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Still plenty to play for in MLS

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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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There may be no playoff spots still on the line when Major League Soccer plays its final regular season games this weekend thanks to New York’s victory over Philadelphia on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of drama.

The wide-open race for the Eastern Conference regular season title, and the conclusion of the jockeying for playoff positions in the West will make for some dramatic moments even if eight teams will be playing knowing their seasons are already over.

The East will offer the most suspense, as Sporting Kansas City, Columbus and Houston all have a chance of finishing first in the conference and securing the top seed. The Philadelphia Union made the road to the No. 1 seed in the East easier by failing to bring any points back from Red Bull Arena, but even the Union could still finish first if enough things go right for them this weekend.

Sporting Kansas City can wrap up the regular season East title with a win against D.C. United in a match that had so much promise just a few weeks ago. That was before United’s late-season collapse. Now, D.C. is out of the playoff mix, MVP candidate Dwayne DeRosario seems unlikely to play with a leg injury, and the rest of the D.C. squad will head into the match with an eye toward their vacations while Sporting KC looks to make the incredible climb from last place to East title.

Aurelien Collin, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Chance Myers celebrate a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Kansas City will have the chance to not only secure the No. 1 overall seed, but also to gather momentum heading into the club’s first playoff appearance in three years. Sporting KC is widely regarded as the East team best equipped to challenge for the MLS Cup title and can look the part of title contender by delivering a strong match against a D.C. United team they will have no excuse for not beating.

If Sporting KC can’t post the win they need, then Columbus will have a chance to cap its own surprisingly successful season with a win and first place. The Crew were never supposed to be a contender for first place. Not after purging the roster and parting ways with former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto in the off-season. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Columbus, but Crew head coach Robert Warzycha had other plans and helped transition a plethora of new faces and produce better results than anybody could have expected.

The Crew still aren’t considered a strong title contender, but a win against Chicago would give Columbus a Top Two spot in the East and give it some momentum heading into the playoffs. The Fire don’t have the playoffs to play for, but are a team that has found a good stride lately and will look to finish off a strong end to the season with another win to help interim head coach Frank Klopas come closer to securing the Fire head coaching job on a permanent basis.

The Dynamo play the final game of the regular season, against Los Angeles on Sunday, and Dom Kinnear’s side has even more to play for than the aforementioned teams in the East. Not only could Houston be playing for first place in the East (it would take losses by Sporting KC and Columbus), but the Dynamo will take the field at Robertson Stadium for the final time knowing that a loss to the Galaxy could doom them to a brutal road in the MLS playoffs as the tenth and final seed.

Needing a win against the best team in MLS might seem like a tall order but with the LA Galaxy resting most of their key players, Houston will have a very good chance to post the victory that could help them secure a top three place in the East, or a higher seed in the wild card round. The Dynamo are unbeaten in their past five, and beating the Galaxy would certainly give them confidence heading into the playoffs.

Out West, there isn’t as much to play for, but three teams can still change their playoff paths. Real Salt Lake faces Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium and will be looking to secure the No. 3 seed in the West, while also posting the team’s first victory in five matches. The Timbers will figure to be a tired team after Wednesday’s dramatic and disappointing 1-1 draw in D.C., and knowing the playoffs are no longer a possibility could make it tough for Portland to muster the motivation it will take to beat a strong RSL side.

FC Dallas is another team that will be looking to the weekend for a win to help instill some confidence. Their gut-wrenching 3-0 CONCACAF Champions League loss to Toronto FC has to shake the team’s confidence, but a win on Saturday against a weak San Jose side could potentially settle the team down while also securing the No. 4 place in the East (and potentially even the No. 3 seed if RSL slips up). Dallas may have won two straight before that loss to TFC, but that defeat could wind up lingering at the worst time.

Colorado is in a similar situation, having also been eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League, but the Rapids were far less focused on that competition as they are on trying to make another improbable run to an MLS Cup championship. Gary Smith could be coaching his last games for the Rapids, and if the team wants to secure the easiest possible road in the playoffs they will want to beat Vancouver on Saturday, something that shouldn’t be considered a sure thing considering how shaky Colorado has looked at times recently, and how dangerous the Whitecaps have looked at times down the stretch.

No, there won’t be any playoff spots on the line this weekend. But there will be plenty to play for as teams do their best to gather momentum and secure the best possible road to the MLS Cup Final.
 

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