Prematurely pressing the panic button: MLS Week 30

Bob Levey - Getty Images

A look to the week ahead and why (or why not) Dynamo fans should be concerned.

With the happiness and excitement of Saturday's win over the Revolution in the rear-view mirror, it's time to take a look at the upcoming week and what could happen next. For the Dynamo, it's a (relatively) simple proposition: win and they're in. They currently have a tenuous grasp on the fifth and last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff, and as long as the points keep coming in, they can't be knocked out of the picture. So, the best plan would be to win the last three matches, right?

It would certainly make everything easier - but it's an unfortunate fact of life that no plan survives contact with the enemy. That's the purpose of this post (which is primed to be the first of a weekly outlook) - to help us all understand the whole picture, not just our own.

Am I saying that there's no way that the Dynamo can possibly win out, rendering everyone else's performances moot (as far as our hopes go)? Absolutely not. It's more a reminder that in sports, as in life, the axiom of Col. Murphy rings true: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." While it's not quite time to be pressing the panic button yet, all it could take is one misstep to cause the whole machine to trip and fall to the floor.

I'm not saying it will fall to the floor. As a matter of fact, I hope it doesn't. I hope it's kept oiled and chugging all the way to a third MLS Cup trophy. But anything can happen, and for that reason, let's stop and take a look at the bigger picture, and wonder if it's necessary to go ahead and locate that big orange "PANIC" button.

Safely in:

1. Sporting Kansas City

Record: 17-7-7
Points: 58
Matches played: 31
This week: At Columbus, 10/7

At this point, SKC is the only Eastern Conference team that's assured of playing any matches in November. You would think that means that we wouldn't have to worry about them, but that would be wrong. Two of their final three matches (at Columbus on Sunday and against New York on 10/20) are against teams still pushing for a playoff spot.

Obviously, the Columbus match looms larger in the minds of Dynamo fans at the moment, because an SKC win opens the possibility of opening a four point margin between fifth and sixth place (a tie would allow the Dynamo to possibly hold a three point lead over Columbus).

I'd feel much better if that match was taking place in Kansas City, as that is a very difficult place to get points from, but then again, SKC didn't get to the top of the East without being good both at home and on the road, so I'm hopeful that this result will be one that Dynamo fans like.

In line for a spot:

2. New York Red Bulls

Record: 15-8-8
Points: 53
Matches played: 31
This week: Versus Chicago, 10/6

Anybody else remember that time when the Dynamo beat New York here in Houston and briefly held the top spot in the East? Yeah, that was fun - unfortunately, it was also two months ago as of tomorrow. While the Dynamo went into a bit of a free fall, New York stayed relatively steady, which has kept them near the top of the table.

They too have a match against another playoff contender this week, as they host the third place Chicago Fire on Saturday. I think New York should be favored, both because of their stellar home record and because Chicago has to also play on Wednesday (though as we've seen too well, that doesn't always have the outcome you would think).

Thierry Henry looked like the striker we all knew at Arsenal and Barça (at least for one match), which could be a sign of things to come. It's never good to predict the future based on one performance, but if he repeats it, New York could make a run. I don't know if he can do that, but I do think that New York comes away with at least a point on Saturday.

3. Chicago Fire

Record: 16-9-5
Points: 53
Matches played: 30
This week: Versus Philadelphia, 10/3; at New York, 10/6

To me, Chicago has to be the wild card this week. They have a match in hand against all the other contenders, and it's at home against a non-contender in Philadelphia. While we here in Houston have learned the lesson that Philly isn't going to roll over for contenders, it's safe to hope that Chicago hasn't.

I'm hoping for a draw or a loss to Philly, but for some reason, Chicago hasn't seemed to have the same trouble that the Dynamo have had when it comes to beating teams that are below them in the table. Regardless of the Philly result, though, the Fire have to deal with a short turnaround and face New York just three days later.

I'll come right out and say it, like I did in the section above: I think New York gets a point, at least - and that means that I don't think Chicago salvages more than a point out of this match, meaning that while they could conceivably jump New York in the table come tomorrow, there's a good chance that lead won't last too long.

