MLS Playoff Cheat Sheet: Making Sense Of The Final Week

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 29: Josh Wolff #16 of D.C. United and Rodney Wallace #22 of the Portland Timbers go up for a ball during the second half of the game at PGE Park on May 29, 2011 in Portland, Oregon. DC United won the game 3-2.(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Even though nine of the 10 playoff teams have been decided, there is still plenty of intrigue in the final week of the MLS season.

All but one of the 10 MLS playoff teams has been decided before the final week has even started, but that doesn't mean everything is set in stone. The No. 3 seed in the West, all three automatic spots in the East and the No. 10 playoff spot are still up for grabs and 13 teams still have a chance at making the playoffs.

As many as eight of the week's final 10 games will have some impact on the MLS Cup playoffs. I still think the format needs fixing, but I will admit that the league has succeeded in keeping it interesting all the way through.

No. 3 seed in the West

Real Salt Lake: On quick glance, it might seem like it would be in RSL's interest to go ahead and lose to the Timbers on Saturday and hope FC Dallas can jump ahead of them in the standings. That would send them to the wild card round, where they'd play the No. 10 team, and then into the Eastern Conference bracket against the top seed if they won. While that might be the easier path to the MLS Cup, it is worth noting that the No. 3 team in the regular season could very well end up with CONCACAF Champions League berth as the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders -- the Nos. 1 and 2 teams -- have already qualified for the tournament. For a team that thinks as highly of CCL as RSL, this must have at least some value.

Playoff race

Here's how the MLS playoff race is shaking out:
Club Pts GP GD Max H A
Galaxy 67 33 22 70 0 1
Sounders 60 33 17 63 0 1
Real Salt Lake 52 33 8 55 1 0
FC Dallas 52 33 5 55 0 1
Sporting KC 48 33 9 51 0 1
Union 48 33 9 51 1 0
Crew 47 33 0 50 0 1
Dynamo 46 33 2 49 1 0
Rapids 46 33 2 49 0 1
Red Bulls 43 33 5 46 1 0
Timbers 40 32 -8 46 0 2
Fire 40 33 E 43 1 0
DC United 38 32 -2 44 2 0
Key: Green (Automatic West qualifier); Blue (Automatic East qualifier); Red (Wildcard)

FC Dallas: The motivations for the Toros may not be quite as clear, as their experience with CCL this year may not have them dying to get back into the tournament next year. They will be motivated by other factors, though. The biggest one being form. After going nearly two months without a win, Dallas has now won two straight, a run they will likely want to continue against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Top spot in East

Sporting Kansas City: Owner of the tiebreak by virtue of having scored more goals, they could fall as low as the No. 9 playoff spot if the were to lose. Whether or not the top spot is less desirable than the No. 2 spot is actually kind of immaterial at this point, as it would clearly be better than having to play a wild-card game. Expect nothing less than their best in their finale at DC United.

Philadelphia Union: In a similar spot as Sporting in that they can't really afford to risk losing. Further complicating matters is the fact that they play the New York Red Bulls on Thursday, meaning they really won't know what the teams below them are capable of doing.

Columbus Crew: Depending what happens in the Union game, the Crew could move into the lead with a win over the Fire on Saturday. Anything less could leave them as low as No. 9. Clearly, that's not something they want.

Houston Dynamo: It seems a little crazy that a team with just two road wins all season could end up with the top seed in the East, but if everything breaks right they very well could. In MLS's infinite wisdom, they scheduled this game against the Galaxy on Sunday after every other game, so much will have been decided by then.

No. 10 playoff spot

New York Red Bulls: Win on Thursday against the Union, and they're in. It potentially gets a lot more complicated if they don't, though. Even if the Timbers lose on Wednesday, a scenario exists that would create a three-way tie with the Fire at 43 points. We'll deal with that later.

Portland Timbers: Even with two games left to play, they do not control their own destiny. They need to win both their games and then hope for the Red Bulls do no better than tie. Finishing on 44 points could actually be a bad thing, as they would still lose a tiebreaker to the Red Bull in the instance they tied the Union. Their second best hope might just be finishing at 43 points in a three-way tie with the Fire in which case they would have the most points in head-to-head matches (7). 

Chicago Fire: Seemingly dead in the water at numerous times this year, they still have a chance to make the playoffs if they can beat the Crew on Saturday. Of course, that would require the Red Bulls to lose and for the Timbers to pick up no more than two points in their final two games. Much of that will have been decided by the time they play.

DC United: Once a seeming lock because of all their games in hand, they have done nothing to help their cause. They now need to win both of their games this week, both at home against Portland on Wednesday and RSL on Saturday. They'd still need a little help as they would still lose a tiebreaker to the Red Bulls if both finished on 44 points. It's not looking good, to say the least.

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