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.
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.