MLS Preview: RSL desperately needs a win

Of the six MLS teams in action on Wednesday, three have clinched playoff spots, two are within touching distance, and one is downright desperate.

Team Desperate, a.k.a. Real Salt Lake, can wedge itself into a three-way logjam at sixth place in the Western Conference by beating Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Timbers are tied with San Jose on points, 44, and RSL is just three points behind them. All three teams will also have just two matches to play after tonight, and does Houston, which has matched RSL’s total of 41 points.

The other two games to be played Wednesday pair up teams nestled snugly in the playoff zone. The Red Bulls – who nailed down their postseason slot two weeks ago -- lead the Eastern Conference as well as the overall standings as they play at Toronto, which is fifth yet can slide into second place and clinch a playoff spot by winning.

Vancouver clinched a week ago by tying FC Dallas, 0-0, at home, and the teams meet again at Toyota Stadium with just one point separating Western Conference leader FCD from the third-place ‘Caps. Only the top two teams in each conference receive byes into the semifinals and so to this is a crucial head-to-head battle for teams hopeful of avoiding a one-game playoff.

Here’s a look at each game and what’s at stake:

REDS HOST RED BULLS. Midfielder Michael Bradley was released after the 3-2 USA loss to Mexico Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, but unknown is the status of Jozy Altidore, who started against Costa Rica, and Sebastian Giovinco, who came on as a sub Tuesday in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Norway in the 62nd minute and helped sparked 2-1 comeback victory.

Both teams are in good form. TFC has won three straight, albeit against the league’s worst three teams: Colorado, Philly, and Chicago. In their last two games the Red Bulls have beaten Columbus and Montreal by 2-1 scores to solidfy their pole position in the Supporters’ Shield race.

NYRB smothered Giovinco in the teams’ last meeting, a 3-0 romp at Red Bull Arena Aug. 15 fueled by goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Anthony Wallace and Gonzalo Veron. Toronto won the only game last year played at BMO Field, 2-0, and while a playoff spot seems a formality with three games remaining, fans starved for eight years-plus want that wait to end as soon as possible.

FCD AND ‘CAPS AIM FOR TOP SPOT. They are in the Supporters’ Shield hunt, of course, yet nearly as valuable would be the conference regular-season title, which assures homefield advantage at least until the MLS Cup final.

Despite clinching their spot against FCD last week the ‘Caps are struggling to crank up momentum for the playoffs; they have not won any of the last four games while scoring just two goals. Chilean striker Octavio Rivero leads Vancouver with 10 goals but has just one in the last eight games.

Before garnering the tie with Vancouver, Dallas rang up six goals in beating Houston, 4-1, and losing to the Galaxy, 3-2. The return of midfield playmaker Mauro Diaz has helped revive the abilities of players such as David Texeira, who scored twice in the same game for the first time this season against the Dynamo.

RLS NEEDS TO HOLD SERVE AT RIO TINTO. One of RSL’s most troubling defeats in its season is a 1-0 home loss to Portland Aug. 15 in which its former defensive stalwart, Nat Borchers, bagged the only goal in the 95th minute. RSL did secure a 0-0 tie at Providence Park on the second weekend of the season but if it can’t figure out a way to score on Wednesday it won’t get the victory it must have.

RSL is well-rested; it defeated Colorado, 2-1, on Oct. 4, for its third win in the last four games. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who played the full 120 minutes in the 3-2 USA loss to Mexico on Saturday, and keeper Nick Rimando have rejoined the team. Javier Morales, who leads the team with 11 assists, is normally the team leader in that category, but he also uncharacteristically leads the team with eioght goals.

A 2-1 home loss to Sporting Kansas City Oct. 3 was Portland’s second in the last three games. Only Colorado has scored fewer goals than Portland’s 31.

