The Playoff Hunt: Week 17

Jun 23, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; New England Revolution defender A.J. Soares (5) advances the ball against Toronto FC at BMO Field. The FC tied the Revolution 2-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Independence Day has come and gone in the United States (as well as Canada Day for our fans north of the border) which usually signifies something in the MLS calendar: the time to make your move is now. Most teams have played around 16-17 matches, and as we enter the second half of the season, it's clear more now than ever that this year's playoff race is going to be hotly contested.

With MLS going to a much more streamlined (and understandable) playoff system, the scoreboard watching is going to be easier. With the Eastern Conference returning to it's past form, the race is getting tighter all over the table, not just at the bottom.

Only nine points (essentially three games, if this were another American sport) separates the first seed in the East from the fifth, meaning not only is most of the conference involved, they're all tightly packed. With the Revolution playing fellow I-95 rivals New York on Sunday night, it's another huge week in the race for the playoffs.

After the jump we highlight the Eastern Conference table and preview the big matches this weekend in the East!

Eastern Conference

# Club PTS GP W L T GF GA GD Home Away Last 5
1 D.C. United 33 18 10 5 3 34 22 12 7-1-2 3-4-1 W-W-W-L-W
2 Sporting Kansas City 32 17 10 5 2 23 17 6 6-2-0 4-3-2 W-T-L-L-W
3 New York Red Bulls 31 17 9 4 4 32 25 7 5-0-2 4-4-2 T-L-T-W-T
4 Chicago Fire 28 17 8 5 4 21 19 2 5-1-2 3-4-2 L-W-W-W-T
5 Houston Dynamo 24 17 6 5 6 22 24 -2 4-0-3 2-5-3 W-T-L-W-T
6 Columbus Crew 22 15 6 5 4 16 15 1 4-2-1 2-3-3 W-W-T-L-W
7 New England Revolution 19 16 5 7 4 22 22 0 4-1-3 1-6-1 L-W-T-T-T
8 Montreal Impact 18 19 5 11 3 25 35 -10 4-3-2 1-8-1 L-W-L-L-L
9 Philadelphia Union 14 15 4 9 2 15 18 -3 2-4-1 2-5-1 L-L-W-L-W
10 Toronto FC 10 16 2 10 4 18 30 -12 1-5-2 1-5-2 T-T-W-T-T

It's gotten even tighter at the top, with D.C. United taking the reigns of the Conference on 33 points with a game in hand over Sporting and NYRB. United have won four of their last five, and continue to get better, and without a game this weekend they can sit back and watch as the rest of the conference plays out in front of them.

Chicago has managed to put a little space between themselves and Houston for the fourth spot, who hold a slim two point lead over Columbus for the final playoff spot in the East.

So where do our beloved Revs stand? At the moment, it's a little dicey. Five points back of the final playoff spot, but with a game in hand, so hopefully the gap can close after a win over New York. While New England is unbeaten in their last four matches, draws won't keep you in the race for long. You got to take maximum points whenever you can.

Let's take a look at the big matches this weekend:

Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City. Huge match in the East, as #2 takes on #5. Sporting recently snapped a mild two game losing streak with a victory over Montreal at Saputo Stadium on Wednesday night, and it's well documented how difficult it is to play at Livestrong Park. Expect SKC to try to keep up with the top of the pack in the East and take all three points at home from Houston, who've got to be sick of playing on the road after most of their early season matches were played away from Houston while their new stadium was built.

New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution.. This fixture carries a certain cache regardless of the sport. The two rivals lock up yet again, this time in Foxboro as the Revs looked to avenge the 1-0 loss they suffered at New York earlier in the year. New England, of course, had an exciting week with the announcement of their new DP signing, Jerry Bengtson, and while it's unclear whether or not he'll available for selection, you've got to think the Revs will be coming in on a high with their four game unbeaten streak on the line at home. The Red Bulls will be without Marquez and Henry for the match, so look for the lesser known players from New York to carry the load if they're going to take anything from the I-95 derby.

Columbus Crew at Montreal Impact. Not many expected a match between these two clubs in July would have playoff implications, but here we are, with Columbus only to points out of the playoffs, and Montreal (with their new stadium in tow) right behind the Revs in the East. Montreal have yet to see the boost from their new stadium and are coming off a 3-1 beating at the hands of Sporting KC, but look for Jesse Marsch's men to bounce back strong in front of the home crowd. Columbus continue to get the results they need and are doing it without much fanfare Without a marquee star, the Crew have quietly chugged along in the Eastern Conference on the strength of their back line and defense, which ranks #1 in the conference and league with only 15 goals conceded.
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