Why Tonight’s MLS Games are Critical to the Playoff Race

Photo by Structures:NY

It’s catch-up time.  In both games in hand and playoff positioning.

In the shadow of the CONCACAF Champions League matches six MLS clubs will take the pitch tonight in critical games for playoff positioning.  One of the matches is a match-up of heavyweights, while the other two look to be mismatches that could be surprises.  What do all three have in common?  All three results could go a long way to helping or even ending the playoff hopes of three teams, while boosting the playoff positioning of a fourth.  Below is a breakdown of each match; all three can only be seen on Match Day Live or Direct Kick.

DC United v. Chivas USA – 7:30 PM ET – RFK Stadium

Coming off their resounding loss at Seattle, DC faces a struggling Chivas side they dominated less than two weeks ago in Los Angeles.  However, there are two differences this time around – no Chris Pontius for the home side and DC’s miserable home record.  Bill Hamid should be back for tonight’s match which will help DCU in net; Joe Willis was solid but not great in net this weekend.  The key will be to secure the home field – DC is 1-1-2 in home matches since July, a record that will keep them out of the playoffs if they keep it up.  Chivas, meanwhile, is seeking its first win since August 6.  Chivas will have Marcos Mondaini back for this match, which could prove useful against a DC midfield that looked suspect against Seattle.

Bottom line: DC needs 3 points to remain in the playoff race.  A loss effectively puts their hopes on life support, a draw could do the same depending on other results.  I see DC squeaking out a close 2-1 win here.

New York Red Bulls v. Real Salt Lake – 8:00 PM ET – RB Arena

Their win versus Dallas this weekend has reinvigorated a New York team that had hit a major slump.  That win basically set up this week perfectly for New York: wins versus RSL and Portland mean they have an inside track to the playoffs.  Their defense shone this weekend after some shaky recent performances but maybe the benching of Rafa Marquez has given them a spark.  The key question is will the team’s depth allow them to play at the highest possible level in back-to-back-to-back must win games, to say nothing of the rest of the season.

Real Salt Lake will be looking to repeat its 3-0 beat down of the Red Bulls in early August.  The visitors are riding a four-match winning streak and could conceivably clinch a playoff spot by Sunday if the various playoff scenarios play out.  The visitors will critically be missing Kyle Beckerman due to yellow card accumulation, and Tony Beltran will also miss this match due to an abductor strain.

Bottom line: RSL will miss Beckerman against a possibly resurrected New York side, which needs a result more than the visitors.  Still, I’m not 100% sold that NY is back on track and I think the backline will struggle against the RSL attack.  I predict a 2-2 draw on this one.

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes – 10:30 PM ET – JELD-WEN

The quotes are flying in this one, which Lovel Palmer saying, “(this) game makes or breaks our season,” a sentiment John Spencer only somewhat disagrees with.  The Timbers are riding a four game unbeaten streak and have won three of those matches, but have only two matches left at home while playing four of their final six on the road, where their record is not quite so good.  Much like DCU needs to begin racking up wins at home, Portland needs some road wins.  Darlington Nagbe will start again after a good performance against New England, and if Kenny Cooper is hitting a hot streak, this team can score with the best of them.

San Jose is likely battling for respectability in this one, as even their home town paper is saying their playoff chances are “slimmer than a pair of skinny jeans“.  The ‘Quakes actually had the lead against Houston at the half this weekend, but gave it away to continue their slide.

Bottom line: This is an absolutely must win for Portland, and at home they will get it. 2-0 victory for the Timbers.

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