It's hard to believe, but just nine games remain in the 2014 MLS regular season. Some teams have 11 games remaining in those nine weeks, but we're really getting down to the nitty gritty last two months and the good news is your FC Dallas is right in the thick of things!
Over the next couple months, we will do a weekly post tracking the playoff race seeing what happened the weekend before and what's up next.
1. Seattle Sounders FC
45 points(+10 GD) - 10 games remaining - Last match: 4-2 win at Portland - Next match: 8/30 vs Rapids - Last 5: W-D-L-W-L
The Sounders bounced back from a disappointing draw at home against San Jose to trounce their Cascadia opponents in Portland with a comprehensive 4-2 win. With the win, they broke a three-way tie at the top of the Western Conference. Seattle has a three point lead and a game in hand on both Real Salt Lake and FCD, but have a fairly tough schedule with six of their last ten against current playoff teams.
2. FC Dallas
42 points(+12 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 win vs Real Salt Lake - Next match: 8/30 at Chicago - Last 5: W-W-W-W-D
FC Dallas has burst back to the top of the Western Conference having won four of their last five and six of their last seven. FCD hasn't lost since May 31 but face a trick test this weekend traveling to a Chicago side that has been very tough to beat this season with just six losses and 14 draws. A win in Saturday's game in Chicago would be huge for Dallas' hopes of finishing in the top three of a tight race.
3. Real Salt Lake
42 points(+9 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 loss at FC Dallas - Next match: 8/30 at San Jose - Last 5: L-W-W-W-T
Real Salt Lake had a three-game winning streak halted by FC Dallas last weekend in Frisco, but still bring a solid 42 points to the playoff race. They've got two games left against both Chivas USA and San Jose, so there are definitely winnable games left on the schedule, but their match in San Jose will certainly be pivotal this weekend.
4. LA Galaxy
40 points(+15 GD) - 11 games remaining - Last match: 2-0 win vs Vancovuer - Next match: 8/27 vs DC United - Last 5: W-W-L-D-W
Los Angeles beat a listless Vancouver squad 2-0 at home on Saturday night and they have the inside track on the #1 seed at this point with more games left than anyone else. The big advantage that Los Angeles has is seven of their last 11 games are at the StubHub Center and tonight they have a huge match against DC United that, with a win, could propel them into second place in the Western Conference. FC Dallas has two remaining games left against LA that will prove vital.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
33 points(+2 GD) - 10 games remaining - Last match: 2-0 loss at LA Galaxy - Next match: 8/30 vs Portland - Last 5: L-D-W-D-D
Vancouver has once again been a Jekyll and Hyde team, almost unbeatable at home but woefully poor on the road. Only six points from their last five matches is not enough to keep pace at the top of the west, opening a large gap between fourth and fifth, but they've got the biggest game of the season on Saturday when they'll host Portland.
6. Portland Timbers FC
31 points(-2 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 4-2 loss vs Seattle - Next match: 8/30 at Vancouver - Last 5: L-D-W-L-W
It's looking like the hole that Portland dug early in the season will prove too much for them to pull out of. With Vancouver's two points and game in hand advantage, Portland really has to put all their chips into Saturday's game at Vancouver. According to Sports Club Stats, their playoff odds will go down to just 10% with a loss on Saturday, so it really is make or break right now for a Timbers squad that is also dealing with CONCACAF Champions League.
7. Colorado Rapids
30 points(-2 GD) - 9 games remaining - Last match: 4-3 loss vs LA - Next match: 8/30 at Seattle - Last 5: L-L-L-L-L
That last five matches. Ouch. Technically the Rapids are still in with a decent shout when you look at the point totals, just three points behind Vancouver, but in reality things are pretty bleak for the Rapids. Losses in their last five matches and the season-ending injury to Drew Moor has sent the club into a bit of a tailspin and a trip to Seattle this weekend means there will be no rest for the weary.
The accolades keep rolling in for FC Dallas this week on the back of their 5-0 win in San Jose. FC Dallas had two players and their head coach named to the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week, while three FCD players also appeared on the Week 23 Castrol Index Top 20.
On the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week, we saw Fabian Castillo, Tesho Akindele and Oscar Pareja make the weekly best XI. Here's what they had to say:
F: Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas) – Two great solo goals, an assist, and easily the best player on the pitch. Virtually unplayable at times against the Earthquakes.
Coach: Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas) – In what was supposed to be a must-win for San Jose, Pareja and FCD turned the game at Buck Shaw into a laugher.
On the weekly Castrol Index, rookie Tesho Akindele finished in the top spot overall after scoring a hat trick against San Jose. Fabian Castillo finished fifth on the list while goalkeeper Raul Fernandez who earned a shutout in the win finished 10th.
