There are still two weeks to go in the Major League Soccer season, but the race for playoff spots is all but over.
The Kansas City Wizards could still conceivably qualify for the playoffs if they win their remaining three games and Colorado loses its final two matches, but barring that scenario we are left with trying to figure out how the eight playoff teams will fall into place.
No playoff seeding position is guaranteed among any of the eight playoff slots, meaning we still don't really know who will be facing each other. As it stands, here are the four first-round match-ups if the season ended today:
1. New York Red Bulls vs. Colorado Rapids
2. Columbus Crew vs. San Jose Earthquakes
1. Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders
2. Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
How will the actuall playoff match-ups shake out? Here is a look at some of the scenarios:
New York has a two-point lead on struggling Columbus with two matches against beatable opponents remaining (Philadelphia, New England). Barring a collapse, New York will hold onto the top spot and face either Colorado, San Jose or Seattle. The Red Bulls have beaten the Rapids and Earthquakes in the past month at Red Bull Arena and, like most teams, would probably like to avoid facing Seattle in the first round.
Columbus is not playing well, but the remaining schedule is very favorable. Winless in five league matches, the Crew has a perfect slump-buster against DOA Toronto FC, and a home finale against a Philadelphia team that has been bad on the road all year. Columbus will still need New York to falter though, and a likely match-up against San Jose or Seattle looms. The Crew won't want any part of the Sounders and former head coach Sigi Schmid, who have been Columbus twice in the past month.
The Los Angeles Galaxy basically have the top spot locked up, with a four-point lead and two matches remaining, but it can't take the No. 1 spot for granted just yet. A home game against a tough Colorado is followed by a regular-season finale against an FC Dallas side that hasn't lost since June (when it lost to the Galaxy). If LA holds its spot as expected, the first-round match-up will be against Seattle or San Jose. The Galaxy won both match-ups against Seattle this year (by a combined 7-1 aggregate), but finished winless against the Earthquakes (1-0-1).
Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas appear destined to face each other barring a late collapse by FC Dallas. These teams meet this weekend at Rio Tinto, meaning RSL could lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory.
San Jose and Seattle both close out their remaining matches against teams out of the playoffs (unless you count the Earthquakes season finale against a barely-breathing Kansas City). This race could be vital because as it stands, the Red Bulls are playing much better than Columbus so it's a safe bet both teams would rather face the Crew right now.
As for Colorado, two brutal matches against Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake leave the possibility alive for a late-season collapse (especially given the Wizards' next two matches are against non-playoff teams Chicago and New England). If the Rapids hold on, their reward will be facing a strong New York team that just beat the Rapids last month.
What do you think of the playoff scenarios? What potential first-round match-up are you most looking forward to? Think Kansas City could still pull off a miracle? Can't wait for the Real Salt Lake-FC Dallas series if it happens?
Share your thoughts below.