The playoffs aren't until October, but if the MetroStars want to make a postseason push it must start Wednesday night at D.C. United.
The meeting between the two arch-rivals -- the second of four this year -- is one of nine games for the Metros against Eastern Conference foes in its last 11 of the regular season. The other two games are against expansion Chivas USA.
There's 27 league points at stake and the Metros want every one of them.
"Everything is tight and at this point now it is clear, it's going to matter how we do in these games," Metros coach Bob Bradley said. "A number of (the conference games) are back-to-back."
That was the case against FC Dallas, where the Metros took four of a possible six points. After rallying to win 3-2 July 27 at Giants Stadium, the Metros played to a gutsy come-from-behind 2-2 draw at Dallas Saturday.
They were led by Youri Djorkaeff, who scored both goals and was named MLS Player of the Week by the Professional Soccer Reporters Association on Tuesday.
However the MetroStars actually dropped points in the Eastern Conference and currently sit in fifth place, three points out of a playoff spot.
D.C. meanwhile is unbeaten in four consecutive games and tied for the final playoff spot with Kansas City. Both teams are four points behind New England and Chicago, tied atop the conference table.
It may be a critical game but the Metros limp into RFK Stadium a bruised and battered bunch, especially defensively.
Out for Wednesday's game are Tim Regan (fractured fourth metacarpal), Carlos Mendes (hamstring strain), Ryan Suarez (right MCL sprain) and Tim Ward (strained left hamstring). Jeff Parke is questionable with a strained left hamstring.
That means another start for Seth Stammler, who made his first start against Carlos Ruiz and Dallas on Saturday, and likely major minutes for rookie Danilo da Silva, too.
In his first start, Stammer had the unenviable task of trying to lock up All-Star striker Carlos Ruiz. While he played well in his first start, Ruiz did lose Stammer for a half a second to head in Dallas' first goal.
"For my first start I did OK," said Stammler, who played one minute of one game last year and saw a combined 52 minutes in five games this season before Saturday's start. "I don't think I was great, but I wasn't terrible. It was a great learning experience. I've only been in reserve games and the level definitely picks up in league games."
And while Freddy Adu is out 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain and Alecko Eskandarian is still suffering from a concussion, D.C. is still a very dangerous team going forward, led by crafty veteran Jaime Moreno and midfielder Christian Gomez, who Bradley calls, "probably the best player in the league this year."
"We need to be good with the ball, we need to make them defend," Bradley said. "Our defending has to be very smart. They're going to move the ball very quickly, with one and two touches. They know when to pressure and to contain and it's going to require us to defend intelligently."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.