4. D.C. United

Record: 15-10-6
Points: 51
Matches played: 31
This week: At Toronto, 10/6

Wasn't this team supposed to fade off once they lost Dwayne De Rosario for the season? That was certainly what I heard - and certainly not what they've done. Since losing De-Ro for the season, D.C.'s only slip up came when they salvaged a draw in Portland - and that's not even as much of a slip up as it would seem. I'm not talking about record, because it doesn't matter whether or not the Timbers are having a good season, Portland isn't an inviting stadium for visitors.

I'm sure that D.C. fans will be assuring themselves of three points come Saturday - Toronto isn't the most frightening of opponents, even in their own stadium - but with nothing left to play for but pride, Toronto has an outside chance of surprising them and shaking the playoff picture up a bit, as their last three MLS matches are all against teams that still have a shot at making the playoffs.

Will it happen? Given the fact that it's Toronto, I have my doubts, but hey, I don't always let pessimism control my world view. And who knows, maybe we'll get a nice surprise and have reason to thank the Reds come Sunday. One can always dream.

5. Houston Dynamo

Record: 13-8-10
Points: 49
Matches played: 31
This week: Versus Montreal, 10/6

We all know where our beloved Dynamo stand, so I won't waste too much time here - everything that needs to be said has either already been covered in the previous match streams or will be covered come next week. That being said, if I could call our attention to one thing? 10 draws. 10. Some of them are quite fine draws, but as Zach has mentioned, at this point in the season, some of them loom almost as large as they would if they were losses.

I really, really hope that that number doesn't increase any more this season. Not quite as much as I hope the losses don't increase, but at this point, neither helps us very much.

On the outside, looking in:

6. Columbus Crew

Record: 14-11-6
Points: 48
Matches played: 31
This week: Versus Sporting Kansas City, 10/7

Can I start this by mentioning how annoying these guys are? At least right now? Thanks. (And to any Columbus supporters reading this for some strange reason, be assured: I don't always feel this way about you guys. It's just how I feel at this point in the season, with the table looking like it does.)

Okay, back to the point at hand. Thanks to a bizarre offside that wasn't offside that led to a goal that shouldn't have been, Columbus is still just a point out of a tie for fifth place. While that's not too important right now (the Dynamo hold the tiebreaker in total goals scored), it could come into play if the Dynamo falter at all.

Houston can only control its own play. While another win this weekend would continue to keep the Crew at bay for now, you can be certain that they'd feel a lot better (I know I would) if Kansas City came out of this match with at least a draw. Denying Columbus any points would be best, but even if they get a single point, it still gives us a chance to open up the gap a bit.

Down, but not out...barely:

7. Montreal Impact

Record: 12-15-4
Points: 40
Matches played: 31
This week: At Houston, 10/6

I'm not sure how this team is still in this picture, but they are - even if it's only by the smallest of threads. You can look at the points and see that one thing is clear: they need to win out, and even if they can do that, nothing is certain. They have to win all three of their matches and hope for two more things: that the Dynamo don't get another point, and that Columbus gets no more than one more point.

If by some strange turn of events this happens, it goes to the tiebreakers, the first of which is goals scored. Columbus is the odd team out here, with 39 to the Dynamo and Montreal's 44, but there's no telling how this will look by the time the regular season ends.

Suffice it to say that it would take the proverbial perfect storm to ensure the Impact reach the playoffs. Eight matches have to transpire a certain way for this to happen, and they only have control over three of those. It's not a position that I'd want to be in, and it's a dream that can be crushed as soon as Saturday, here in Houston. While a Dynamo win would be best for our own hopes, a draw with Montreal would cut their remaining thread and eliminate them from postseason contention.

It's my sincere hope that when it comes time to write next week's edition of this, it will be shorter - if only because one team will have been removed from the playoff picture. In regards to the title, it's still not quite time to push that button. Whether this week unfolds in such a way as to change that, I don't know. But I can take solace in the fact that the decision is in the very capable hands of our Dynamo - unless they falter, there's absolutely no need to concern ourselves with panic.

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