Though we enter the final two weeks of a unique 2020 season with every team mathematically alive for an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs invite, the postseason hopes of a handful of clubs likely hinge on what are essentially do-or-die midweek tests.
Yep, the teams discussed below would do well to initiate playoff mode now, because failure to win on Wednesday night could effectively end their trophy chase for the year.
at Orlando City SC (7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info)
It's been a Murphy's Law season for the team you'd least expect to be in this position at this time. Everything that could go wrong, did. I know it's a bit de rigueur to simply blame Frank de Boer and be done with it, but they've actually been far worse since he left.
For all the reasons they slipped this season (there are several), Atlanta United stand three points and two places below the playoff line heading into Wednesday's visit to the one team they typically love to see. I should say used to love seeing, because the Five Stripes are 0W-1L-2D against Orlando City this season.
It might be the right time to catch the Lions, as covering for their own spate of key absences seems to be wearing them out. If they can dig deep to beat Orlando City, Atlanta will be in with a shot at singing "Yeah!" into November. If not... well, you know.
vs. Columbus Crew SC (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info)
The capital crew have been hampered by high turnover, battered by injuries and let down by previously reliable MLS standouts who slumped. Because of all that, D.C. have the second-worst goal differential in the East and didn't put together consecutive wins until this past week.
Of course, those victories (and the scrappy draw with Philadelphia that preceded them) have given the Black-and-Red renewed life late. They're still a point worse off than Atlanta United in the Eastern table ahead of Wednesday's visit from Columbus, but at least they're headed in the right direction under their interim boss.
D.C. United can take inspiration from last year's sweep of Columbus, or from the Crew's searching current form, and win their way into the mix for the season's final kick. On the other hand, anything but three points in midweek all but sees their postseason hopes fly out the window.
at LAFC (10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info)
It was also going to be a tough season for the Dynamo, even before star man Alberth Elis left to join up with old Texas Derby rival Reggie Cannon at Boavista. Tab Ramos has kept them competitive most weeks, but the uphill battle that is Houston's 2020 season has them at least three points out of the last playoff slot with three games to play.
Relevant note: I say "at least three points" because we're not quite sure how the rest of the Colorado Rapids’ schedule will play out after a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Dynamo must keep their season alive on Wednesday against one of the last teams they'd wish to see right about now: LAFC. Not only will Bob Bradley's side be at home (Houston have exactly one win in their last 18 league away tilts) with Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez all back, but the Dynamo have yet to defeat LAFC in a league match.
It's not a pretty picture for a side on a 1W-4L-3D slide since Elis departed, but Houston have no time left to feel sorry for themselves. If they don't chin up and find a way to top one of the scariest teams in MLS, they can almost certainly kiss all playoff ambitions goodbye for the year.
Real Salt Lake
at San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info)
Like Houston, Real Salt Lake have not played quite as bad as their record indicates. The Rio Tinto bunch actually have the sixth best expected goals differential in the West (+0.3 to be exact). Nevertheless, the offense has been among the West's weakest and the defense has run hot-and-cold all year.
Advanced stats be damned, they've been poor enough to stand two points shy of eighth place, which represents the last playoff slot. That position is now occupied by San Jose, who just so happens to be the team hosting Real Salt Lake for an absolutely vital midweek clash.
Never mind that Real Salt Lake are 0W-5L-1D in their last six trips to San Jose. Either they raid the full points in San Jose or plan to sit out the MLS Cup chase for the third time in six seasons.