By TRAVIS CLARK
As the cool air descends on MLS stadiums across the country, the race for a coveted playoff spot is certain to keep heating things up on the field.
The recurrent theme of Western Conference superiority in 2010 is reinforced with a quick glance at the playoff standings. Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and the Galaxy all look good for a playoff spot, with three Western counterparts also in strong standing. If the postseason were to start today, six teams out West would qualify, leaving just the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew representing the East.
That's not to say there aren't other Eastern Conference teams in the hunt. For clubs like the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC and Kansas City Wizards, the chase is on to wrestle one or two of the spots away from the likes of Seattle and San Jose, both tied at 32 points for the last two spots.
Given the tumultuous nature of MLS play, Colorado can be added to that mix. The Rapids have won two straight, but must play Real Salt Lake twice and Dallas once — although face easier matches against D.C. United, Philadelphia and New England as well.
The good news for Colorado is that the strike duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings is getting back into a groove, with the two combining for all three goals during last weekend's 3-0 win over Chivas USA. With those two on song, the Rapids could do some damage — without them, another late season collapse is likely.
As is no surprise, San Jose and Seattle hold the advantage over the three sides chasing in the East. The Earthquakes will face both Toronto, Kansas City and Chicago before the season is out, and early indications are that new Designated Player Geovanni will help them get over the hump. Winners of three of their last four, the Earthquakes have made a stand while battling numerous injuries throughout the season.
There still is plenty of time for those in the hunt — Toronto has seven games left, Kansas City eight, and Chicago nine. For the Reds, winning on the road is essential. The Canadian side has managed a meager 1-8-2 record away from BMO Field, and must do better while also competing in CONCACAF Champions League group play. Everything might come down to their last game on October 23, against bottom side D.C. at RFK Stadium — sound familiar?
Also balancing Champions League play are the Seattle Sounders. A hot Fredy Montero has carried them to this point in the regular season, and the Colombian will have to be at his best as the team faces group matches, a U.S. Open Cup final and the remaining league challenges. Thursday night's visit of Real Salt Lake, a Supporters' Shield contender, will give Sigi Schmid an appropriate barometer to see where his team is at the moment.
Meanwhile, Kansas City appears to have shaken off a wretched mid-season slump that saw the club go winless in 12 of 13 matches, to bounce back and into contention. Winning at home for the Wizards is a must — they have 12 points available from home games, and can't leave any on the table and make the playoffs.
Scoring goals has been a challenge for the Wizards, and if the problem isn't rectified in these final months, they'll be left behind by the rest of the pack.
Which teams will make the playoffs? Think Seattle and Toronto can cope on all fronts? Think New England could sneak in?
Share your thoughts below.