RSL is floundering mightily losing all four of their most recent MLS contests. FC Dallas has matched them game for game, also losing their last four in league play. Colorado, meanwhile, has made up 4 points on each of them during that stretch putting them back in the equation for the BIG PRIZE!.
The big prize???...The “winner” gets the honor and privilege of playing one of the best and hottest MLS Teams – the Sounders - to kick of their playoff hopes. The poor losers will likely be punished mercilessly....by having to play in the wildcard play-in...possibly to the East??? Could these teams be trying not to win this race?...or at least not trying *quite* as hard to win?
In the case of Real Salt Lake, I would say no….at least not so far. The temptation surely must be growing though. Beckerman is the heart and soul of RSL, and they have been without him for most of the last 3 games due to a red card and National Team duty. They will now be without him for BOTH remaining games due to (deserved) suspension for his headbutt in the Fire game. They fielded a team in Vancouver that was sans Beckerman, Saborio, Espindola AND Will Johnson. Those are not only starting XI guys, but some of the best they have. They play Colorado away and then the hungry and prideful Timbers in Utah as their remaining games. They could easily give it their all (without Beckerman) and come up losers in those matches.
In the case of FC Dallas, I would also say no. With the exception of a bad loss (everyone has them) to the Revs away, FC Dallas has lost to fairly good teams (Houston, Colorado and New York) - all 1-0. Dallas clearly has a very good team. One has to wonder, however, if a lack of depth and a packed fixture with Concacaf play isn’t taking it’s toll on them. If they are phoning it in, we will all know soon. FC Dallas has a much, much softer schedule remaining. They have three games left: at Chiacgo (not easy, but winnable), Vancouver, and at San Jose. IT is hard to imagine them coming away with less than 4 points from those games..and would not be surprised to see them take all 9. If they take 6 and RSL loses out, it is Sounders vs. Hoops in the West semis. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, Colorado has quietly crept back into the race. (Image all three teams in a line: “Whoever wants to play Seattle step forward”….Dallas and RSL step back). Colorado, unlike Dallas, is no so fatigued by Concacaf - because they ARE phoning it in. They aren't even trying to hide it. They didn't even send their head coach to the Metapan game in El Salvador, a move Soudners Head Coach Sigi Schmidt called "disrespectful". One can't argue with the results, however, as they won that match handily while resting nealry everyone. The rest and lack of wearying travel has been apparent in recent MLS play.
What would it take for Colorado to leapfrog beyond the wildcard ranks? Dallas would have to take 5 points or less from their remaining three games…certainly possible. Real Salt Lake would have to lose to both Colorado AND to the Timbers….as discussed above, very possible for a weakened and reeling Real Salt Lake team. Lastly, Colorado would have to win their last two (they have RSL at home - already accounted for above - and bottom-dwelling Vancouver at BC Place). That would leave Colorado and RSL (and Dallas if they go 1-0-2) knotted at 51. Tiebreaker time!!
The first tie breaker is head to head play between ALL tied teams (including Dallas if it is three-way). Each team has split their head-to-head matchups with each of the others (2-2-0). Push. That takes us to tiebreak #2 – goal differential. RSL has this one handily at the moment with a six goal lead on both Dallas and Colorado…but the head to head game with the Rapids (in Colorado) is the fly in the ointment. It is a double-dip; a two goal RSL loss is a four goad swing. If that happens, the assumed Colorado win vs. Vancouver and the assumed RSL loss to the Timbers would at least erase the remaining two goal differential (Rapids win by at least one, RSL loses by at least one). That either gives it to Colorado (if either game isn't a win-by-one affair), or takes it to tiebreak #3 – goals scored. Colorado has a comfortable 6 goal lead here that will surely have grown. Dallas has a differential of 2 that won’t have grown much in the above scenario of (at best) T-T-W, giving that tiebreak to Colorado as well. That would leave the Rapids in slot #3 in the West. It’s a lot of WHAT IF’s…but it’s not THAT outlandish. With the terrible form of Dallas and RSL recently, it could happen.
One last note – a note of caution to those who race downward – beware that you don’t overshoot your target. Among the four seeded wildcard teams, 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3. The highest surviving seed goes to the East, while the lowest remaining seed gets the West and LA (unless the Sounders catch them for the Shield). I don't think anyone wants that...and if you don't hold that top wildcard slot, that may be just what you get. So..if you ARE racing for the bottom, be careful what you wish for.