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Soccer Saturday

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The joy of successfully rooting for someone else to fail

Spots 2-6 in the Eastern Conference are separated by two points. Spots 8-14 in the Eastern Conference are separated by five points. Spots 2-13 in the Western Conference are all essentially the same team and have only a few points separating them – I honestly don’t know at this point and it seems to change every time I refresh the standings page or look at it from a slightly different angle.

That means we’ve got a whole bunch of teams trying to take care of their own business this weekend. But it also means we have a whole bunch of teams doing something beautifully human: Praying for the demise of their enemies.

Within the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs framework, some games this weekend are being prayed on more than others. Let’s take a look.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | Apple TV - MLS Season Pass

  • Teams watching closely: Orlando City SC, Atlanta United, New England Revolution
  • Hoping for: A draw

Like I said, things are tight at the top of the East. The teams hoping to grab a top-four spot are going to be looking for the Crew and the Union to play whatever kind of game they want to play for 90 minutes as long as it ends in a tie. Atlanta United and New England in particular would appreciate an even scoreline. A draw would leave them two points out of third place with matchups against Columbus and Philadelphia left to play.

The good news here is even if you’re not as invested in a tie, there are still plenty of reasons to watch this one. You’ve got two genuine MLS Cup contenders going head to head in a classic “styles make fights” tactical matchup. Can the Crew break down Philadelphia's defense and do their own defending in transition moments? Can the Union break a streak of four straight draws and get their second win in seven games? Will these two teams make me genuinely regret ever believing I could be the one to recommend games to watch for the second straight week after what Philadelphia and LAFC did last weekend? There are plenty of intriguing questions here.

Inter Miami CF vs. New York City FC

Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | Apple TV - MLS Season Pass

  • Teams watching closely: FC Cincinnati, CF Montréal, Every other Eastern Conference team besides Toronto
  • Hoping for: A Miami loss

Let’s be real, no one wants any part of a Miami team with an increasingly rested Lionel Messi. Avoiding them in the playoffs is in everyone’s best interest. Plus, what kind of message is it sending if FC Cincinnati’s Supporters’ Shield-quality season results in a Round One matchup vs. the greatest player of all time? Do we want a chilling effect on terrible teams trying to better themselves?

Although, facing off against this NYCFC team doesn’t seem as straightforward as it did a few weeks ago. They’ve largely held teams scoreless for five straight games and have even scored a few goals themselves over that span. Considering the entirety of their season so far, scoring a couple of goals in a game feels like a major deal every time it happens. They’re getting it together at just the right time.

That’s bad news for CF Montréal and any other team with an interest in the Wild Card game. They’ll likely either be facing an improving NYCFC side or a healthy version of Inter Miami. There are levels to this, though. Avoiding Messi is the primary goal for everyone watching from a distance. And if NYCFC can pull out a win here, the Herons’ playoff chances plummet. They could potentially end the weekend eight points out of ninth place with four games to go. They would need to win out at that point and hope NYCFC and Montréal faceplant in the meantime.

Houston Dynamo FC vs. FC Dallas

Saturday, 8:30 pm ET | Apple TV - MLS Season Pass

  • Teams watching closely: Literally every team in the West that isn’t St. Louis or Colorado
  • Hoping for: That depends, this whole thing is a hoarder-level mess

If you’re chasing a Wild Card spot, you’re hoping for an FC Dallas loss. If you’re chasing the top four, you’re hoping for a Houston loss. Although…ok, also, if you’re chasing a Wild Card spot, you could also be hoping for a Houston loss too. Which…yeah, ok, if you’re chasing top-four a Dallas loss technically wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Look, both of these teams are separated by three whole points despite Dallas being in ninth and Houston being in fourth. I think at this point we can say pick your favorite Western Conference team, look at the result, and just pretend it was the result you wanted all along. Nothing matters, the end comes for us all and it’s better if you allow the West to teach you that rather than trying to fight it and find meaning in any of this.

While you’re sorting through that, you should watch this game. Should be a fun one. Maybe the real lesson here is we should just turn our brains off, stop worrying about the playoffs and enjoy the good soccer game between two rivals.

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Good luck out there. Celebrate for as long as you can.