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The Road To The Playoffs: Five Games To Go

PORTLAND, OR - SEPTEMBER 21: Diego Charra #21 of the Portland Timbers battles Sam Cronin #4 of the San Jose Earthquakes on September 21, 2011 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - SEPTEMBER 21: Diego Charra #21 of the Portland Timbers battles Sam Cronin #4 of the San Jose Earthquakes on September 21, 2011 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s tie against the San Jose Earthquakes was touted as a must win, so to many Timbers fans taking only a single point against one of the league’s bottom teams felt like a crushing defeat.  Luckily, all is not lost.  The Timbers, thanks largely to some fortuitous results around the league, still moved up into tenth place and are in possession of the final playoff spot.  However, with five games remaining, the Timbers still have a long way to go before their berth to the playoffs is secure.

Four teams are competing for the 9th and 10th place wild card berths.  The Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers, New York Red Bulls, and DC United are all within four points of each other as the season winds down.

Team by team breakdowns after the jump.

Houston Dynamo
39 points, 30 games
Remaining Schedule: FC Dallas (A), Chicago Fire (H), Portland Timbers (A), LA Galaxy (H)

The Dynamo have the hardest remaining schedule with both FC Dallas and league-leading LA Galaxy yet to play.  Additionally, the Chicago Fire have found some measure of form as the end of the season nears and are still outside contenders for a playoff spot and will be no pushovers.  Houston need to take at least a point against Dallas this weekend and all three against Chicago at home if they want to qualify.  Even if LA have clinched the Supporters Shield by the final week of the season, the Dynamo will not want to rely on taking points from them.

Portland Timbers
37 points, 29 games
Remaining Schedule: New York Red Bulls (A), Vancouver Whitecaps (A), Houston Dynamo (H), DC United (A), Real Salt Lake (A)

The Timbers, perhaps more than any of the other teams vying for a playoff spot, hold their destiny in their own hands.  The Timbers still have games against each of their three opponents on this list and, if they can take points from each,  stand a good chance of making the playoffs.  However, they will need to find a way to pick up a win on the road if they do not want to rely on other teams failing.  The wild card that remains in the Timbers schedule is their away match against Vancouver.  While the Vancouver Whitecaps have struggled all season, their home form has not been atrocious, and with the opening of their new stadium and a Cascadia Cup rivalry game it will be a very charged atmosphere.

New York Red Bulls
36 points, 29 games
Remaining Schedule: Portland Timbers (H), Toronto FC (A), LA Galaxy (H), Sporting Kansas City (A), Philadelphia Union (H)

Looking at New York’s schedule, their best opportunity to take points will be this weekend against the Timbers.  Toronto has recently come into form and always has an excellent home field advantage while the Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City, and Philadelphia Union have all been playing good football recently.  For New York, much will come down to how the team responds after Rafa Marquez’s comments about the team’s weakness on Wednesday.  New York could either rally and make the playoffs or implode and miss them this weekend.

DC United
35 points, 27 games
Remaining Schedule: Real Salt Lake (H), Philadelphia Union (A), Columbus Crew (A), Vancouver Whitecaps (A), Chicago Fire (H), Portland Timbers (H), Sporting Kansas City (H)

DC have a harsh test ahead of them.  Still missing vital attacking component Chris Pontius, United will take on Real Salt Lake who are fresh off a 3-1 demolition of New York at Red Bull Stadium.  RSL appears to be chomping at the bit while DC have struggled recently to get going.  This home game against one of the hottest teams in the league, followed by three away matches will put DC to the test.  Due to the relatively few games that DC have played, however, they still will have ample opportunities to take points in their final three games, all of which are at home.

The Guys Just Above
While the four teams listed are the main contenders for the final two playoff spots, teams like the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids have been enduring some terrible form recently and are in danger of slipping down the table.  Both teams are within striking distance and with some further bad results could end up competing just to hold on to the playoffs.

The Guys Just Below
Meanwhile, sitting just below the struggle for the playoffs are Chicago, Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes.  All have slim hopes of reaching the playoffs but have seen recent upswings in form after struggling early in the season.  Should any one of those teams go on a winning streak, they could find themselves in the mix as well.