MLS Schedule, Week 33:
Wednesday, October 14
Toronto FC vs. NY Red Bulls, 7 pm
FC Dallas vs. Vancouver 9 pm
Real Salt Lake vs. Portland, 9:30 pm
Friday, October 16
Orlando City vs. New York City, 7 pm, UniMas
San Jose vs. Sporting KC, 11 pm, UniMas
Saturday, October 17
Toronto FC vs. Columbus, 2 pm
New England vs. Montreal, 7:30 pm
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas, 9:30 pm
Sunday, October 18
D.C. United vs. Chicago, 2 pm
NY Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia, 3 pm
Houston vs. Seattle, 5 pm, ESPN, ESPN Deportes
LA Galaxy vs. Portland, 7 pm, Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes
All times ET.

MLS Standings:
EASTERN CONFERENCE

54 (31) *NY Red Bulls 16-9-6 55/39
Schedule: 10/14 @TFC 10/18 PHL 10/25 @CHI
48 (32) *D.C. United 14-12-6 39/40
Schedule: 10/18 CHI 10/25 @CLB
47 (32) New England 13-11-8 45/45
Schedule: 10/17 MTL 10/25 @NYC
47 (32) Columbus 13-11-8 51/53
Schedule: 10/17 @TFC 10/25 DC
46 (30) Toronto FC 14-13-4 55/53
Schedule: 10/14 NY 10/17 CLB 10/25 @MTL
45 (32) Montreal 13-13-6 45/43
Schedule: 10/17 @NE 10/25 TFC
--------------------------------------
41 (32) Orlando City 11-13-8 44/54
Schedule: 10/16 NYC 10/25 @PHL
37 (32) New York City
10-15-7 47/53
Schedule: 10/16 @ORL 10/25 NE
34 (32) x-Philadelphia 9-16-7 40/51
30 (32) x-Chicago 8-18-6 42/52
*Clinched playoff berth.
x-Eliminated from playoffs.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T GF/GA
51 (32) *LA Galaxy 14-9-9 53/39
Schedule: 10/18 POR 10/25 @SKC
51 (31) *FC Dallas 15-10-6 47/38
Schedule: 10/14 VAN 10/17 @RSL 10/25 SJ
50 (32) *Vancouver 15-12-5 42/34
Schedule: 10/14 @FCD 10/25 HOU
48 (31) Sporting KC 13-9-9 46/41
Schedule: 10/16 @SJ 10/21 @COL 10/25 LA
47 (32) Seattle 14-13-5 40/34
Schedule: 10/18 @HOU 10/25 RSL
44 (32) San Jose 12-12-8 39/37
Schedule: 10/16 SKC 10/25 @FCD
--------------------------------------
44 (31) Portland 12-11-8 31/36
Schedule: 10/14 @RSL 10/18 @LA 10/25 COL
41 (32) Houston 11-13-8 41/45
Schedule: 10/18 SEA 10/25 @VAN
41 (31) Real Salt Lake 11-12-8 37/43
Schedule: 10/14 POR 10/17 FCD 10/25 @SEA
34 (32) x-Colorado 8-14-10 30/38
*Clinched playoff berth.
x-Eliminated from playoffs.

Leading MLS Scorers:
G PLAYER (TEAM)
22 Kei Kamara (Crew SC)
21 Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
17 Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
17 David Villa (New York City)
16 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
15 Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
15 Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY Red Bulls)
14 Obafemi Martins (Seattle)
12 Fanendo Adi (Portland)
12 Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)

MLS Schedule, Week 34:
Wednesday, October 21
Colorado vs. Sporting KC, 8:30 pm
Sunday, October 25

Columbus vs. D.C. United, 5 pm
Montreal vs. Toronto FC, 5 pm
New York City vs. New England, 5 pm
Philadelphia vs. Orlando, 5 pm
Chicago vs. NY Red Bulls, 5 pm
FC Dallas vs. San Jose, 7 pm
Portland vs. Colorado, 7 pm
Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy, 7 pm
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 pm
Vancouver vs. Houston, 7 pm
All times ET.

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