[MLS PREDICTIONS] The tightest playoff race in league history concludes with seven games over the weekend, with every one having some bearing on how the seven slots behind Supporters' Shield winner Columbus will be filled. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney predicts weekend results that will create a four-way tie for the final two playoff berths and the following outcome ...
New York 1 Toronto FC 2
Kansas City 1 D.C. United 3
Real Salt Lake 1, Colorado 1
Seattle 1 FC Dallas 2
Los Angeles 2 San Jose 1
Chivas USA 0 Houston 0
Columbus 0 New England 1
FINAL STANDINGS ...
1. Columbus (49)
2. Chicago (45)
3. *Toronto FC (42)
4. **New England (42)
1. Los Angeles (48)
2. Houston (46)
3. Chivas USA (46)
4. Seattle (44)
*Wins four-way tiebreaker with D.C. United, FC Dallas and New England.
**Wins three-way tiebreaker with D.C. United and FC Dallas.
NEW YORK (4-19-6) vs. TORONTO FC (10-10-9), 7:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
The Red Bulls have hung tough under interim head coach Richie Williams, and TFC has already fluffed a big batch of points by conceding late goals. In this farewell to artificial turf for both teams, they won't lack for celebration in those terms. To close out their stay at Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls come home after a three-game road trip, prior to which they were 2-2-1 in the big barn.
Again without midfield fulcrum Carl Robinson (facial fracture), TFC will need strong games from Julian de Guzman and Amado Guevara. Some excellent saves from backup goalie Brian Edwards fended off RSL, 1-0, last weekend.
Toronto beat New York twice 11 days apart in June. The Red Bulls may be rusty, having played only three games in the past month, but are likely to push hard in the second half.
Prediction: Red Bulls 1 TFC 2.
KANSAS CITY (8-13-8) vs. D.C. UNITED (9-8-12), 8:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
D.C. did itself proud by tying 1-1 in Toluca Wednesday. Unfortunately, it missed out on the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals when Marathon won Thursday night. It has to set aside that disappointment quickly and get whatever result it can, knowing that because of its poor standing in tiebreakers it could win and still not qualify for the playoffs.
The Wizards fell out of contention last weekend by squandering a lead and losing 3-2 to Seattle for their third loss in five home games since the All-Star break. They are 4-6-4 at home, tied with New York for worst in the league, and aren't likely to stand up against United pressure for 90 minutes.
(Keep an eye peeled for ex-Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo. He's supposedly on the short list to replace Tom Soehn if D.C. management decides to make a change.)
Prediction: Wizards 1, United 3.
REAL SALT LAKE (10-12-7) vs. COLORADO (10-9-10), 9 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports Espanol
The Rocky Mountain Cup gets dusted with some genuine playoff desperation. RSL must win and get some help to have any chance of postseason action, though knocking out its nearest rival wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. More importantly, its impressive home record (8-1-5) is bad news for the Rapids road woes (2-7-5).
The Rapids have not won in their last six games and only by winning can they clinch a playoff spot. If it doesn't win, RSL is eliminated, and that stark fact alone should be enough for the home team to shrug off a 1-0 loss at Toronto last weekend and end the season on a winning note. But with other games affecting the status of both teams to be completed during their meeting, distraction is inevitable.
Prediction: RSL 1, Rapids 1.
SEATTLE (11-7-11) vs. FC DALLAS (11-12-6), 10:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
FCD can't be concerned with the scoreboard; it has won four straight ignoring the slim odds and everything else, yet has drawn a tough assignment for the finale. True, the Sounders clinched last weekend and would need some help to finish among the top two in the Western Conference to claim homefield advantage, but Qwest Field will be even more rockin' than usual with postseason play assured.
Seattle's leaky defense may leave holes for the speed of Jeff Cunningham and David Ferreira, the guile of Dave van den Bergh and the timely touches of Dax McCarty. With a revamped back four of Heath Pearce, George John, Ugo Ihemelu and Jair Benitez, FCD has allowed just two goals in the past four games. Dallas is a dismal 3-9-2 on the road this season but has won two of the last three (at Los Angeles and San Jose); can it carry California form into the Northwest and onto artificial turf?
Prediction: Sounders 1, FCD 2.
LOS ANGELES (11-6-12) vs. SAN JOSE (7-13-9), 10:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
The Galaxy seems poised to win the conference title by beating its NorCal rival, but in two meetings this year at the Oakland Coliseum, San Jose has managed a tie and win. The Quakes also came home last weekend with a 2-2 tie at HDC against Chivas USA, though it will again be without regulars Jason Hernandez and Cornell Glen because of injuries.
Los Angeles can cap a remarkable turnaround from last year's disaster by winning, and thus taking the conference title on tiebreakers regardless of what Chivas USA and Houston do on Sunday. Quakes coach Frank Yallop knows the opposing players, especially Landon Donovan, from his two stints in San Jose and one in LA, and his men will be fired up. It will be intense.
Prediction: Galaxy 2, Quakes 1.
CHIVAS USA (13-10-6) vs. HOUSTON (12-8-9), 3 p.m. ET, TeleFutura
Houston's form has dipped since the All-Star break (3-3-4 in league play), and its defense crumbled twice within a minute Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to Isidro Metapan. The backline has leaked a few goals as Coach Dominic Kinnear has tried to ramp up former All-Star defender Eddie Robinson after a long injury absence. Brian Ching is suspended, and neither Cam Weaver nor Dominic Oduro has looked especially sharp of late.
Chivas USA may be running on tired legs after sloshing with Chicago on a saturated field in a 1-0 loss Thursday night, and it outshot San Jose 20-8 yet needed an equalizer from Justin Braun to get a 2-2 tie a week ago at HDC. If Ricardo Clark recovers from the sprained knee that has sidelined him and he can contain Sacha Kljestan, the visitors can extract a point, especially since both teams will want to avoid injuries at all costs.
Prediction: Chivas USA 0, Dynamo 0.
COLUMBUS (13-6-10) vs. NEW ENGLAND (10-10-9), 6 p.m. ET, Direct Kick
The Revs might take the field assured of their fate being in their own hands, if the other three teams - TFC, D.C., and FCD - don't win. In that case, a win and they're in. (Most tiebreakers except those that include D.C. work against the Revs.)
Columbus played a lot of its regulars midweek in the Concacaf Champions League and won't risk fielding a full-strength team. The injury-riddled Revs are far from full strength as well but with some solid road wins under their belts this season (Seattle and Houston) and that desperation that only playoff experience can bring, they can somehow find a way.
Prediction: Crew 0, Revs 1.
RIDGE MAHONEY'S 2009 PREDICTION RECORD
Last night: 0-1. (I can't begrudge a pick - tie - that goes down flailing in a torrential rainstorm when a forward on the visiting team, uncontested, heads a corner kick powerfully into his own net.)