This weekend is a little extra special for the Chicago Fire in terms of playoff interests. Not only are the Fire getting a shot at numero uno in the Eastern Conference, but every other playoff contender is facing off against teams who are either eliminated or all but mathematically eliminated (see Philadelphia Union).
Because no two playoff teams will be facing each other, there will be no need for a debate on who we would prefer to see win or if we rather see both teams draw. No, in this situation, all teams must lose. There will be no confusion on where our rooting interests will lie.
It is unlikely that all four playoff contenders taking the pitch on Saturday will lose. If they do, it will be a glorious day regardless of what transpires on Friday night (almost). Since a complete sweep of all 4 teams is unlikely, I'm going to throw in predictions along with a projection of how I expect the playoff picture to look like once all is said and done.
All of the below games will be available on MLS Live and all times are CST.
Toronto FC @ Red Bull New York - 6:00 p.m.
New York has been struggling. They've won one game since that amazing comeback against Portland. Having Toronto come to town should be just what New York needs to get off this slide that they're on. Toronto is coming off of a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League game where everyone had counted them out. For as bad as Toronto has been this year, they have shown that they had fight in them. Unfortunately, it seems like some of that fight has been disappearing over the past few weeks.
Prediction: New York wins 3-1
Philadelphia @ Columbus Crew - 6:30 p.m.
Ever know some one who owned a beat up, old 1992 Toyota Celica and put a annoyingly loud muffler on it to make it sound cool and give the illusion that it was a real high performance vehicle? That's Columbus in a nutshell with Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta. Philadelphia can run with Columbus. They beat them once this year and, the last time around, almost got a draw if not for defensive laziness in added time.
Containing Higuain is going to be key for Philly. They had an easy time neutralizing Arrieta the last time these two teams played, but it was Higuain who created both scoring opportunities and ran wild in the midfield.
Prediction: Philly win 2-1
New England @ Houston- 7:30 p.m.
So in the middle of the season, Houston went on a 5 game win streak (part of an 8 game unbeaten streak) and found themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference and the sudden darling of soccer pundits. Outside of that 5 game win streak (comprised of 4 home games and 1 road game in Toronto) the Dynamo have 31 points on 24 games for 1.29 ppg. That's Montreal Impact like. I think the Revolution showed resilience against New York and will be able to get a tough draw here.
Prediction: Draw 1-1
Well, it's in Portland, but that doesn't really matter since Portland has been awful both home and away this year. Yes, it's a long trip from D.C. to Portland, but it's the last trip to the west coast for D.C. this season. I think Ben Olson has his squad up for this one. D.C. has been able to get the job done against the carp in the league.
Prediction: D.C. win 2-1
Now, with regards to the Fire v. Sporting KC game tonight, I'm hoping for a win, but expecting a draw. If the Fire and SKC draw tonight and all of my other predictions come true, here is what the Eastern Conference playoff race will look like after this weekend:
If everything plays out as I predicted, then the Chicago Fire will need only 1 point to secure a spot in the playoffs. That one point could come mid-week as the Fire will host Philadelphia. The Fire will also have an opportunity to take over 1st in the Eastern Conference on that night as well since that will be the game in hand that the Fire have on every other team.
No matter how this weekend plays out, the playoffs are looking more like a certainty. It's now just a matter of where they finish.