There are a lot of things I could say about the RSL v Portland game on Saturday. Here’s the thing: I can’t help but get caught up in the hope that RSL will end the season on top of the Western Conference and possibly carrying the Supporter’s Shield to boot. So rather than talk about how that could still happen, I’m going to talk about all the obstacles that stand in their way that they would need to overcome in order to walk away from this season at the top of the table.
RSL needs to win the last two matches
All the scenarios in which RSL gets the shield boil down to one thing: they win the last two matches. If this doesn’t happen, while it may still be possible to get the shield, it becomes highly unlikely. This matchup on Saturday is no small feat — while we haven’t yet lost to Caleb Porter’s Timbers team, they love to draw, it’s in their home stadium, they’ll be playing with Will Johnson, and they are currently at the top of the Western Conference looking down at us. You may argue the bigger they are, the harder they fall, but it has to be appreciated just what an incredible turnaround from last season this Portland team has pulled off and what a profound impact both Will Johnson and Caleb Porter have had on the team. They will come into the game with all guns blazing, hoping, in their own part, to get the shield (though, I’m sure, that’s a lesser goal than the MLS Cup itself).
The Red Bulls are the only true masters of their own destiny
The New York Red Bulls are the only team in the league who truly control their own destiny and shot at the shield. If they win their remaining games, it doesn’t matter what RSL or Portland (or, heck, the Sounders could pull something off) do before the playoffs, they’d walk away with the Shield comfortably.
How about that Galaxy?
Going into last night, the Galaxy and Montreal were the only teams that still had 3 games left, which means the Galaxy still has a chance to pull one out of the bag, win their remaining games, and end up with 9 points. The first task was accomplished last night with a second-half goal from a mad scramble in the box off a corner kick. That was the best shot to thwart their top-of-the-table hopes being without Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzales, Jaime Penado and Robbie Keane (for 60 minutes, anyway). On Sunday, they face the Earthquakes and presumably at least Penado and Keane will be back and possibly all four. The Earthquakes will be fighting tooth and nail, too, trying to salvage their playoff hopes with a win, but, let’s face it, they are a shallow ghost of the team they were last season. If I was going to bet money on the game, it wouldn’t be on the ‘Quakes (and not just because I hate them).
The Rapids will face the Whitecaps…twice
In a bizarre scheduling arrangement, the Rapids will play the Whitecaps, at home, twice, for their final two games. This will either bode really well for them, or really bad. The ‘Caps don’t really have a chance at threatening the top of the conference, and chances are, neither does Colorado, but if everyone’s best guesses for their top teams go awry in these last two weeks, there is a chance the Rapids could walk away with a Western Conference title. Maybe. The Whitecaps have the opportunity to show that they belong in the playoff picture, that they are a better team than Colorado, and win both games away from home. Or the Rapids could shut down the ‘Caps playoff hopes. Or they could split the difference. The conference is tight enough that 6 points for the Rapids could seriously bump them up the ladder if things go their way.
Let’s not entirely discount the Sounders
The Sounders have sucked the last several games. They were hoping to turn the tide with Portland but, yeah, that didn’t happen. And so it is that the hottest team in the MLS hasn’t one in 5 games straight and swapped their #1 goalkeeper in their last game because he allowed 9 goals in 2 games. But the Sounders are still well-positioned to turn things around. There’s no reason they can’t beat FC Dallas (other than sheer ineptitude), but their last game against the Galaxy will be a tough match, especially if all LA’s starters are healthy and if they win against San Jose on Sunday.