MLS playoff race drama heats up on Friday night

On the penultimate weekend of the 2015 regular-season all six remaining playoff slots could be decided, but the meaning of Saturday’s games is greatly dependent on the results of Friday night.

Only three Eastern Conference teams have clinched playoff spots but all the suspense for three other teams could be eliminated Friday. Unless Orlando City beats New York City FC, the Lions have no chance of keeping New England, Columbus, or Montreal out of the playoffs.

Portland’s 1-0 victory at Real Salt Lake Wednesday pushed the Timbers into sixth place and opened up a three-point gap ahead of San Jose, which hosts Sporting Kansas City Friday. Anything less than a win leaves the Quakes trailing Portland with just one more match to play. The Timbers have two.

EASTERN TIME. If the Lions win they will retain a glimmer of hope, and can’t be eliminated no matter how the Toronto FC-Columbus and New England-Montreal games turn out on Saturday. Yet Kaka and Brek Shea are suspended.

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The Revs and Crew need only a point, however, to open up an unassailable gap between them and OCSC. A Montreal win would clinch the Impact a spot and also keep New England just within reach of Orlando City, which would still probably fall short because of its poor goal difference of minus-10 (the second tiebreaker).

The Impact won’t have Andres Romero, who suffered a torn ACL last weekend against Colorado, and a decision on whether to play Didier Drogba on the Gillette Stadium artificial turf won’t be made until after the team trains on it Friday.

On Sunday, the first-place Red Bulls and third-place D.C. United play stragglers Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively. The Red Bulls wrap up the conference title with a win and a tie will probably be enough, given its league-best plus-15 goal difference and five-point lead.

Yet given the revamped playoff format, second place is nearly as important, as it guarantees a bye into the conference semifinals as well as homefield advantage. The knockout round has been expanded to include the third- and fourth-place teams, so TFC’s match against the Crew is a big one even though it nailed down its first-ever playoff spot at a delirious BMO Field on Wednesday night by beating the Red Bulls, 2-1. An incredible goal by Sebastian Giovinco punctuated an historic occasion and only the bizarre sight of Jozy Altidore being sent off as a sub cast a shadow on the festive mood.

WESTERN ROUNDUP. The Timbers’ win also heaped some pressure on Seattle; the teams are tied for fifth place with 47 points and have two matches to play. Both teams are on the road Sunday: the Sounders play Houston and Portland is away to the Galaxy.

A Quakes win would pull them even with the Cascadia teams and edge them to within just one point of fourth-place SKC. Yet SKC can clinch by tying and by winning would leave Portland and Seattle just a point shy of securing postseason play.

Several players have returned from international duty, so head coaches Dominic Kinnear and Peter Vermes will have crucial decisions to make.

Marc Pelosi and Fatai Alashe have returned to San Jose after playing for the U.S. U-23s, but Pelosi is suspended, as is defender Victor Bernardez. SKC’s lineup is bolstered by the returns of Matt Besler (USA), Graham Zusi (USA), Krisztian Nemeth (Hungary), and Marcel de Jong (Canada).

RSL desperately needs a win against conference leader FC Dallas Saturday to retain any chance of making the playoffs. Defender Jamison Olave was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity against Portland and is suspended. FCD holds a three-point lead over the Galaxy and is also tied with New York in the overall standings with 54 points.

So how can all six available slots be claimed by the close of business Sunday? Thusly:
If Orlando loses, the playoffs are assured for Columbus, Montreal and New England.
If SKC wins, it clinches and opens the door for Seattle and Portland to clinch by getting at least a tie.

MLS Schedule, Week 33:
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 (32) *NY Red Bulls
 16-10-6 55/39
Schedule: 10/18 PHL 10/25 @CHI
49 (32) *Toronto FC 15-13-4 57/54
Schedule: 10/17 CLB 10/25 @MTL
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
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
54 (32) *FC Dallas 
16-10-6 49/38
Schedule: 10/17 @RSL 10/25 SJ
51 (32) *LA Galaxy 14-9-9 53/39
Schedule: 10/18 POR 10/25 @SKC
50 (33) *Vancouver 15-13-5 42/36
Schedule: 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
47 (32) Portland 13-11-8 32/36
Schedule: 10/18 @LA 10/25 COL
--------------------------------------
44 (32) San Jose 12-12-8 39/37
Schedule: 10/16 SKC 10/25 @FCD
41 (32) Houston 11-13-8 41/45
Schedule: 10/18 SEA 10/25 @VAN
41 (32) Real Salt Lake 11-13-8 37/44
Schedule: 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)
22 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)
13 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
End of regular season
All times ET.
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