By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Sep 8, 2017) US Soccer Players - Not all games are equal, especially in the stretch run to the MLS Cup playoffs. While most of the attention should rightly be on matches that will determine who does or does not make the postseason, the month of September is also a time to focus on playoff seeding. No one wants to play in the knockout round if they can avoid it. An equal number of teams want a chance to at least host a playoff game.
Without a scientifically calibrated system to determine the weighted importance of specific games this weekend, we’ll have to use the eye test. Here are some of the biggest matches of on the schedule and why they matter.
Chicago Fire vs New York Red Bulls
The Fire took a slide in August, dropping four straight games and seeing their place among the Eastern Conference elite erode in the process. That dip in form hasn’t damaged their chances at the playoffs, but there’s at least some danger they could miss out on a chance at hosting a first round playoff match. The renewed energy around the team has turned Toyota Park back into a place where the Fire hold a home field advantage. They’ll certainly want to reward their fans after so many years of missing out on the postseason.
A win over Montreal last week ended the Fire’s losing streak and pushed them back into 3rd-place. If they want to stay there, a result against the Red Bulls will help. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls are trying to consolidate their position as one of the top four, ensuring their own chance to make Red Bull Arena the site of a playoff match.
New York comes in off a draw in Texas against FC Dallas that could have easily been a win. The intensity of the game in Frisco rose to playoff-like levels, perhaps indicating the Red Bulls are in gear for the final run to the postseason. Going on the road to Chicago presents another difficult test and a chance to double down.
New England vs Montreal Impact
This match, featuring two teams not currently in possession of playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, will either tighten the race for the sixth and final berth or darken the Revs chances of making a miracle push for the postseason.
Consistency has been the issue for both teams through the bulk of the 2017 season. Montreal only recently made themselves a factor by running off four-straight wins in August. New England has never gone more than three games unbeaten this season, with a feast-or-famine record the belies their potent offensive and leaky defense.
The Impact enter Saturday’s match on a two-game losing streak. Their most recent loss came at home, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Fire. Despite numerous chances to level the game, Montreal failed to find the goal they needed. The silver lining sits with the improved defense that kept it close and gave the Impact a chance.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake
Two Western Conference rivals separated by three points in the standings face off at BC Place on Saturday. Despite the small margin, the Whitecaps enter the game in possession of a playoff spot and the fourth seed, while RSL sits in eighth.
Vancouver has found a decent vein of form that pushed them up the table on the back of three wins in their last six matches. Saturday’s clash follows a win in Orlando two weeks ago, a game that took their unbeaten run to three. Considering that the club has played fewer games than anyone else in the conference, they sit in good position to pick up points towards a stronger regular season finish.
RSL has the look of a club hitting stride at just the right time to sneak into the postseason and—perhaps—make surprise run when they get there. Mike Petke’s team has lost just once since July 4, though their own schedule is a problem. RSL has played more games than anyone in the West and can’t afford to miss out on points if they intend to leapfrog clubs like San Jose and FC Dallas.
Carl Robinson faces a tough selection choice with two Costa Rican internationals, Kendall Waston and Christian Bolanos, returning from an intense period of duty in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Atlanta United vs FC Dallas
Atlanta’s home debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will provide the first indications as to whether the expansion club can navigate the tricky business of switching home venues in the middle of a desperate push to make the playoffs. The schedule doesn’t make it any easier, with the new kids set to play eight games over 24 days through September and into October.
All but one of those game is at home, hence the need to figure out the lay of the new digs with FC Dallas in town on Sunday. Though the match is cross-conference and won’t have the feeling of a playoff six-pointer, both teams need points with their playoff positions tenuous at best.
FC Dallas is a roiling cauldron of turmoil thanks in part to the club turning down a reported $5 million offer from San Lorenzo of Argentina for forward Maxi Urruti and winger Michael Barrios. Urruti went so far as to call out team president Dan Clark for putting words in the player’s mouth over the proposed move. Head coach Oscar Pareja will try to keep the everything together as a club that was once among the top tier in the West holds onto a one-point lead over San Jose for the final playoff spot in the conference.
The stadium will be electric for the match, with an expected 60,000 in attendance to see Tata Martino’s team take the field in their permanent home for the first time. The returning cadre of United internationals will be on hand and ready to go.
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