Entering the final month of the 2012 MLS regular season, the Eastern Conference playoff race continues to tighten. Currently, five teams are battling for the final four playoff spots in the East behind leaders Sporting Kansas City. SKC clinched a playoff berth with its convincing 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire on Friday night. This is how the rest of the season shapes up in the race for the remaining four spots:
COLUMBUS CREW 48 points (14-11-6) 1.55 PPG GF: 39 GD: 0 | Last 5 matches: L-L-W-L-W
The Crew is currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference table, one point away from a postseason berth. Two of the Black & Gold's last three matches come at Crew Stadium where the club is 10-3-2 this season. All of the Crew's remaining opponents will be familiar foes as Columbus has faced each team left on its schedule twice already this season. The Black & Gold has split with one win and one loss against Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United, and defeated Toronto FC in both meeting so far this season. The Crew's lone road match, October 20 at D.C. United could potentially be the deciding game in both teams' playoff hopes. If Columbus hopes to make the playoffs, it will have to do so on points alone as none of the new playoff tiebreakers (see below) favor the Black & Gold.
Remaining games: 10/7: vs. Sporting Kansas City Purchase Tickets
10/20: at D.C. United Pub Tour
10/28: vs. Toronto FC Purchase Tickets
HOUSTON DYNAMO 49 points (13-8-10) 1.58 PPG GF: 44 GD: +7 | Last 5 matches: L-W-D-L-W
Houston stayed a point above the Crew with its 2-0 win against the New England Revolution to stay in fifth place. Like Columbus, Houston will play two of its final three matches at home. The Dynamo has yet to lose in brand-new BBVA Compass Stadium, which plays to the club's advantage. Additionally, all of Houston's remaining opponents are in the bottom half of their respective standings.
Remaining games: 10/6: vs. Montreal Impact
10/20: vs. Philadelphia Union
10/27: at Colorado Rapids
D.C. UNITED 51 points (15-10-6) 1.65 PPG GF: 48 GD: +8 | Last 5 matches: L-W-W-W-D
D.C. United was able to salvage a point on the road in Portland to stay two points ahead of Houston in fourth place. Two out of D.C.'s remaining three games come on the road, starting this weekend in Toronto. United's October 20 home finale against the Crew will be a must-win at RFK Stadium, where it hasn't lost since March 20. D.C. United finishes its season in Chicago against the Fire. Frank Klopas' side hasn't lost to an Eastern Conference opponent at Toyota Park all season.
Remaining games: 10/6: at Toronto FC
10/20: vs. Columbus Crew
10/27: at Chicago Fire
NEW YORK RED BULLS 53 points (15-8-8) 1.71 PPG GF: 54 GD: +10 | Last 5 matches: D-W-L-D-W
With Saturday's 4-1 home win over Toronto FC, New York jumped into second place. The Red Bulls have the luxury of playing two of their next three matches at Red Bull Arena where they have lost just once this season. However, those home matches come against Eastern Conference frontrunners Sporting KC and the surging Chicago Fire. Hans Backe's side finishes the season with a trip down I-95 to face the Philadelphia Union.
Remaining games: 10/6: vs. Chicago Fire
10/20: vs. Sporting Kansas City
10/27: at Philadelphia Union
CHICAGO FIRE 53 points (16-9-5) 1.77 PPG GF: 42 GD: +6 | Last 5 matches: W-W-W-W-L
The Fire hit a a bump in the road on Friday night, losing 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City on the road. But Chicago has the luxury of having a game in-hand and hosting the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night. The Fire still has a difficult stretch ahead with road trips to New York and New England before hosting D.C. United in its regular season finale.
Remaining games: 10/3: vs. Philadelphia Union
10/6: at New York Red Bulls
10/20: at New England Revolution
10/27: vs. D.C. United
1) Most total goals scored
2) Greatest goal differential
3) Fewest disciplinary points
4) Most road goals scored
5) Greatest road goal differential
6) Most home goals scored
7) Greatest home goal differential
8) Coin toss (for 2 teams) or drawing of lots (3 or more teams)