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Fire, D.C. United need wins to stoke playoff hopes
by Ridge Mahoney, October 10th, 2011 11:30PM

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[MLS PLAYOFF WATCH] Three of the four teams playing league games Wednesday are in the playoff picture, but two are in dire straits. Chicago hopes to keep its faint hopes alive when it hosts FC Dallas, which occupies a wild-card slot, and D.C. United’s slim chances hinge on a crucial game at Vancouver.

The much-mocked, yet-to-be-tested, revamped MLS playoff system has seven slots available heading into the penultimate week of play.

So tight are the Eastern Conference groupings that six teams are in contention for those three automatic slots, and a total of 10 teams still have a shot at a wild card. Vancouver’s 3-0 defeat of Seattle last Saturday clinched the Supporters’ Shield for Los Angeles, which in the revamped system will play the lowest-seeded team to emerge from two wild-card games to be played Oct. 26 and 27.

Both games Wednesday match teams from different conferences. Chicago plays FC Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET) at Pizza Hut Park and Vancouver welcomes D.C. United (10 p.m.) to its third match at the renovated B.C. Place.

BRIMSTONE CUP NOT SO HOT. Before a few MLS teams came to their senses and dropped their original nicknames, a Chicago-Dallas game entailed a torrid Fire-Burn encounter.

This meeting doesn’t need an inflammatory moniker; Chicago’s hopes will be all but extinguished if it loses, and though FCD’s postseason slot is very close to assured, it has lost four league games in a row without scoring a goal, and in its last Concacaf Champions League match suffered a 5-3 hammering by Tauro FC.

FCD coach Schellas Hyndman gave his players four days off after it lost its last league match, 1-0, to Colorado Oct. 1. “We hope that they can just relax, spend time with their family, get away from soccer, and get their energy back -- that’s why we’re giving them the time off,” said Hyndman.

“This time off will give some the opportunity to get their legs back and recover a little bit from their injuries.”

The Fire is also rested; it hasn’t played since losing to Seattle, 2-0, last Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup final despite carrying much of the play. It is riding a four-game league winning streak at Toyota Park, but if it can’t reel off three more victories to close out the season, it will fall short of the playoffs.

D.C. IN DIRE STRAITS. It has lost its last two matches, and none of its remaining games can be classified as easy, so if D.C. United is to make the playoffs, it needs at least a point in each of its last four games and most likely needs to win two of them as well.

On paper, a game against the bottom-dwelling Whitecaps -- even in their new facility, B.C. Place -- might be deemed a prime opportunity for United to claim three points. But its attack hasn’t adjusted to the loss of Chris Pontius, and a spirited bunch of ‘Caps exploited Kyle Beckerman’s red card to thrash RSL, 3-0, on Thursday. David Chiumiento, in many games this season Vancouver’s most dangerous offensive weapon, didn’t play against RSL.

United won the first meeting, 4-0, at RFK in August and the return leg is its last road game of the season. In its 2-1 loss at Columbus last Wednesday, Daniel Woolard entered club lore by scoring with a header from a Dwayne De Rosario corner kick and then equalizing for the Crew by steering a ricochet into his own net.

De Ro is scheduled to play for Canada Tuesday against Puerto Rico at BMO Field and could only play by crossing three time zones the next day.

PLAYOFF SNAPSHOT. With a full slate of games set for the weekend, starting Friday when Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake and Colorado tangle at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, here’s how the playoff picture looks (teams marked with an asterisk* have clinched a playoff spot, the Galaxy has clinched the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the best regular-season record):

WESTERN CONFERENCE (three automatic slots):
W1 – Los Angeles*, 61 pts.; W2 – Seattle*, 57 pts.; W3 – Real Salt Lake*, 51 pts. All three teams have two more games.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (three slots):

E1 – Philadelphia, 47 pts.; E2 – Sporting Kansas City, 45 pts.; E3 -- Columbus, 44 pts. All three teams have two more games.

WILD-CARDS (next four teams based on points):
WC7 – FC Dallas, 46 pts.; WC8 – Colorado, 45 pts.; WC9 – New York, 43 pts.; WC10 – Houston, 43 pts. All teams have two more games except FCD, which has three.

CHASERS (games remaining in parentheses):
11 – Portland, 40 pts. (3); 12 – D.C. United, 38 pts. (4); 13 -- Chicago, 37 pts. (3).

ELIMINATED:
14 – Chivas USA, 36 pts.; 15 – San Jose, 35 pts.; 16 – Toronto, 31 pts.; 17 – New England, 27 pts.; 18 – Vancouver, 25 pts.

PLAYOFF SCHEDULE:

Oct. 26-27 – Wild-card games, No. 10 at No. 7, No. 9 at No. 8. Oct. 29-30: Conference semifinals, first legs. Nov. 2-3: Conference semifinals, second legs. Nov. 12-13 – Conference finals. Nov. 20 – MLS Cup at Home Depot Center, 9 p.m. ET.



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