Parity prompts perils of playoff positioning

[MLS PREVIEW: Week 34] One offshoot of parity is once in a while it makes the MLS schedulers look really good.

Such is the case is this weekend, the penultimate round of play in MLS. Each team has two games remaining. Fifteen teams are still in contention for the eight available slots and of that group only the chances of Columbus are all but extinguished.

There are two head-to-head matchups of teams bunched closely in the standings. Colorado and Vancouver, which are both on the Western Conference bubble, square off in the first of a season-ending home-and-home series. Four Eastern teams -- including Montreal and Philadelphia, which play at Stade Saputo on Saturday -- are bunched within a point of each other knowing that probably at most two can advance. The Crew’s faint hopes rest in a two-game set with the Revs, who host the first game Saturday.

As was the case last weekend, when New England’s 1-0 defeat of Montreal temporarily moved it into fifth place only for subsequent results to drop it down to seventh, the positions could change with every result. As many as six teams could clinch but don’t count on it.

Despite topping the Western Conference, Portland still hasn’t clinched a playoff spot as it prepares to host Real Salt Lake Saturday. Archrivals Los Angeles and San Jose meet at StubHub Center Sunday with both teams in postseason limbo.

The Quakes would be four points behind fifth-place Colorado if the Rapids beat Vancouver Saturday and are so far behind in the secondary tiebreakers they would be all but eliminated unless they can beat the Galaxy. If the Rapids win, a tie against the Galaxy doesn’t help San Jose, as the best they could do was tie the Rapids on points and the first tiebreaker, wins, and thus lose out on the second tiebreaker, goals scored.

SAPUTO SHOWDOWN. Montreal hosts the Union Saturday after losing its fifth game in the last six Wednesday night, 1-0, to the Galaxy. Coach Marco Schallibaum left many of his starters at home, yet still its struggles against a Galaxy squad brimming with backups are cause for worry. Marco Di Vaio rarely got a good look at goal and some truly comic defending allowed Galaxy defender Kofi Opare to bang home his first MLS tally during a wild scramble.

Philly has yet to beat the Impact this season yet is in better form, though it could only tie D.C. United last weekend, 1-1, on Jack McInerney’s first goal since June 1. Montreal won a 5-3 goalfest at home May 25 and acquired a 0-0 tie at PPL Park Aug. 31.

Of the four Eastern teams clustered around the cutoff line, Chicago gets the best chance at points when it hosts ninth-place Toronto FC. Fire coach Frank Klopas must decide if midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, who played in both of Uruguay’s World Cup qualifiers in the past week, is sufficiently recovered to resume his midfield role. Klopas could also recall the duo of Alex and Jeff Larentowicz, whose sharp play highlighted a 3-2 defeat of FC Dallas last weekend during which Mike Magee tied Di Vaio atop the scoring charts with his 19th goal.

New England closes out the season home and away against Columbus, which needs a sweep of the Revs and lots of help to sneak in. Defender Jose Goncalves earned Man of the Match honors and scored the only goal in the defeat of Montreal; the Portuguese defender has played every minute of his first MLS season and is a prime reason the Revs could be tough to beat in the playoffs if they get in.

Striker Saer Sene underwent surgery earlier this week to repair a broken left fibula and dislocated left ankle he suffered in the Montreal game. Attacker Lee Nguyen is also unavailable due to yellow-card accumulation.

RAPIDS REDUX. Colorado will eliminate Vancouver if it takes the home leg of their two-game series, but the desperate ‘Caps showed a lot of courage by overrunning the Sounders, 4-1, nine days ago. The classy Camilo, who trails only Di Vaio and Magee with 18 goals, is playing his best soccer at the right time and the Rapids must rebound from a 1-0 loss in San Jose that was their third defeat in the last six games.

That Quakes’ victory pulled them to within one point of the fifth-place Rapids and they face a Galaxy squad of which most of the starters will be rested and ready despite playing midweek. The Galaxy thumped the Quakes, 3-0, at StubHub Center Aug. 31 in the teams’ last meeting. Coach Bruce Arena is monitoring the health of Landon Donovan (sore ankle) and Omar Gonzalez (hip strain) after holding them out of the Montreal match. Robbie Keane returned from playing for Ireland Tuesday to put in a 30-minute shift against the Impact.

Late-game Goonies’ magic hasn’t been as much in display this season as it was last year, yet still the Quakes scored twice in stoppage time to win the first meeting, 3-2, June 29 at Stanford Stadium. Though unlike that game no postgame pyrotechnics are planned, these rivals often produce plenty of fireworks on the field as well.

MLS WEEK 34, Schedule:
Friday, October 18
8 pm ET
Sporting KC vs. D.C. United NBCSN

Saturday, October 19
2 pm ET
Montreal vs. Philadelphia
3 pm ET
FC Dallas vs. Seattle NBCSN
6 pm ET
Colorado vs. Vancouver
7:30 pm ET
New England vs. Columbus
8:30 pm ET
Chicago vs. Toronto FC
10:30 pm ET
Portland vs. Real Salt Lake

Sunday, October 20
4 pm ET
Houston vs. New York UniMas
9 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. San Jose ESPN

MLS WEEK 34, Results:
Wednesday, October 16
LA Galaxy 1 Montreal 0.
LA: Kofi Opare (Gyasi Zardes) 68
Att.: 13,320.
Eastern Conference:

53 (32) *New York 15-9-8 50/39
52 (32) *Sporting KC 15-10-7 44/29
48 (32) Houston 13-10-9 39/37
46 (32) Montreal 13-12-7 48/47
46 (32) Chicago 13-12-7 44/47
46 (32) Philadelphia 12-10-10 40/40
45 (32) New England 12-11-9 45/36
41 (32) Columbus 12-15-5 40/42
26 (32) Toronto FC 5-16-11 29/46
16 (32) D.C. United 3-22-7 21/56
*Clinched playoff berth.

Western Conference:
53 (32) Portland 13-5-14 49/33
52 (32) Real Salt Lake 15-10-7 55/40
51 (32) LA Galaxy 15-11-6 52/37
51 (32) Seattle 15-11-6 41/39
48 (32) Colorado 13-10-9 42/33
47 (32) San Jose 13-11-8 33/41
45 (32) Vancouver 12-11-9 48/42
41 (32) FC Dallas 10-11-11 45/50
26 (32) Chivas USA 6-18-8 29/60
19 Mike Magee (LA Galaxy/Chicago)
19 Marco Di Vaio (Montreal)
18 Camilo (Vancouver)
15 Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
12 Diego Fagundez (New England)
12 Dominic Oduro (Columbus)
11 Jack McInerney (Philadelphia)
11 Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
11 Federico Higuain (Columbus)
11 Blas Perez (FC Dallas)

MLS WEEK 35, Schedule:
Wednesday, October 23
9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA

Saturday, October 26
3 pm ET
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC NBCSN
4 pm ET
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Univision Dep.
5:30 pm ET
San Jose vs. FC Dallas NBCSN
10:30 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. Portland

Sunday, October 27
1:30 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Houston NBC
4 pm ET
Columbus vs. New England
5 pm ET
New York vs. Chicago UniMas
8 pm ET
Vancouver vs. Colorado
9 pm ET
Seattle vs. LA Galaxy ESPN
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