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Kick Off: Odds stacked against Rodgers-less NY in Dallas

This is the prospect facing the New York Red Bulls and their fans tonight in the first do-or-die wild card playoff battle at FC Dallas (9 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer): The club is 9-4-7 (32 goals scored) when Luke Rodgers starts and 1-4-9 (18 goals scored) when he doesn’t. Rodgers didn’t make the trip with a swollen left knee.

“It's unbelievable," says Red Bulls manager Hans Backe. "He's an important player with his character and his work rate. They're frightening stats without him.”

Backe also sat down with MLSsoccer.com and talked about how he plans on cutting out the distribution to Dallas wingers Brek Shea and Marvin Chávez. (VIDEO)

Tonight’s match is a dream scenario for New York's Stephen Keel who, just a few months ago, was helping his dad flip foreclosed houses in the mountains of Colorado by doing all the electrical, plumbing and carpentry. Now he’s working just as hard for an MLS Cup ring.

Keel pairs with Tim Ream at center back in front of veteran German goalkeeper Frank Rost, who every now and then will unleash some German on his defenders: "That's like your mom calling you by your first, middle and last name all at once," Ream says. "If he slips into German, everybody's a little on edge."

Speaking of Ream, a report out of England claims that Arsenal are sending scouts to watch Ream in Dallas with an eye at a possible transfer move.

In this exclusive interview with Schellas Hyndman, the FC Dallas manager admits his team has hit a wall but that his staff has spotted “a few areas that [the Red Bulls] are suspect at.” He says the difference in the game will be finishing. (VIDEO)

How do FC Dallas, 2010 MLS Cup finalists, pump themselves up for this playoff run? Watching video of their last run to the championship game, of course: “We saw some clips from last year and it definitely got the guys excited," Brek Shea said. "It brought that feeling back that we had last year. Hopefully we can bring that feeling back."

Based on this Dallas Morning News report, it’s still unclear what formation Hyndman will employ against the Red Bulls with a 4-4-2 still being a possibility.

If tonight’s match goes into penalty kicks, bet on the left-footed players: They are a perfect 10-for-10 from 12 yards out this year. Get more details on the trend here.

For Thursday’s other wild card match between Colorado and Columbus, there are questions as to how Gary Smith will line up his Rapids without captain Pablo Mastroeni: “We're hopeful this week's work might leave him in a position by the end of the week — if we're still involved — that he might be available to us,” says Smith.

The Columbus Crew have an identical issue in central midfield with Emmanuel Ekpo serving a red card suspension. His replacement would seem to be veteran Danny O’Rourke, who took a cortisone shot on Monday in order to be ready: “I expect him to be full and fit on Thursday,” says Crew manager Robert Warzycha.

As the Seattle Sounders get ready to start their playoff series against Real Salt Lake this weekend, MLS Defender of the Year candidate Jeff Parke reflects on his Sounders career in this article. He also has a chip on his shoulder about not getting called up by the USA: "It bothers me a lot, actually. I always wonder why I haven't even gotten a sniff or been brought into a camp. ... It's a tough pill to swallow sometimes."

We found out yesterday that the Sounders’ Argentine playmaker Mauro Rosales is “iffy” for the start of the RSL series after re-injuring the right MCL, but manager Sigi Schmid did not reveal specific details of the injury.

While the Sounders are missing a big piece to their puzzle, Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis has all his starters at his disposal: “It’s a good feeling to think we may be able to put up our strongest lineup for the playoffs for the very first [playoff] game,” he said.

Captain Kyle Beckerman is back from suspension for RSL and is glad to see many favoring Seattle in this battle: “It kind of seems sometimes we play up when we play against a tougher opponent in the standings or down when [we play] a lesser opponent in the standings. Hopefully we'll be the underdog in this series.”

The LA Galaxy will wait for the wild card matchups to determine their next playoff opponent. In the meantime, they're reading news from France that Paris St. Germain have already printed up 20,000 T-shirts with David Beckham’s name on the back in preparation for his signing at the end of the MLS season.

D.C. United president Kevin Payne reviews his club’s season and professes his belief that “if Dejan [Jakovic] and Chris [Pontius] were playing, we would’ve made the playoffs, for sure. When we lost those two [late in the season], we started leaking goals and we weren’t scoring as many.”

Leaking goals and not scoring as many was the story of the New England Revolution this year and the club let go of their coach of 10 seasons, Scotsman Steve Nicol. For captain Shalrie Joseph, it was an emotional time: “I almost went to tears, to be honest about it.”

This was the reaction of Houston Dynamo assistant Steve Ralston on seeing his name connected with the Revs coaching vacancy: "I just read it on the Internet, and that's the only thing I know."

One of the most exciting up-and-coming prospects is New England’s Diego Fagundez. The Uruguayan-born attacker, although not yet eligible for the United States, has a clear plan as to the direction his international career will go: “Whoever comes first, I am going to take the chance. I am not going to take the chance to wait for either of them.”

It’s a sad day for the Revs and other MLS teams which had former Jamaican international represent their colors. He lost his life at the age of 33, but the circumstances of his illness and wounds are still unknown.

Another piece of surprising news. Soccer America’s Paul Gardner, in the final graph of his latest column, indicates that the ownership group for the next New York expansion side is led by soon-to-be former CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, former NFL running back Curtis Martin and ex-Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing.

As an appetizer to the wild card main course tonight, there is action from Serie A and La Liga on TV. AC Milan welcome Parma (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes), Real Zaragoza meet Valencia (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Deportes) and Real Madrid look to keep pace with Barcelona when they host Villarreal (4 p.m. ET, GolTV). In the Carling Cup, it’s Wolverhampton vs. Manchester City (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Plus) and in the Copa Sudamericana, Brazilian side Vasco da Gama need a two-goal win against Aurora of Bolivia for a spot in the quarterfinals (5 p.m. ET, Fox Deportes).

If you missed the action from Tuesday, it’s worth a look at the Xavi free kick that knocked out Granada in La Liga play yesterday.

In other international news, Slovenia have a new head coach ahead of their friendly against the USA on Nov. 15.

And we leave you with a photo gallery of the best hairstyles – or at least the most eccentric – in the world of soccer. There are more than a few that will be familiar to US and MLS fans. (PHOTOS)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Playoffs in Profile: Schellas Hyndman – the most interesting man in MLS

Talking Tactics: The mismatches of the 2011 postseason

Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: How Winston Griffths nearly became a hero in 2002

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