Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Playoff Desperation Growing in Penultimate Week

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2015

Sep 26, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers (7) celebrates the victory over Columbus Crew SC after the game at MAPFRE Stadium. The Portland Timbers beat the Columbus Crew SC by the score of 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the penultimate weekend of play in Major League Soccer, half of the league's 12 playoff berths have been clinched. 

The New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and Toronto FC have secured spots in the Eastern Conference, while the LA Galaxy, FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps are in out in the Western Conference. 

For the four teams battling for three spots in the East and the six left fighting for the final three positions in the West, Week 33 will be vital to the playoff hopes of each club.

The formula is pretty simple in the East for Orlando City to have a chance at stealing the sixth seed on Decision Day. The Lions must win at home over New York City FC on Friday and Montreal has to lose or draw in New England on Saturday.

Sep 19, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Orlando City FC forward Bryan Rochez (35) celebrates scoring a goal with  teammates during the second half against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. Orlando City SC won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando will be hoping the Revolution can dispense with the Impact at Gillette Stadium if it beats its fellow expansion side at the Citrus Bowl. A draw in New England wouldn't kill Adrian Heath's side's playoff hopes, but it wouldn't be the ideal situation for the Lions heading into the final week of the regular season. 

If everything goes in Orlando's favor this time out, it could benefit from a massive rivalry clash between Montreal and Toronto in Canada on Decision Day while it faces lowly Philadelphia at PPL Park. But before we go into the specifics for the final day of the season, we need to see how the matches mentioned above play out over the next two days.

Things are a bit more complicated out in the West, as six clubs are still technically alive in the playoff race, but in reality, only four of them have a true shot at finishing in the top six when the regular season ends. 

Many people may think the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake have wasted all their chances to qualify for the postseason, but if they win their respective home games over Seattle and FC Dallas in Week 33, they will be alive just in case some madness goes down on Decision Day. 

Oct 4, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo defender David Horst (18) during the match against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A win by Houston over Seattle on Sunday may throw a major wrench into the race for seeding in the West. The Sounders come into Week 33 in fifth place, one point behind Sporting Kansas City and ahead of Portland only on a tiebreaker. If Seattle drops points on the road at BBVA Compass Stadium, the door could be open for San Jose, Houston or Real Salt Lake, who face the Sounders on Decision Day, to steal a playoff spot.

Speaking of the Earthquakes, they face a must-win game against Sporting KC at Avaya Stadium on Friday. A win by the visitors would put them in the postseason, but just like a Houston win over Seattle, a San Jose victory over Sporting KC could make the last day of the regular season very interesting. 

October 3, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson and midfielder JJ Koval (15) both play for the ball against Vancouver Whitecaps FC during the second half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Spor
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland, who pulled into sixth with a road win over RSL on Wednesday, face a stiff test at StubHub Center on Sunday, facing a Galaxy side fighting FC Dallas for the top spot in the West. 

The West is still wide open, and if certain results go in favor of the teams further down the standings, nothing will be decided over the next three days. Conversely, if FC Dallas, Seattle and Sporting KC come out victorious in Week 33, things will clear up significantly. 

 

Week 33 Schedule

Friday

New York City FC at Orlando City (7 p.m. ET, UniMas)

Sporting Kansas City at San Jose Earthquakes (11 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

 

Saturday

Columbus Crew at Toronto FC (2 p.m. ET)

Montreal Impact at New England Revolution (7 p.m. ET)

FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake (9:30 p.m. ET)

 

Sunday

Chicago Fire at D.C. United (2 p.m. ET)

Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls (3 p.m. ET)

Seattle Sounders at Houston Dynamo (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) 

 

Players to Watch

Kyle Beckerman, CDM, Real Salt Lake

After suffering disappointment on the international level with the United States recently, Kyle Beckerman returns to a Real Salt Lake lineup in need of three points to stay alive in the playoff race. 

Sep 24, 2015; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman (5) takes a shot during the second half against Santa Tecla FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Beckerman will face a difficult task against FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium, as he will have to contain the playmaking abilities of Mauro Diaz, who is rounding into form at the right time for the Hoops. 

If Beckerman can shut down the passing lanes Diaz uses to distribute to the forwards and wingers in the FC Dallas lineup, RSL should command the possession battle and put a good amount of pressure on the back line of the visitors.

 

Brad Davis, LM, Houston Dynamo

In order for the Dynamo to open up the Seattle defense and create scoring opportunities against a weakened back four, Brad Davis needs to put in his best shift of the season on the left wing. 

Sep 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis (11) claps for the audience as he leaves the game while playing against Sporting KC in the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium. Dynamo won 1 to 0. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TO
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

If Davis' service is on point from the start of the contest on Sunday, he will be able to create space among the Seattle defenders and give Will Bruin and Giles Barnes ample chances to knock the ball into the back of the net. 

Another aspect of the game where Davis could capitalize on Seattle mistakes is set pieces. If the Dynamo earn some set pieces within range of the net, Davis could strike for a moment of brilliance. 

 

Anibal Godoy, CDM, San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose has the best chance to gain ground of any team below the red line in the West in Week 33, and in order to thwart the Sporting KC attack, Anibal Godoy must be at his best.

Sep 27, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman (5) pulls on the uniform of San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy (30) during the second half at Avaya Stadium. The San Jose Earthquakes won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L C
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The midfield destroyer from Panama excelled in the San Jose midfield during the team's hot run of form in August, but he has regressed a bit over the last month. 

With Sporting KC creative force Benny Feilhaber likely lining up across from him, Godoy must limit the American's time on the ball in order to take the Sporting KC attack out of its rhythm. 

 

Game of the Week

Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy 

On Sunday, one of the hardest teams to figure out in MLS visits the club everyone is waiting to see break out of its shell and destroy the rest of the league with the postseason inching close. 

The Portland Timbers earned their sixth road win of the year at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday, and they are looking to extend their fine away form into Sunday's crucial tilt in the West. Caleb Porter's side is the second-best road team in the West but only seventh best at home this season. Since they are currently sixth in the West, the Timbers' road form could end up being a true difference-maker. 

As for the Galaxy, they are the West's best team at home, as they have earned 39 of their 51 points at StubHub Center. Bruce Arena's side has lost just once on home soil in 2015, but the Galaxy did suffer a home draw with Montreal in September.

This game should be won in the middle of the park, where Juninho and Steven Gerrard clash will with Will Johnson, Diego Chara and Diego Valeri. If Johnson can turn himself into a menace when Gerrard attempts to move forward, the pressure will be put on Sebastian Lletget and Gyasi Zardes to set up the Galaxy attack. If this was July or August, the Galaxy wouldn't have to worry much about that, but the pair on the wings has struggled of late. 

Portland will need forward Fanendo Adi to win some aerial battles against Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo and become a consistent threat from the start so space can open for Diego Valeri to make plays in the final third.

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90