In no way should that title suggest that playoff hopes are in the balance in Dallas. Things couldn’t be further from it.
With four games left FCD will face four Western Conference opponents. A point separates FCD and RSL, and that point matters immensely.
Los Angeles, home.
It is a comparatively worse bundle of matches if you take a peek at RSL’s final 2014 run-ins.
Chivas USA, away.
San Jose, home.
Chivas USA, home.
Given home form, FCD can bank on at least two wins from four games. But those numbers (a point and a half per match) to finish out the regular season don’t carry much weight en lieu of RSL’s schedule. Two games against Chivas USA are foregone conclusions, barring major heroics from Eric Torres. Hopefully he’s into making a more profound case for his inclusion in the Mexican national team. But let’s be realists and realize that won’t happen. San Jose has no realistic chance of making the playoffs unless they win all five remaining matches and pray that Vancouver picks up three points or less over four games. RSL’s third match away at Portland provides the only real challenge, given that the real Timbers do show up that day.
But that still leaves three completely winnable matches for RSL compared to FCD’s two (Colorado has a glimmer of hope, and Portland has little success in Frisco).
From a mere glance it’s not too big of a deal. Dallas will be in the playoffs. But fourth place gains the privilege of proving their playoff preparedness through a winner-takes-all play-in match in Frisco. Even if the match is easily seen as a slight degrading of the accomplishments of the fourth place team so fifth can feel like they are included, it still protracts an already hectic playoff schedule.
Should FCD want to make any lengthy forays towards MLS Cup it will take a victory in the playoff, plus a two leg conference semifinal. All the pressure, collisions, sweat, and energy is spread over eleven days. It’s a path few would prefer. Only wildcard playoff teams coached by Dominic Kinnear have ever proven that they can make a long playoff run.
But Saturday night’s match could be a dress rehearsal for the playoff, as things stand. Vancouver still has yet to beat FCD in 2014, drawing 2-2 at home early in the season and losing 2-1 in Frisco three weeks ago. Their home form can only account for six wins out of thirteen possible at BC Place.
For Dallas, the likelihood of Diaz and Castillo’s return is something still hanging the balance, the latter’s return more the likely of the two. But who’s to care given the throttling of Seattle last week? David Texeira probably doesn’t, head aloft in the clouds after dropping a well-earned brace (from out of nowhere). A tandem of Texeira and Perez, let alone any partnership Pareja conjures, seems an ever-effective choice to secure a playoff spot.
After all, that is what this game in Vancouver means: securing a spot and making a statement to the British Columbians. We’ll see them again soon.
With a spot secured, however, who knows how the team will perform in the following three matches? If anything, two things work actively into the equation. For one, what RSL does from this point forward is clearly, and has always been, out of Dallas’ hands. They will have to slip up in order for FCD to gain substantial ground. But secondly the potential of RSL slipping up remains an unlikely one: it may simply be time to relax and play quality soccer to round the year out.
That in itself is a frightening portent. Relaxed nerves are good, but a possible run of indifferent, or even poor form heading into the playoffs isn’t.
Regardless, FCD’s playoff fate can be decided with three points. It’s simple, and it’s very doable against an inconsistent, floundering Whitecaps side.
(image courtesy of Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)