MLS: Down to the Wire

I know that legions of soccer fans, thirsty for knowledge and hungry for the facts, log onto BigSoccer of a Monday morning because they're desperate for a long, cool drink at the fountain of all things MLS otherwise known as my blog.

Either that or you finally get settled in at your desk and within ten minutes are bored enough to do almost anything rather than face the self-loathing that accompanies the realization that you're about to waste another week of your life serving as an insignificant lickspittle for the corporate beast.

Photo courtesy of MLS Players Union

Power to the people. Right on.

Anyway, fear not, for I come to you with tidings of great joy: the MLS playoff scenario is finally sorting itself out.

Sort of.

As I noted yesterday (back when you were enjoying the precious few hours your capitalist masters allow you to spend each week pretending that you're free people instead of worthless wage slaves) the middle-of-the-pack MLS teams have set up a barnburner of a final weekend, with tension, pressure and playoff implications flying around like the Wicked Witch of the West's monkeys.

First though, let us pause for a moment of silence for the passing of all hope for four of our brethren:

Los Angeles: Forget it. There's already been way, way more discussion of this team's shortcomings than all the lousy teams in history combined. When they're discussing the Galaxy's problems in The Bombay Times, there's just not much more to say.

Toronto: beat Chicago on Saturday, but needed help to stay alive. They didn't get it. But fear not - John Carver will live to whine another day.

(And since TFC fans have been angry all season about why I get to blog and they don't, I'll give them the floor so they can speak their piece:

Thanks guys. We'll keep that in mind.)

San Jose, who gave their fans some excitement and some hope late in the season only to cruelly crush them in the last weeks, is out as well. They're probably pretty bummed, but for an expansion team, they got a lot more thrills than most.

FC Dallas, a team many people thought had a legitimate shot this season, crashed and burned after a nasty game against RSL which ended with The Hoops Hopes as dead as Julius Caesar.

As I noted yesterday, while many people want to point to "relegation/promotion" as the only way to keep late season soccer relevant and meaningful, this weekend's Last Place-A-Palooza between TFC and Saint Joe will be the first MLS match of 2008 that has absolutely no playoff implications.

Hard on the heels of that match, incredibly, will come the Dallas-Galaxy match on Sunday, which will be only the second. Scheduling clairvoyance or criminal conspiracy? You be the judge.

You promoters of a Last Place Trophy should take note: if this four-team "Dash for the Basement" tournament doesn't get your idea off the ground, nothing will.

It is also noteworthy that while the Western Conference took a late-season run at the eighth and final playoff slot, they fell short in the end and both "wild card" spots will go to teams from the East.

All of which brings us to the five teams still in contention for the three undecided playoff positions, starting with

THE WEST

Real Salt Lake and Colorado:

Another piece of evidence for MLS Scheduling Conspiracy theorists: these two teams will go head-to-head on Saturday for third place in the West and, thus, the last playoff spot. One team plays next week, one team starts worrying about the expansion draft.

(Somebody tell me again how only the threat of relegation can make late-season games for non-championship contenders exciting.)

The math is simple: the Royals can get in with a draw while the Raps have to win outright. I doubt if anybody will be resting starters.

THE WILD CARDS

Third place in the East is still up for grabs, but either it's New England/Chicago or Chicago/New England. Not a lot of drama unless you're convinced that "Home Field Advantage" in a two-game series is all that crucial.

So here's the deal:

Kansas City, New York and The District are competing for the two WC's. Third team's fans get to start a "Fire Coach ______ NOW!" thread on Monday morning.

NY plays Chicago on Thursday. KC plays New England on Saturday. DC plays Columbus on Sunday at 5 PM, the last regular season MLS game.

(The symmetry is virtually perfect: three Eastern Conference teams, battling each other for playoff spots, are playing three other Eastern Conference teams who are already in and have very little to play for. Those guys at West Fifth Ave. are good.)

Now, if both KC and New York win, the Uniteds will finish out of the money and begin the recriminations early this year no matter what they do against the Crew.

Conversely, if either NY or KC lose, DC gets in with a win.

The fly in the ointment here is goal differential: KC is at -4, New Yor is at -3 and DC is at a whopping -7.

So in case of a draw in one of the other games, DC will not only need to win, they'll need to win HUGE over a Columbus team - and Columbus supporters - who may have suddenly found something to play for: paying DC back for a decade of frustration.

If you want a prediction, here you go:

Either New York or KC will screw up. Hell, both of them have spent the whole 2008 season screwing up. No reason to think this will be any different.

DC and Columbus will hit the field for the last game on the last day of the season with DC desperate for the win.

It's obvious: The schedule guy planned it that way.

I can't wait.