Just how tight is the race for the 2009 MLS playoffs? Consider that not until this past Sunday, when D.C. United lost 2-1 to San Jose, did the Columbus Crew become the first team in Major League Soccer to clinch a playoff berth.
Expansion and parity have given us a playoff race unlike any seen before in MLS. Just how many of the 15 Major League Soccer teams still have some glimmer of playoff hopes? Try 14 of 15, with only New York reduced to the role of spoilers.
A dozen teams will spend the next four weeks fighting for seven remaining postseason berths, the highest amount ever for a league that qualified eight of 10 total teams as recently as five seasons ago.
Those days of simply avoiding being the worst team in your conference to make the playoffs are over. Now, seven teams will be eliminated when the final regular-season games are played on Oct. 25.
Could the added playoff pressure be getting to some teams? It sure seems that way given the September struggles of playoff contenders such as Colorado, Seattle, D.C. United, Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake.
Here is a closer look at the 12 teams still in the playoff race, along with their chances of qualifying:
HOUSTON DYNAMO (12-8-7, 43 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. Kansas City, vs. Los Angeles, at Chivas USA.
Outlook: With a playoff berth all but assured, the Dynamo will be focusing on securing first place in the West in their final three matches. The teams with a chance to catch Houston, L.A. and Chivas USA, await.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 1-5
CHICAGO FIRE (10-6-11, 41 pts)
Games Remaining (3): at Los Angeles, at New England, vs. Chivas USA
Outlook: Winless in four, the Fire do seem to be backing into the playoffs, but Chicago may be the one team in MLS that could benefit from a few road games. With a league-best 6-2-5 road record, the Fire should be able to secure the necessary two points to qualify, and could lock up No. 2 in the East with a win in New England.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 1-2
LOS ANGELES GALAXY(10-6-11, 41 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. Chicago, at Houston, vs. San Jose.
Outlook: In a bit of a rut after dropping two of three, but the Galaxy can secure their first postseason berth since winning MLS Cup in 2005 with a win in any of their three remaining matches. The real question here is just how serious is David Beckham's Achilles injury? If it is serious, then L.A. could struggle down the stretch.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 1-2
CHIVAS USA (11-9-5, 38 pts)
Games Remaining (5): vs. at DC United, vs. Kansas City, vs. San Jose, vs. Chicago, vs. Houston
Outlook: Dropped valuable points to the Red Bulls this past weekend, but with five matches remaining, Chivas USA has plenty of opportunity to rack up points, particularly with home games versus K.C. and San Jose, although its faltering attack could keep a current slump going (1-2-2 in past five).
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 1-1
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (10-8-7, 37 pts)
Games Remaining (5): at FC Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Columbus, vs. Chivas USA, at Columbus
Los Angeles vs. Chicago
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Outlook: The Revs desperately needed a result versus Seattle and got it, a 2-1 win that sets them up with a chance to make a move on Chicago for second place in the East. They have the advantage of playing five more games, but a tricky remaining schedule awaits, with road games against a resurgent FC Dallas and at Colorado and Columbus, two of the league's better road teams. The Revs' chances could hinge on the severity of the knee injury suffered by Steve Ralston.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 3-2
COLORADO RAPIDS (10-8-9, 39 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. New England, at FC Dallas, at Real Salt Lake
Outlook: The Rapids had four matches against teams outside of the playoff chase and failed to win any of them, including a pair of disappointing draws versus San Jose. Hopes of grabbing a No. 2 seed in the West are pretty slim right now and a loss to New England could jeopardize Colorado's postseason hopes.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 2-1
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (9-7-11, 38 pts)
Games Remaining (3): at Columbus, at Kansas City, vs. FC Dallas
Outlook: The Sounders continue to play quality attacking soccer, but poor finishing and defensive breakdowns have a seeming playoff lock still fighting for the postseason. Seattle is currently enduring a 1-2-3 slump and in an ironic twist, the Sounders must try to gain at least a point from their upcoming visit to Columbus, where head coach Sigi Schmid faces his former club.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 3-1
D.C. UNITED (8-7-12, 36 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. Chivas, vs. Columbus, at Kansas City
Outlook: D.C. had looked like a team poised to make a late run, but a pair of home losses, after having been previously undefeated at RFK Stadium, put a major dent in United's playoff prospects.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 5-1
TORONTO FC (9-10-8, 35 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. San Jose, vs. Real Salt Lake, at New York Red Bulls
Outlook: Toronto FC figured to receive a boost from the arrival of Julian De Guzman, but even the Canadian star's presence hasn't helped TFC escape a current 1-3-2 slump. A tie on the road in Chicago wasn't a bad result, but when you're trying to make up ground in the standings, it doesn't help. That aside, Toronto has perhaps the most favorable remaining schedule, with three wins to close out the season a possibility. That may be what it takes for TFC to reach the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 7-1
REAL SALT LAKE (9-11-7, 34 pts)
Games Remaining (3): vs. New York, at Toronto FC, vs. Colorado.
Outlook: A winless September has quickly erased the good feelings after a 3-1-1 run in August and now Real Salt Lake pretty much needs to win all three remaining matches to reach the postseason. Its visit to Toronto FC on Oct. 17 will essentially be an elimination game for both, with a draw likely crippling both teams' postseason chances.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 10-1
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (8-11-7, 31 pts)
Games Remaining (4): at Houston, at Chivas USA, vs. Seattle, vs. D.C. United
Outlook: By all accounts, K.C. should already be eliminated, but a strong 3-1-1 September under interim head coach Peter Vermes has the Wizards dreaming of an improbable finish and playoff berth. As unlikely as that is -- the Wizards would need to win their four remaining matches -- K.C. does look like a team poised to spoil the playoff hopes of multiple teams.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 15-1
FC DALLAS (8-12-6, 30 pts)
Games Remaining (4): vs. New England, at San Jose, vs. Colorado, at Seattle
Outlook: After scoring 13 goals in four matches in September (and posting a 2-1-1 mark in the process), FC Dallas has become a team nobody wants to play, but the Hoops' playoff chances are pretty slim. They're capable of beating anybody the way their offense is going, but even a draw versus New England on Wednesday would kill FC Dallas' playoff push.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 20-1
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-12-7, 25 points
Games Remaining (5): vs. New York, vs. FC Dallas, at Toronto FC, at Chivas USA, at Los Angeles
Outlook: Call it all but impossible but the Earthquakes are still mathematically alive for the playoffs. How? If the Earthquakes win all five remaining matches, and at least six of the other nine teams in the race that haven't reached 40 points fail to do so, THEN the Earthquakes could get in. In other words, don't hold your breath.
Odds of reaching the playoffs: 99-1
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Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.