Kick Off: Portland call match vs. SJ "make or break"

Kick Off - Lovel Palmer

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We’ve seen the addition of wild card spots add buzz to the postseason chase in other American sports and now it’s happening in MLS.

The playoffs may still be a month away, but tonight’s match between the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes is as close to a playoff game as you’re going to get (10:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). Here’s how Timbers right back Lovel Palmer feels about the game: “This game makes or breaks our season. If we don't win, our season is done and that's how I'm looking at it.”

In San Jose, the Mercury News calls the Earthquakes’ playoff hopes “slimmer than a pair of skinny jeans.” Although they won a US Open Cup qualifier at JELD-WEN, the Quakes know a loss in Portland would virtually knock them out of contention.

Two more quasi-playoff matchups take place this evening in MLS. First D.C. United host Chivas USA at RFK Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live), where two very close friends who grew up together will face off.

D.C. United are three points ahead of Chivas but with three games in hand and can perhaps strike a final blow to the Goats’ playoff hopes with a win at home. “You can feel the urgency but you can also feel the sense that we can do it," says DC 'keeper Bill Hamid. "We have the ability to make the playoffs. It’s right there; it’s in our grasp."

All of Chivas USA were watching Glee on Fox last night. How do we know? Heath Pearce’s sister was on the show after qualifying through The Glee Project.

At 8 p.m. ET (MatchDay Live), the New York Red Bulls welcome Real Salt Lake in a matchup with significant playoff implications, especially for RBNY, who are still in danger of missing out on the postseason.

You know it’s playoff time when two of the most spectacular passing teams in the league are instead rolling up the sleeves and leaving the finesse behind. While New York manager Hans Backe talks about a playing “dirty,” here’s Nat Borchers on his RSL squad which is going for its fifth straight league win: “We’re scraping for points, we’re blue-collar and we’re getting results.”

Red Bulls star Thierry Henry is expected back in the lineup. Although he didn’t participate in the massive win at FC Dallas last weekend, he is well aware of what it has done to the Red Bulls locker room: “It does give us some wings — not to make a joke — but it does give us some wings to try to win against Salt Lake."

We may have an explanation as to why rising star Juan Agudelo had been out of favor for so many weeks with Backe and the New York Red Bulls. He trained harder with the USMNT than with his MLS club side, according to teammate Tim Ream: “Going in with the national team, I’ve noticed that he definitely trains hard there. A couple guys, including myself, had a conversation to let him know you’ve got to train just as hard here [in NY].”

Here we go again. Another team is projecting a point total to qualify for the playoffs. This time it’s the Houston Dynamo and veteran forward Brian Ching, who feels that his team has to secure seven points of 12 remaining: “We will need two wins and a tie in our last four games to get a guarantee spot in the playoffs."

In the end you just never know in soccer. Take the Seattle Sounders, who looked like a lock for a berth into the second round of the Champions League until a 1-0 home loss to Herediano last night turned that scenario on its head. Now they’ll have to battle to qualify in the remaining two group matches, although manager Sigi Schmid believes nothing really changes.

The theme of this rare Sounders loss is the lineup and the absence of regulars: “We're dealing with injuries and things like that and a heavy schedule, so we had to make some lineup decisions based upon that, but at the end of the day our quality tonight wasn't good enough,” Schmid said.

While Seattle were shut out at home, Toronto FC’s Danny Koevermans just can’t stop scoring. After his brace against Colorado over the weekend, the Dutch Designated Player was again the difference-maker as Toronto FC moved into second place in their CONCACAF Champions League Group C match with a 1-0 home win against Tauro FC.

For all the MLS fans who complain of calls not going their way in the CCL, they may want to take a second look at Koevermans’ goal, which had a hint of offside to it: watch it here.

TFC’s other Designated Player, midfielder Torsten Frings, was equally impressive in the center of a three-man back line. It’s the second straight match he’s played in the position and the formula seems to be working: “It gives the team a lot of security back there … whatever the coach wants me to play that’s where I will play,” Frings said.

The victory puts Toronto in position to qualify to the quarterfinals: a win next Tuesday at home against Pumas UNAM and they book a spot into the next round. “I’m not thinking about that game. … We’re going to think about the next game and that’s Chivas USA [Saturday],” says manager Aron Winter.

Toronto FC will be watching intently tonight when Group C’s first-place team, FC Dallas, host Pumas (8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer). The Canadian team will be rooting hard for their MLS counterparts and FC Dallas is equally bullish: “We think we have a team that can win the whole thing,” says FCD president Doug Quinn.

Reports from Mexico say that Pumas UNAM will be fielding their full-strength lineup. It will present a chance for FCD to vindicate themselves of the critics who devalued their win in Mexico because it came against a reserve Pumas lineup. (SPANISH)

Dallas star Brek Shea will sport a new look against the Mexican power. This time he has resorted to red stripes in his hair, a sign of his love for the club.

It’s gameday for him but FC Dallas and USMNT defender Zach Loyd will still make time to chat with fans on the Dallas Morning News website at 2 p.m. ET.

It’s an equally massive Champions League game in Alajuela, Costa Rica, where the top two teams in Group A will square off. Tied with Alajuelense on six points, the LA Galaxy say they are merely hoping for a point on the road in what they’re anticipating to be a hostile atmosphere: “As long as we don’t come out of Costa Rica with a defeat, we’ll be happy,” says Chris Birchall.

For several LA Galaxy players, the trip to Costa Rica brings back sad memories of their last trip there over five years ago, when GM Doug Hamilton passed away. Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant go back in time to describe what transpired over those 24 hours.

The Colorado Rapids face a must-win situation tonight in their final home game of the group stage against Real España of Honduras (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer). Anything short of a victory and their chances to advance diminish significantly.

Back in MLS, the Sporting News speaks to Columbus Crew president Mark McCullers about the challenges faced by the club in a city that is still feeling the pinch of the economic downturn.

A player feeling the pinch of a goal-scoring drought is Vancouver Whitecaps Designated Player Mustapha Jarju, who has no goals or assists in over 300 minutes of action in MLS: “I feel some pressure because people are wondering when I'm going to score,” he says.

In international news, USMNT midfielder Stuart Holden returned to the Bolton Wanderers lineup in a Carling Cup match on Tuesday and Nottingham Forest’s American forward Robbie Findley scored a stunning goal in the same competition against Newcastle United. A host of other yanks abroad are in action later today. Find out their names here.

Also, Timothy Chandler has come out to clear up the controversy about whether he may be planning a switch to join the German national team. He tells ESPN.com that "I'm proud to play for the US national team. I never said anything about [playing for] Germany."

Lastly, get used to these images: Bob Bradley speaking to a clan of Egyptian reporters. He is the new leader of their national team and a number of his staff members have already been announced. (PHOTO)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Galaxy lead the way with four players on MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week

24 Under 24: Steve Zakuani returns to No. 4 despite injury

Portland manager to stick with the hot hand of Darlington Nagbe at forward


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