By TRAVIS CLARK
Western Conference dominance is the talk of the playoff picture, and while the East can still catch up, as of now six sides from the West are in line to qualify.
Only Columbus and New York look good for a postseason position out of the East, while Toronto must cope with the added pressure of CONCACAF Champions League travel taking them down to Central America this week. They play host to fellow travel-weary side Real Salt Lake north of the border.
A full slate of games awaits this weekend, as all 16 teams are scheduled to play, with almost every game carrying massive implications for those sides on the outside looking in. FC Dallas faces a stout test and puts their 11-game unbeaten streak on the line.
Here's a look at this weekend's MLS action:
FC DALLAS (9-2-9) vs. COLUMBUS CREW (12-5-4) Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Telefutura
Red-hot Dallas take their unbeaten streak to Columbus with a chance to really prove themselves as contenders. FCD's form has been very impressive, with goalie Kevin Hartman particularly steady in goal. The big question is whether or not they can consistently score — whether that's Milton Rodriguez or Jeff Cunningham, the jury is still out.
Meanwhile, East foes Columbus will certainly be a formidable test. Chad Marshall and Guillermo Barros Schelotto were rested this week and didn't make the trip to Mexico, so look for the Crew to eke out a win at home. Columbus 1, Dallas 0.
REAL SALT LAKE (11-4-6) vs. TORONTO FC (7-8-5) Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Direct Kick
Two CONCACAF Champions League group foes will square off in league play up at BMO Field, with much at stake for the home team. TFC saw their home winning streak snapped in brutal fashion last weekend against the Red Bulls, and will head into this one hoping to bounce back.
Both teams suffered defeat in CCL mid-week play, and the cruel nature of RSL's loss could trickle into play. Unless the defending champions suffer a massive drop-off in play, look for them to give Toronto some problems at BMO. Real Salt Lake 2, Toronto 2.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (8-6-5) vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (10-7-4) Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Direct Kick
A long cross-country flight takes San Jose to the doors of Red Bull Arena, on a quest to make the playoffs for the first time during their second incarnation. New addition Geovanni debuted during San Jose's surprise win over Los Angeles last weekend, and Frank Yallop can only hope that his makeshift defense can keep it together.
New York's spending paid off last weekend, as Rafa Marquez opened his Red Bulls account in rather spectacular fashion. The onus is now on Marquez and Thierry Henry to reach peak game fitness and adjust accordingly. San Jose might have enough pluck to come away with a point in this one as those two near full strength. New York 1, San Jose 1.
PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-11-5) vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (6-11-3) Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Direct Kick
On the back of one of their worst performances of their first season, Philadelphia face another Northeast rival. The trip to Gillette doesn't carry much in terms of playoff implications — New England now needs to close a seven-point gap, and the Union are simply trying to avoid last place.
Much can be said about the Union's young talent, but Peter Nowak's side has been unable to close out opponents. New England won't be kind hosts, and will consign Philadelphia to another defeat. New England 2, Philadelphia 0.
HOUSTON DYNAMO (6-10-5) vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (7-6-7) Saturday, 9:30 p.m. FSC/FSE
Even Dominic Kinnear couldn't overcome the loss of two dynamic midfielders in January, and a trip to Colorado is more or less a last stand. Brian Ching showed some life last weekend on his way to a nice hat trick, but it looks to be too little too late. Compounding matters worse, the normally steady Pat Onstad let in a couple of soft goals — that could be chalked up to injury rust, however.
Colorado won't blow a golden chance at the playoffs will they? Not only do the Rapids have a cushier schedule heading down the stretch, but they also have six of 10 remaining games at home. Despite not getting great seasons from Omar Cummings or Conor Casey, the Rapids should have enough to grab three points in this one. Colorado 2, Houston 1.
CHICAGO FIRE (6-6-6) vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (8-8-5) Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Direct Kick
Freddie Ljungberg returns to Seattle, and the scene of his debut in MLS. The Fire are right in the thick of the playoff race, and the Swede has looked lively in a new setting. Chicago's other DP, Nery Castillo, stayed home for this trip in an attempt to reach full fitness.
The Fire will take on Seattle, a team that has cooled in the past couple of games — dropping a mid-week CCL match on Wednesday. Sounders are by no means guaranteed of playoff soccer, and need to hold fast at home to improve their chances. Seattle 1, Chicago 1.
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (6-9-5) vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (13-4-4) Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Direct Kick
The Wizards head out west facing more or less a must-win at the Home Depot Center. A lack of goal scoring — Kansas City is second from the bottom in the league in that category — looks to be their undoing, but they do get the Galaxy at the right time. Kei Kamara continues to drive the offense, but needs Teal Bunbury or Josh Wolff to step up if this team wants to turn things around.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is looking to pick themselves up from a mid-season swoon. There's no cause for alarm, as the Galaxy still have three points on Columbus. And Kansas City is a winnable game, especially for a team that holds championship aspirations. Los Angeles 2, Kansas City 0.
D.C. UNITED (4-14-3) vs. CHIVAS USA (5-11-4) Sunday, 10:00 p.m ESPN2
Both teams head into Sunday night's encounter facing similar circumstances. Neither has a realistic shot at the playoffs, and each has a mid-week U.S. Open Cup clash. So what to prioritize? Common sense would dictate that both Ben Olsen and Martin Vasquez will use a mix of reserves with one eye on a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final. D.C. United 1, Chivas USA 1.