The 2013 MLS playoffs are only six weeks away from beginning its quest to crown a new (or the same, again) MLS Cup champion. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of ten regular-season games that are sure to go a long way towards determining this year's qualifying participants.
Do remember, though, as the Houston Dynamo have shown us the last two years, it's not about where you get into the playoffs, nearly as much as simply being one of the 10 teams to qualify, and doing your work once you're in.
The Eastern Conference's Four-Through-Seven Battle Royal:
Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo (Saturday, Sept. 14)
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (Sept. 14)
New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo (Saturday, Sept. 28)
The four teams currently occupying places four through seven in the Eastern Conference — particular order changing seemingly with each and every goal scored on any given Saturday night — are separated by only three points and ownership of a game in hand for the three teams trailing the fourth-placed Union.
While all four teams have a handul of games remaining outside this four-way battle for the one-game knockout round berths, these three particular matchups are true "six-pointers," and culminates with a meeting between the Revolution and Dynamo — the two teams each with a pair of four-through-seven matchups remaining, thus able to help themselves most — on Sept. 28.
Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas (Saturday, Sept. 14)
Currently the fourth- and sixth-placed teams in the Western Conference, only two points separate these 2010 MLS Cup final foes. Both sides have claimed eight of a possible 15 points from their last five games, and seem themselves tumble down the standings a bit as the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders surge towards the top of the conference.
As the pair of Eastern Conference battles listed above already show, combined with this Western tussle, this weekend in MLS is loaded with games that could see huge six-point swings in favor of either side. A Colorado loss sees FC Dallas move a point ahead of them, and the Rapids potentially back onto the outside looking in.
The Portland Timbers' seven days of judgement:
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, Oct. 13)
Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake (Saturday, Oct. 19)
Most improved team in Major League Soccer, 2013? Results-wise, it's not even close, it's the Timbers. The eye test says so, too. Yet, thanks to a league-high 12 draws thus far, they find themselves only two points ahead of FC Dallas for the final Western Conference playoff place, equal on games played.
Outside of the two games against the West's top two teams in a span of seven days — both at home, a huge advantage for the Timbers — only two of the Timbers' other remaining games are against teams currently occupying playoff places (Colorado and LA). They also play Chivas USA twice — including the final day of the season — and Cascadia rivals Vancouver.
Final weekend of jockeying for positioning:
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, Oct. 26)
Oct. 26; New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire (Sunday, Oct. 27)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids (Sunday, Oct. 27)
Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy (Sunday, Oct. 27)
Sporting KC could be playing for a shot at homefield advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and perhaps even MLS Cup. Same goes for the Red Bulls with those two sides currently tied on points and games played.
The Whitecaps could find themselves grasping at a "win and hope for results to go our way elsewhere" scenario if they are lucky. When the Sounders host the Galaxy — the very final game of the 2013 regular season — they could very well be playing for either homefield advantage in the West, or the higher seed of their two-game series in the first round of the playoffs.