[MLS WEEKEND PREVIEWS] Colorado, Columbus and Los Angeles must win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Kansas City can clinch a postseason spot by beating New York, and Chicago will greatly enhance its playoff chances with a victory on the penultimate weekend of the MLS regular season. Chivas can clinch the Western Conference crown by beating the Rapids on Sunday.
D.C UNITED (16-6-6) vs. CHICAGO (9-10-9)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, HDNet, Direct Kick
Jaime Moreno is with the Bolivian national team for its World Cup qualifiers, defender Bobby Boswell is suspended, and Fred (groin strain) and Josh Gros (migraines) are listed as questionable, so the Fire has a reasonable chance to reverse a 3-1 defeat it suffered at RFK on June 16.
Simply repeating the 1-1 tie the teams played at Toyota Park three weeks ago won't be enough for Chicago to nail down a playoff spot, unless Los Angeles loses. If the Galaxy wins, a Chicago win won't be enough, either, yet would put the Fire in a position to reach the postseason by tying Los Angeles in the season finale Oct. 21 if need be.
First things first. Chicago is unbeaten in its last six games, a record it has compiled without midfielder Justin Mapp, who is still out with a sprained ankle. To accommodate Paulo Wanchope and Chad Barrett up top, coach Juan Carlos Osorio has often used Chris Rolfe at right midfield.
Rolfe and Cuauhtemoc Blanco aren't often in sync, yet are capable of unhinging most MLS defenses. What Osorio and the Fire cannot afford to do is sit back if it gets a lead; it tied three straight games, 1-1, after taking the lead before rallying to beat New England, 2-1, last week with goals by Rolfe and Barrett.
United is still in the hunt for the best overall regular-season record, hasn't lost at home since Kansas City handed out a 4-2 whacking in the RFK league opener, and hasn't lost any league match since late July.
NEW ENGLAND (14-7-7) vs. COLUMBUS (7-11-10)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
The Revs lost to a desperate team last week (2-1 to the Fire) and faces another team with its back to the wall. But there's little in the Crew's recent performances to forecast the victory it needs.
Five points in the last 10 matches leaves Columbus five points behind eighth-place Chicago with two games to play. The only team it has beaten since the All-Star break is Toronto. It does have 2-2 and 3-3 ties with New England on its ledger this season, but a point won't be enough for the team that leads the league in deadlocks.
Crew midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who leads the team with 11 assists and has scored four goals, hasn't started a game while recovering from a hamstring strain he suffered Sept. 8 against Chicago.
Schelotto did play the last seven minutes in a 3-1 loss to Dallas last week and he can be the spark Columbus needs, but the defense has to do its part. Of the 40 goals Columbus has conceded this season, 17 have been allowed in the last nine games.
Defenders Rusty Pierce (hamstring strain) and Avery John (knee sprain) are questionable for the Revs.
NEW YORK (11-11-6) vs. KANSAS CITY (10-11-7)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
Last year, the Wizards went to the Meadowlands on the final day of the season needing only a tie to nudge ahead of New York and claim the final playoff spot. They lost, 3-2.
This time around, the Red Bulls have clinched their spot, and the Wizards - currently in seventh place overall -- could fail to win their last two games and still get in. But by winning, KC makes it regardless of other results and thus would end a two-year postseason drought. Unfortunately, the Wizards are finishing much like they did in 2005, when they failed to win any of their last eight games and fell short.
One win in seven games, during which they've been outscored, 12-7, presents rookie head coach Curt Onalfo with the biggest test of his career: a crucial game against Bruce Arena, for whom he played at Virginia and assisted as a member of the U.S. national team coaching staff.
In June, Kansas City beat New York, 3-2, at Arrowhead Stadium and tied the Red Bulls, 3-3 at the Meadowlands in back-to-back games. It has won at D.C. United, New England and Toronto, but all of those victories came in the spring.
New York backed into the playoffs last week despite losing to Toronto, 2-1. In the last five games it has tied three and lost two, and needs to build momentum as the playoffs approach.
Joe Vide is suspended and Claudio Reyna is suffering from a sprained toe, so midfielders Dema Kovalenko and rookie Dane Richards should see a lot of the ball. Left back Dave van den Bergh, a Wizard last season, has sparked numerous attacks the past month with his mid- and long-range passing.
LOS ANGELES (8-13-6) vs. TORONTO FC (6-16-6)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol
David Beckham isn't expected to be listed on the 18-man roster, yet Coach Frank Yallop has every reason to rely on the guys who have salvaged the season by winning four straight and rallied to beat Houston, 2-1, last week.
Yallop may field defender Abel Xavier to replace rookie Ty Harden, who left the Houston game in the 26th minute with a hip injury. A knee injury had sidelined Xavier but he resumed training last week and is listed as probable.
Despite its win streak, Los Angeles is tied for the worst defensive record in MLS: 45 goals allowed. Tied with Toronto. Of course, when the teams met Aug. 5 at BMO Field, they tied, 0-0.
Midfielder Carl Robinson is suspended for TFC, which played listlessly while losing, 1-0, to Colorado after it had ended a 12-game winless streak by beating New York. Coach Mo Johnston lashed into his team after the Rapids game, yet without the injured Ronnie O'Brien and Danny Dichio, and Jeff Cunningham mired in one of his funks, TFC's attack has been impotent.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley summoned dynamic rookie Maurice Edu to training camp for the friendly against Switzerland, which further drains a TFC midfield that had been sparked by Marvell Wynne's presence.
CHIVAS USA (15-6-7) vs. COLORADO (8-12-8)
Sunday, 3 p.m., ET, TeleFutura
A Jovan Kirovski penalty kick earned the Rapids a vital 1-0 win last week at home against Toronto, which sets them up needing a victory where no opposing team has won this season. They finished that match with nine men; both Mehdi Ballouchy (straight red) and Pablo Mastroeni (second caution) were sent off and will sit out this game.
Chivas USA is 10-0-3 at home and pitched its 14th shutout of the season Thursday while tying FC Dallas, 0-0. Forwards Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo came on as substitutes, but Razov finished the game hobbling, so his status for this match is unknown. Coach Preki also rested veteran defender Claudio Suarez, but may bring him back for this game. A win clinches the Western Conference crown and homefield advantage.
A Chicago victory Saturday scuttles the Rapids playoff hopes, a tie keeps them in it, but only if they can beat the stingiest team in MLS. Chivas USA beat the Rapids, 2-0, at Home Depot Center June 16, with Galindo scoring the clincher after a Terry Cooke own goal. Sacha Kljestan and Colin Clark were the scorers when the teams tied, 1-1, in Commerce City Sept. 16.
Without Ballouchy and Mastroeni, Colorado has little hope of controlling play in midfield, so it will need superhuman efforts from Cooke and Clark to create chances from the flanks, maybe by banging balls up to Conor Casey. Whatever works.