Breathe it in folks. Fall is surrounding us (even here in Dallas for me!) and playoff soccer is so close you can taste it. There are just two more weeks left in the season and this week could be the biggest of them all as we close in on who will be the last four teams that reach the post season.
The final four spots can be claimed this weekend as well as the Supporters Shield. Indeed it is a big weekend for MLS.
Here are some items that I will be concentrating on this weekend.
1. Can KC lock up the East and remain hot? Sporting Kansas City is the one road club that can claim a victory this season at Red Bull Arena. They did it just a couple weeks ago and now they return once again for another try to knock off the Red Bulls. New York will be missing some parts in the back like Wilman Conde and who knows what Hans Backe is planning on doing with Rafa Marquez these days.
Sporting wants to continue on their impressive run of games here. Peter Vermes’ side has not lost in their last 10 games with the last loss coming all the way back in late July against Columbus. I know some folks love what Frank Yallop has done in San Jose this season with that team but I have to say I may be more impressed with Vermes and what he has done in KC. That defense went from leaky to extremely hard to beat and guys like Graham Zusi have turned into MVP-type players.
Staying unbeaten for 12 games to finish the season will be very impressive but keeping it up for the four games in the playoffs will be equally impressive.
2. Are the Crew toast? The faithful in Ohio don’t seem to think so and I totally get it too. The talent is there for this team but I do worry that the magic is running out on a run to get into the post season. Columbus is just one point back of Houston for the fifth and final spot while the club they face this weekend (D.C. United) hopes to lock up a playoff berth of their own.
Columbus has two games left to prove to the league that they do belong in the mix for a MLS Cup. A win against D.C. will set them up well going into the final week of the season against lowly Toronto. In fact this game with D.C. is indeed their biggest of the season yet.
The Crew have to find ways around the United defense, by setting up guys like Fedrico Higuain and Jairo Arreita. Those two have to make their mark on this game like they have in the past for the Crew.
Given how Columbus has been in several games lately, don’t expect this one to be over until the final whistle is blown. The Crew are always good for a late goal.
We also can’t sleep on the importance of this game for D.C. as well. They haven’t been the the playoffs in what feels like ages for this club. They will be gunning for a win in the worst possible way too on Saturday.
3. Quakes going for the Shield and more. Sure winning the Supporters’ Shield will be nice for San Jose. They’ve certainly earned it but in my book the more impressive number to be going for is a nice cool record of 9-0-0 against LA, Seattle and RSL this season. With those three being their biggest competition in the playoffs, a win against LA will once again send an emphatic message to the rest of the conference that the Cup run goes through the Bay area.
It won’t be easy for LA either. The loss of A.J DeLaGarza for the rest of the regular season does not help matters at all when dealing with Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart.
Speaking of Wondo, the guy is just two goals away from the league’s all-time mark for goals scored in a single season. You know he will be going all out for those goals. Lately he’s been red hot and the fact that he didn’t get called up for the US national team last week only spells trouble for LA in my mind. He’ll want to prove yet again to Jurgen Klinsmann that it was a mistake to not call up him.
4. All to play for with Vancouver and Dallas. It is a big Sunday for the Vancouver Whitecaps. A win or draw gets them into the post season. A Dallas loss in Seattle gets them into the post season. Either way you spin it they just have to get a result and they are the first Canadian team to reach the post season in MLS. That is big.
But for the sake of it all we still need to look at the two games. Vancouver hosts Portland and we know what is on the line for the Timbers, the Cascadia Cup. They can still win it with a big win at BC Place. Portland hasn’t had the season most figured they would while the Whitecaps were a surprise team this year, getting themselves into playoff contention. Rivalry games tend to bring out the best and worst in teams too. Lately the Whitecaps have gone unbeaten in their last three after losing five in a row. Anything can happen in this game and you can expect a dog fight.
The thing is Vancouver will have to wait for the result of the Seattle/Dallas game to know what happens to them.
Speaking of which, Dallas still holds a tiny bit of hope in their season. Obviously they need a Portland win to stay in contention but they also have to get a win as well. Anything less will not be acceptable. They’ll likely have to do it without Brek Shea, George John and maybe even Jackson. That won’t be easy against a Seattle team that is coming off a 0-0 draw to RSL last night.
The flip side for Vancouver fans in this one is that Dallas will know by kickoff if this game has any meaning or not. That is a dangerous place to be in if you are Dallas.