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After the Chicago Fire clinched a postseason berth with a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA on Thursday night, two spots remain in this season's playoffs and, entering the final round of games, six clubs retain hope of playing beyond this weekend. So, who'll be in and who'll be out?
A quirk of the schedule means that all but one of the half-dozen hopefuls will have to do their work on the road. The only club with playoff ambitions to have a home game to look forward to is Real Salt Lake, which gives coach Jason Kreis' side a great chance of extending its season, despite the fact that it is currently the candidate furthest away from the top eight.
However, I would be surprised if RSL is celebrating on Saturday night. For one, it has won just once since the end of August. More pertinent, though, is the desperation with which its opponent, the Colorado Rapids, will be playing. Allied with a front two of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, who have 24 goals and 13 assists between them in 2009, it should be enough for the Rapids to get a result.
Whether it is a clincher or just a spoiler for RSL's hopes will depend on what happens elsewhere. Colorado is one of the two sides that enters the weekend "in" the playoffs. The other is Toronto FC, which (on paper) has the easiest game of all, in that it faces the league's worst team, the New York Red Bulls. In the final soccer game at Giants Stadium, can TFC make some history of its own?
For what it's worth, my feeling is that Colorado will do enough to qualify and will be joined in the playoffs by D.C. United, which I fancy to win at the Kansas City Wizards and enjoy a little help from other results. I would not be shocked if FC Dallas, which has won four straight and seven of 11 games since the all-star break, completes a remarkable second half by winning at Seattle, but the Sounders' hopes of winning the West make things harder for coach Schellas Hyndman and his rejuvenated FCD squad.
And what of the New England Revolution, I hear you say? Having made the postseason for seven straight years, the Revs have a proud record to defend. But with so many stars sidelined due to injury, New England is up against it at the Columbus Crew on Sunday. The Crew has clinched the Supporters' Shield and so has little to play for but, as was seen just two weeks ago at Gillette Stadium, has the strength in depth to beat New England even with key men missing.
A thing that made me go hmmm
One thing that does play into New England's favor is timing, in that coach Steve Nicol and his players will know exactly what they need to do to reach the playoffs by the time their game begins.
A mea culpa: Yes, I'm beating the same drum for the second straight year ... but, once again, it is disappointing that MLS has not been able (or willing) to schedule the final round of matches to kick off at the same time. Imagine the dramatic possibilities of having seven games in progress concurrently. No team could gain an advantage by knowing the results of its rivals, while fans' match experience would be enhanced by frantic scoreboard watching.
Admittedly, there are many reasons why this isn't happening. For example, in a 15-club league, one team is left off the weekend schedule, and differing time zones are also a factor. Plus, there are existing commitments that stadia have made with other organizations, some of which are MLS-related, as is the case with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA, both of which are in action at the Home Depot Center.
Still, it's a shame. Given the many permutations that exist, there is every chance that the final weekend of the regular season will be every bit as exciting as we all hope. However, the staggered nature of the schedule means that there will be no extra drama generated by having all the teams in action at once.