While the Kansas City Wizards are fighting for their playoff lives, FC Dallas have pretty well established their place when the Western Conference Semifinals begin next weekend. But make no mistake: the Hoops are taking Saturday's matchup at Pizza Hut Park every bit as seriously as if the roles were reversed.
"Without a doubt. They are fighting for a playoff spot and we want to continue the form we've had recently -- win our last regular season game at home and continue our good form at home in the playoffs," said FC Dallas head coach Colin Clarke.
Carlos Ruiz will likely return to the lineup for the Hoops for the season finale. His last game in an FC Dallas uniform was Sept. 9, when the Guatemalan international was brought on in the second half in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United at home. Since then, injury and national team duty have kept him out of Clarke's selection.
Ruiz's fitness will be evaluated prior to the match. If he's determined fit, he will give the Hoops the veteran leadership up front with the ability to change the game with his uncanny ability to sniff out goals. "We are going to see how Carlos is physically and we will wait and see how everybody is [prior to the match]," said Clarke.
Ruiz has already shown the Wizards his strike capability this season, scoring the game-tying goal in the 82nd minute as the Hoops came back from two goals down to grab a 3-3 tie at Arrowhead Stadium on May 7.
"He has the hunger and the desire to play. He is a top guy so you ask him to play minimum defense and get in good positions. You don't need a lot from him when you have 10 guys to play defense," said FCD defender Greg Vanney. "The guy who is an out-and-out scorer you don't ask to chase down balls defensively. You want that guy fresh to put goals away and hold on to balls we put up top.
"Carlos is a veteran and he is savvy, but at the end of the day he is going to give us a little something on the other end of the ball. Guys like Carlos are very few and far between in MLS."
On the flip side, the Red-and-White will have their hands full holding down Josh Wolff and Scott Sealy in the Wizards attack. "He [Wolff] is very similar to Landon [Donovan], he is very quick, he's fast, he is a good runner off the ball, you have to know where he is and he has done a good job this year creating goals and chances for other players," said Vanney. "I think that is the dimension of his game that is a little bit new from the past few years."
In addition, the Hoops are concerned about the influence of Preki - who could be playing the final game of his storied career if the results don't go the Wizards way. Lately, Preki has been more a late-game substitute, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous to the FCD defense.
"Preki coming into the second half can change the game, whether he comes in for 10 or 15 minutes. He seems like he creates something when he comes in. He is a guy that they can bring in and make things happen," Vanney said. " ... Preki is a veteran who has been there and done that. You don't want to be under the gun whenever Preki is in the box. We will have to defend well on the set pieces."
FC Dallas will finish second or third in the Western Conference no matter the result on Saturday night, but a win will guarantee second place and home-field advantage in the conference semifinals, regardless of what the Los Angeles Galaxy do later Saturday against San Jose.
But had it not been for the team record 10-game streak without a win, FCD perhaps could have walked away from everyone in the conference and held home-field advantage throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"We are very proud of what we've accomplished this year with a great start and the part in the middle wasn't good or what we wanted, but we have come through that and we are a better team - we are looking forward to the playoffs and that's all that matters right now," said Clarke.
Added Vanney: "It's unfortunate that we had the middle of the season we had but maybe that will make our team a little stronger and some players have gotten minutes that might not have gotten minutes and good teams mature from the struggles they have throughout the season.
"(It) makes you wonder where we could have finished had we not had that uncharacteristic lull in the middle of the season. That's not the reality of it; the reality of it is it happened and we want to learn from it and be stronger coming into the playoffs."
FCD has come a long way since the beginning of the season - a very difficult early portion of the season dominated by road games and just six matches at the Cotton Bowl before the opening of Pizza Hut Park. But the time is now for the Hoops, with the playoffs just a game as they hope to make a three-game drive to MLS Cup - which will be played at their home stadium.
"We want to establish Pizza Hut Park as our home and a place where teams come in and try to beat us or try to take points from us," said Vanney.
Ron Goode is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.