The NBC cameras will be in place in Harrison, N.J., for Saturday’s big Eastern Conference clash as the second-place Red Bulls face the third-place Fire at Red Bull Arena (pictured).
Second place is the obvious prize, not to mention the ability to maintain pouncing distance on Sporting Kansas City should the current Eastern Conference leaders stumble.
Best guess, Sporting KC will maintain its slim margin and claim the Eastern crown. So the Red Bulls and Chicago appear to scrapping for those next two places. And if we’re honest, there really isn’t much difference between second and third. (Only, perhaps, a slight increase in chances of hosting the final should enough of the higher seeds fall.)
There really is something else at stake. Give me a second while I fire up my crystal ball of truth and knowledge:
Houston is looking for its leap-frogging shoes – and may just find them. Dominic Kinnear’s Dynamo have a reasonable chance of sweeping up all nine points available down the stretch. They meet Montreal at home this weekend and then face Philadelphia at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Orange remains unbeaten.
(MORE: Brad Davis’ injury leaves Dynamo vulnerable)
They finish at Colorado, which has already been eliminated. So, it’s far from a slam dunk, but nine points is not major stretch, either.
That would put the Dynamo at 58 points, which means that Chicago and New York would have to pick up six of their remaining nine available points in order for each to hold its top-three status. That’s unlikely, especially considering the points they take off one another Saturday in Harrison.
There’s also D.C. United to consider. The schedule for Ben Olsen’s side is tougher than Houston’s, but the Black and Red have found a winning way lately, going more defensive in Dwayne De Rosario’s absence.
(MORE: Why fourth is much better than fifth in the conference finishing order)
Before considering the standings below, remember the meat in this delicious playoff position sandwich: that finishing second or third beats the pants off finishing lower in the playoff arrangement, because those 4th– and 5th-place finishers face one additional post-season round.