Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We're coming down the home stretch of the Major League Soccer regular season and the race for the postseason is really heating up in the Eastern Conference.
Two weeks is all that remain in 2013, and as of last weekend's results, only two clubs have clinched playoff spots: Red Bull New York and Sporting Kansas City.
New York, with its stable of high-priced talent, has been fairly consistent all year long and is in the lead for the Supporters' Shield, while Sporting has had its ups and downs, but generally has been consistent enough.
The fun begins when you look further down the table in the Eastern Conference.
Below NYRB and Sporting you have the Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution all within three points of each other and battling to get into the postseason dance.
And things are getting even tighter heading into the final two weeks of the season.
New England looked to be out of the running for the final spot, but Jay Heaps' club pulled off potentially their biggest result of the season as Jose Goncalves' second goal of the season in the 31st minute on Saturday proved to be the difference in a 1-0 win over the scuffling Montreal Impact.
Montreal, which looked absolutely unbeatable early in the year, having won nine of their first 14 games, has hit the skids at the wrong time. Marco Schallibaum's team has gone winless in four straight league games and lost three straight at home.
The Impact's resolve will be tested this week as the club travels cross country to face the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday before returning to Quebec to battle the Philadelphia Union.
Speaking of Philadelphia, the gritty Union seemed to be in a great position to earn their second-ever playoff berth after consecutive wins over Sporting and Toronto FC.
Three points against lowly D.C. United last Saturday would have pushed the Union into a tie for third place with Houston, but they fell behind thanks to a long-range strike from Nick DeLeon.
Luckily for John Hackworth's team, Jack McInerney picked the perfect time to snap his 14-match scoreless drought with a 90th minute equalizer. It's a respectable result on the road against a team playing with reckless abandon, but if the Union view themselves as a playoff-caliber team, they needed to get three points.
Failing to secure a win at D.C. means the Union almost absolutely need to win against Montreal.
The Fire jumped into the fifth playoff spot Saturday night after holding on for a nervy 3-2 win over FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium, which spelled the end of FCD's playoff hopes.
Chicago, Philadelphia and Montreal are all tied on 46 points, but the Fire find themselves above the red line by virtue of having 13 wins to Philly's 12. (number of wins is the first tiebreaker in MLS, where in other European leagues the top tiebreaker is usually goal difference,)
So, if we extrapolate a little bit, which teams will sneak into the playoffs in the East, and which clubs will finish on the outside looking in?
Houston currently sits in third with 48 points. The Dynamo host New York on Oct 19 and close the season on the road against D.C. United. I'm going to peg them for a loss against New York and a win over DC. That would put the Dynamo firmly in the playoffs in third place with 51 points.
Montreal plays their game in hand in Los Angles on Wednesday, then hosts Philly on Oct. 19 before closing the season against Toronto FC the following week.
It's hard to see the Impact getting any kind of result on the road against the Galaxy and they are in very poor home form at the moment, so a draw against Philly seems likely. They should beat Toronto in the season finale, which would give them 50 points for a fourth-place finish.
Philadelphia will be disappointed with its draw in D.C., but is a fairly strong road team. A draw against Montreal combined with a win against a Sporting KC side with nothing to play for would give the Union 50 points to settle into the final playoff spot (Montreal would claim fourth over Philadelphia via the tiebreaker).
Chicago hosts Toronto before visiting New York to close the season. The Fire should handle Toronto, which means their playoff lives could come down to the final week against New York.
If Philadelphia beats Sporting and Chicago falls to New York, the Fire would finish one point below the Union with 49 points and miss out on the postseason.
New England finishes the season with back-to-back contests against the Columbus Crew. It's very difficult to beat a team twice in consecutive weeks, so I'm giving the Revs a home win and a road loss to close out the season, which would put them seventh with 48 points and the final playoff places will look like this:
1.) New York Red Bulls (already clinched)
2.) Sporting Kansas City (already clinched)
3.) Houston Dynamo 14-11-9 51 points
4.) Montreal Impact 14-12-8 50 points
5.) Philadelphia Union 13-10-11 50 points
6.) Chicago Fire 14-13-7 49 points
7.) New England Revolution 13-12-9 48 points
Of course, this is all conjecture and speculation, which is why they play the games, but, boy, will it be a fun final two weeks of the regular season.