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One playoff matchup already set
by Ridge Mahoney, October 21st, 2008 7AM
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[MLS]Much of the playoff schedule is yet to be determined but MLS and ESPN2 have already anointed the Chicago-New England Eastern Conference semifinal series for coverage on its two Thursday night postseason windows.

The teams, which are tied for second place with 43 points, will face each other Oct. 30 and Nov. 6. Kickoff times will be set after it is determined in which order the teams finish, with the third-place team hosting the first match.

Chicago can assure itself of second place when it plays New York Thursday at Toyota Park regardless of how New England fares at home against Kansas City Saturday night. Chicago swept the season series, 3-0, and by beating the Red Bulls will clinch second even if the Revs win, because head-to-head results is the first tiebreaker in case teams finish equal on points.

Slotting both games of one series into the Thursday broadcast window makes sense for promotional as well as competitive aspects. The teams will receive the same amount of rest, approximately, between the first and second games as the series that are staged on the weekends. It's also the only matchup to be determined with the final round of regular-season games yet to be played.

With Chicago playing a game this Thursday night that is critical to New York's playoff hopes, the entire telecast can serve as an infomercial for ESPN2's playoff coverage. Both Chicago-New England telecasts will include live pregame shows. The presence of Mexican catalyst Cuauhtemoc Blanco will also boost viewership on ESPN Deportes.

Plans are still to be finalized for the rest of the playoff coverage, aside from MLS Cup, that will be shared by Fox Soccer Channel, HDNet and Telefutura. FSC and HDNet will each televise three games: the first and second legs of a conference semifinal series, and the conference finals.

Telefutura will air either one or two conference semifinals, depending on scheduling. It's likely that HDNet will televise the series between Supporters' Shield winner Columbus and its Eastern Conference semifinal opponent, which could be either New York or Kansas City.

Whichever team finishes fifth in the Eastern Conference, either Kansas City or New York, will shift over to play Western Conference champion Houston in the conference semifinals. Second-place Chivas USA will play either Real Salt Lake or Colorado, pending the result of their season finale on Saturday.

ABC and Telefutura carry MLS Cup 2008 Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET.


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