Three teams will play tomorrow with so much on the line, with a win-or-go-home mandate as it relates to the MLS playoffs in two cases. In the other case, there is important Western Conference playoff positioning on the line.
In all three instances, the clubs with so much at stake face clubs with more or less nothing to play for. (Well, contracts and positioning for the coming personnel storms … but nothing in terms of team achievement.)
Sunday, New England’s playoff fate hinges on a win over already eliminated Columbus at Crew Stadium.
Houston’s playoff fate will live or die based on winning at D.C. United. (Actually, United has something to play for – hoping to avoid the ignominy of finishing with the fewest win ever for any club in an MLS season. Ben Olsen’s team has three wins this year; the all-time low is four.)
And Colorado would love to sneak into third place in the West, or even improve its playoff lot substantially by finishing fourth rather than fifth (thereby hosting the conference’s 4th-vs.-5th elimination match this week rather than traveling to be part of it).
Here’s the thing: each and every year we get big upsets from these scenarios. Teams with nothing on the line come into matches all loosey-goosey and get the job done against teams that, simply put, get too tight or just cannot handle the pressure.
We saw it last week, for instance, when FC Dallas took down floundering Seattle. We saw it Saturday as Toronto FC (pictured) mustered up a good heaping helping of pride and, with nothing else to play for, took down Montreal, leaving the Impact vulnerable on Major League Soccer’s final matchday.
Mark it down … someone will get upset Sunday and blow a big opportunity.
Parity in MLS is part of it, but it’s also just failing to handle the pressure, even when there is so very much to gain.