Monday Postgame: Which teams will survive the intense, crowded playoff race?

This week delivered two new teams to the top of the conference standings, a new side into the playoff places in the East, the unexpected return of Jay DeMerit and – though we haven’t checked it with Elias – what we’re pretty certain was the first use of the term bête noire in a postgame presser in the 18-year history of the league.

Seattle and New York both jumped into first place in their respective conferences with 2-0 victories, while Chicago – who started the season 2-7-1 – climbed above the red line for the first time all year with a wild 3-2 win over New England.

Colorado also climbed – into third place in the West with a 2-1 comeback win over FC Dallas. If you’re keeping score at home, Oscar Pareja’s men have only one loss in their past 12 games.

While those teams took advantage of opportunities to strengthen their playoff hopes, several other contending teams surprisingly did not: The LA Galaxy gave up a late goal to drop into a 2-2 tie with D.C. United, the team with the worst record in the league. Portland had to rally to tie ninth-place Chivas USA, and Montreal shockingly lost 2-1 at home to Columbus.

That last result prompted Impact coach Marco Schällibaum to drop the above-mentioned bon mot (Columbus are Montreal’s bête noire club, having lost just once to the Impact in six games all-time), and it also thrust the Crew back into the edge of the playoff picture.

Indeed, with five rounds of action remaining, 16 of the league’s 19 teams are still alive for the postseason. The 4-8 teams in each conference are especially tight, with just five points separating them in the East and six in the West.

That’s five clubs competing for the final two berths in each half of the league. So which of those bubble teams have the roughest roads to the playoffs?

Let’s break out the schedules:

Eastern Conference

Columbus – 5 games left (3 home, 2 away): 9/21 vs. Chicago; 9/29 @ FC Dallas; 10/5 vs. Sporting Kansas City; 10/19 @ New England; 10/27 vs. New England

At four games below .500, the Crew have almost no margin for error. They also have five tough games remaining. But three are at home, and well, stranger things have happened in MLS.

New England – 6 games left (3 h, 3 a): 9/21 vs. D.C. United; 9/28 vs. Houston; 10/5 @ New York; 10/12 @ Montreal; 10/19 vs. Columbus; 10/27 @ Columbus

Road games against New York and Montreal, where they’ll be eager to avenge a lopsided loss in April and a controversial one in Week 28. But first they’ll need to take care of business at home against lowly D.C. and fellow strivers Houston.

Philadelphia – 5 games left (2 h, 3 a): 9/27 @ Sporting Kansas City; 10/5 vs. Toronto FC; 10/12 @ D.C. United; 10/19 @ Montreal; 10/26 vs. Sporting Kansas City

The good news? Games against both conference stragglers, Toronto and D.C. The bad? Two games against last year's top conference finisher SKC, and a visit to Montreal, where the Impact are 9-2-3 and where Philly lost 5-3 in May.

Chicago – 6 games left (2 h, 4 a): 9/21 @ Columbus; 9/28 vs. Montreal; 10/4 @ D.C. United; 10/12 @ FC Dallas; 10/19 vs. Toronto; 10/27 @ New York

The Fire have gone 9-4-5 in their last 18, with just two losses in their last 10. They’ll need to keep the momentum going, starting with three points at Columbus.

Houston – 6 MLS games (4 h, 2 a), and two CCL matches (1 h, 1 a) left: 9/21 vs. Chivas USA; CCL: 9/25 vs. W Connection; 9/28 @ New England; 10/4 vs. Montreal; 10/9 vs. Sporting Kansas City; 10/20 vs. New York; CCL: 10/24 @ Árabe Unido, Panama; 10/27 @ D.C. United

The slumping Dynamo traded Adam Moffat, a stalwart of their past two Eastern Conference championship teams, then edged Philadelphia 1-0 for their first win in six games. Houston are going to need goals to stay in the top 5, though, and those have been hard for them to come by lately. That Oct. 24 CCL fixture will be tricky, too.

Western Conference

San Jose – 5 MLS games (2 h, 3 a) and 2 CCL matches left: CCL: 9/17 vs. Montreal; 9/21 @ RSL; 9/29 @ Chivas USA; 10/9 vs. Colorado; 10/20 @ LA Galaxy; CCL: 10/23 vs. Heredia; 10/26 vs. FC Dallas

With an 0-2-0 record in the CCL, San Jose may not have much to play for there. At five points off the pace in the West with five games to go – all but one of them against contenders – things aren’t too much better on the domestic front.

Vancouver – 6 games left (3 h, 3 a): 9/21 @ Montreal; 9/28 vs. Real Salt Lake; 10/6 vs. Portland; 10/9 @ Seattle; 10/19 @ Colorado; 10/27 vs. Colorado

That is 40 miles of rough road. The Sunday–Wednesday Cascadia rivals turnaround follows a pivotal matchup against Supporters’ Shield contenders Real Salt Lake. Buckle up, Whitecaps fans.

FC Dallas – 6 games left (3 h, 3 a): 9/22 @ New York; 9/29 vs. Columbus; 10/5 @ RSL; 10/12 vs. Chicago; 10/19 vs. Seattle; 10/26 @ San Jose

Schellas Hyndman’s men have six games to make up three points in the West, but they also have difficult road dates ahead at New York and Real Salt Lake, and if they move up, which team would they bounce out of the top 5?

Portland – 6 games left (4 h, 2 a): 9/20 vs. Colorado; 9/29 vs. LA Galaxy; 10/6 @ Vancouver; 10/13 vs. Seattle; 10/19 vs. RSL; 10/26 @ Chivas USA

The Timbers will have to be sharp to avoid being the answer to the above question, with Cascadia rivalry games, visits from ascendant Colorado, two-time defending champions LA, and Real Salt Lake, who’ve tied and beaten them this year. They really could have used the two points they dropped against Chivas this week.

LA Galaxy – 6 MLS games (4 h, 2 a) and three CCL matches (1 h, 2 a): CCL: 9/18 vs. Isidro Metapán; 9/21 vs. Seattle; CCL: 9/25 @ Cartaginés; 9/29 @ Portland; 10/6 vs. Chivas USA; 10/16 vs. Montreal; 10/20 vs. San Jose; CCL: 10/24 @ Isidro Metapán; 10/27 @ Seattle.

Whew. Nine games and two trips to Central America await the Galaxy, who want to advance in the CCL as much as they want to win a third straight MLS title. They have their work cut out for them. 

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