HARRISON, NJ - OCTOBER 09: Thierry Henry #14 of the New York Red Bulls battles Robbie Russell #3 of Real Salt Lake for the ball at Red Bull Arena on October 9, 2010 in Harrison, New Jersey. The Red Bulls tied Real Salt Lake 0-0. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
There are three midweek games in MLS this week and all three have playoff implications. Oh goody!
We've gotten used to domestic sides in midweek competition thanks to the CONCACAF Champions League and that keeps rolling this week, but we've got some more Major League Soccer thrown into the mix thanks to three league matches on Wednesday. That means that 11 MLS sides are in action this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, something we're not used to seeing in MLS.
On the MLS side of things, and not CONCACAF, all three matches have playoff implications. Two of them are between a playoff contender and a non-contender so they might not be the most intriguing of matches, but they still are still key to determining which 10 teams will still be playing after October 23. Then there's the one big match on Wednesday night, pitting Real Salt Lake against the New York Red Bulls as Salt Lake tries to keep their Supporters Shield hopes alive, while New York continues their fight to avoid the indignity of being the big spenders unable to even make the playoffs.
New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake
Wednesday, 8:00 pm ET
You may have heard people already handing the LA Galaxy the Supporters Shield already and they certainly are the favorites, but don't write of Real Salt Lake just yet. The men from the Wasatch Mountains are 10 points back of LA, but they have two matches in hand. If they win those two matches then they are just four points behind and with six additional matches to play, four points is a deficit they can overcome.
To do it they'll have to take down New York at Red Bull Arena, which would have seemed a much easier task a week ago than it does today. A week ago, the Red Bulls were in the midst of an eight-match winless streak. They were out of the playoffs and with their many millions spent without any wins, let alone a trophy, they were the laughingstock of MLS. Then they went out and beat FC Dallas in Dallas. Hmmm, so what are these Red Bulls? Are they still the same mess that we thought they were a week ago or does Luke Rodgers' return to health and the benching of Rafa Marquez make them the team we saw in Dallas?
After some of their own struggles, Salt Lake is back on track with wins in their last four matches. Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are healthy and creating an impenetrable wall in front of goal again, while Nick Rimando continues to shine between the sticks. Salt Lake is a tough nut to crack and if Thierry Henry remains out with an Achilles injury it's hard to see New York getting much going in the attack. Toss in the way Real took the Red Bulls out behind the woodshed on August 6 to the tune of 3-0 and this one definitely looks favorable for the visitors.
Pick: Salt Lake 2-0
DC United vs. Chivas USA
Wednesday, 4:30 pm ET
DC United is not a very good team, but in MLS 2011 being a good team is not a prerequisite for making the playoffs. United is two points behind 10th place New York, but they have two matches in hand and to use a terrible phrase, they control their own destiny. It might be better for them if they didn't though. They got to within striking distance of the playoffs in large part to the splendid play of Chris Pontius. While people talk about Charlie Davies' goal total, the addition of Dwayne De Rosario and the play of youngsters Perry Kitchen and Ethan White, it was Pontius who made DC go. He was at the heart of nearly every DC attack and now he is out with a broken leg.
Luckily for them, they only have to play Chivas on Wednesday. They are also a bad team and coming off an awful loss to Chicago in which they fell behind, were able to level after Chicago went down to 10 men, then managed to give up a winner to the man-down Fire. It was an exceptional performance by the Goats and sums up their entire season as one of missed opportunities. At least they don't have to face Pontius though. DC destroyed Chivas 3-0 just two weeks ago in Los Angeles, but all three goals were created by Pontius and he won't be around to torment the Goats this time around.
Pick: DC 2-1
Wednesday, 10:30 pm ET
The Earthquakes are very, very poor, but so are the Timbers. Portland is just a little less poor and that's why they sit on the cusp of a playoff appearance with just goal difference separating them from 10th place. If they want to make the playoffs they need to get three points at home against bad teams. That means getting three points against the Quakes.
It is normally advisable to watch all matches played at Jeld-Wen Field because the atmosphere makes for fun viewing, but this one also has playoff implications so it's even better theater. Also, Steven Lenhart is not playing for San Jose. It's always advisable to not watch Lenhart whenever possible, but that's not a problem this time around. Watch!
Pick: Portland 2-0