: caution accumulation) won't be available. Donovan will have to add the attacking impetus and he should find ample room in between the lines and in between center backs Bobby Burling and Brandon McDonald. The Quakes don't have terribly much to play for except pride, but that hasn't stopped them from ending the season with points in six of their last seven matches (2-1-4). San Jose will bring the effort, but the Galaxy will bring the quality and walk away with an improbable Western Conference crown in the process.

Prediction: Los Angeles win.

Sunday

Houston @ Chivas USA – 3:00p.m. (Telefutura)



Brian Ching | Influential Dynamo forward will have to sit after picking up his second red card in three games

The competitiveness of this match could hinge on the late results on Saturday night. A Galaxy win combined with a Seattle draw (or loss) means the Dynamo would need only a draw to seal second spot in the Western Conference. Whatever the required result, Houston will have to earn it without the suspended Brian Ching (one-match ban) after yet another instance of Dynamo foolishness resulting in a sending off. Perhaps Dominic Kinnear should send his Dynamo into the match with the express goal of ending it with 11 men; Houston has had a player ejected (Ching twice, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, Cam Weaver) in each of its past five MLS matches, though most of those dismissal occurred late stages. To put an even finer point on it, the Dynamo hasn't ended a MLS game with 11 players since a 1-1 draw with Seattle on Aug. 23. If Houston continues to display that sort of indiscipline, it won't get the point (or three) it wants here and won't get very far in the playoffs either. Mark this match down for a share of the spoils, but don't be surprised if Saturday's results dictate the outcome, the lineups and the flow of the game here.

Prediction
: Draw.

New England @ Columbus – 6:00p.m. (ESPN2)


Wrong place, wrong time, wrong situation for a struggling Revs side that has won once in its past eight tries (1-4-3) and hasn't scored in 241 minutes. New England needs a win in Columbus -- a place where it has won just five times in 24 opportunities (the last on May 24, 2008) and a spot where one MLS visiting team has won in the past 23 attempts, against the Crew -- a team it hasn't scored against in 271 minutes and a team it fell to 1-0 two weeks ago at Gillette Stadium. The Revs did catch a break with the Crew's first-team laden outing in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, but that advantage may prove superficial because the Columbus reserves did a perfectly fine job in collecting all three points in the most recent encounter. One key member of that win, Emilio Renteria (one-match ban), won't be available to help lead the line here after seeing red in the Crew's 1-0 loss at D.C. last Saturday. Even if the Revs take advantage of the fact that the Crew clinched the Supporters' Shield after Chicago's 1-0 win over Chivas USA last night and now have little incentive to submit a determined performance, they still might not even have the chance to make the playoffs based on the fact that the right set of results on Saturday night could eliminate them from the postseason. Incentive or no incentive, Columbus looks like the smart pick here.

Prediction: Columbus win.

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 MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

For more on Major League Soccer, visit Goal.com's MLS page.