Here's your Keys to the Match pres. by Toyota for Saturday's big game:
For the second week in a row, an FC Dallas player has made MLS Team of the week. This week Zach Loyd made the team with his stellar defensive efforts at centerback helping keep the clean sheet for FCD. In addition, Fabian Castillo made the bench for his offensive prowess on Sunday night.
"D: Zach Loyd (FC Dallas) – The veteran right back helped his team blank Chivas USA on the road, limiting red-hot forward Erick Torres in the process. He's officially back in Oscar Pareja's good graces, and for good reason."
Here's your Toyota Keys to the Match for tonight's international friendly vs Aston Villa with summer intern Taryn Bray stepping in for on vacation Scott Brown!
Matt Doyle & Dan Haiek of MLSsoccer.com break down Saturday's game vs New England:
2014 World Cup Group G
How they got here: Steamrolled their UEFA qualifying group winning 9 out of 10 games.
2010 World Cup: Fell 1-0 to Spain in the semifinals.
Best case: Germany has been to at least the semifinals in the last three World Cups and while this team is banged up, Germany goes into every World Cup looking to win it. In a bracket where they won't face a Brazil or Spain until at least the semifinals, Germany is really contending with Argentina for that semifinal spot. Given the South American location, you'd think the Germans would be happy with a semifinal appearance.
Worst case: Key injuries leave Marco Reus sidelined and other key German players hobbled heading into a tough group. As crazy as it sounds, it's not inconceivable that Germany slips up against Portugal, then draws the US and Ghana. It's a long shot, but not out of the question.
Player to watch: Winger Mesut Ozil comes into this tournament relatively healthy and coming off his big money move to Arsenal. Ozil is truly world class and with others hobbled around him will be relied on to create much of the German attack.
X Factor: Bayern Munich's diminutive winger Mario Gotze solidified his first team position as the season went on and he's coming into this tournament firing on all cylinders.
How they got here: Defeated Bob Bradley's Ghana side in the qualifying playoff.
2010 World Cup: Defeated the United States in the round of 16 and were extremely unlucky to fall to Ghana in the quarterfinals.
Best case: They enjoyed some good luck and punched above their weight in 2010, but if things come together they can advance from this group. They'll have to beat the USA in that first game to have any chance.
Worst case: With aging stars, Ghana is unable to repeat their heroics of 2010 falling to the United States in the first match and failing to recover with two more losses to Portugal and Germany.
Player to watch: Kevin Prince-Boateng, brother of Germany defender Derek Boateng, is one of the top attacking players on Ghana. He's a veteran of AC Milan, Tottenham and Schalke 04 among others.
X Factor: Michael Essien is an old 31 years old and can he reconjure his greatness for one more tournament. Their central midfield becomes a litle weak without him.
How they got here: Defeated Sweden in that epic playoff qualifying round
2010 World Cup: Fell to Spain in the round of 16
Best case: Ronaldo. Ronaldo. Ronaldo. The Real Madrid superstar goes into beast mode and takes Portugal onto his back leading them out of the group stage and past Belgium in the round of 16 into a quarterfinal match.
Worst case: Cristiano is hobbled by his muscle issue(unlikely) and Portugal struggles to find another offensive option crashing out at the group stage.
Player to watch: Look out for Portugal's big forward Eder. The 26-year-old has recently broken into the Portugal team and has a big body that could give the US defenders a lot of problems.
X Factor: Well this one is kind of easy. Portugal will go as far as Cristiano Ronaldo takes them, end of story.
How they got here: Won their CONCACAF qualifying group
2010 World Cup: Fell to Ghana in the round of 16 after winning their group.
Best case: The United States finally exorcises their Ghana demons and earns a point from either Portugal or Germany to advance second from the gorup with four points.
Worst case: The USA's tournament is practically over before it starts after a third-straight loss to Ghana. With two tough games after that, it's a very real possiblity that the old US & A could finish with 0 points.
Player to watch: Outside back Fabian Johnson has been arguably the USA's best player in the kickoff series games. The Borussia Moenchengladbach signing could prove to be an attacking force from the back for the United States making them much more dynamic.
X Factor: Jozy Altidore's two goals against Nigeria were perhaps the best development of the last month. If Altidore can find his goal-scoring touch, paired with Dempsey, Bradley and the other proven stars, the USA could advance from this group.
Germany 1st, Portugal 2nd, United States 3rd, Ghana 4th
Boy the USA really got a raw deal with this group and prior to Tuesday's Portugal thrashing of Ireland, I thought maybe the USA could pull off the upset, but this is just too much for them.
I feel like the United States will beat Ghana in their first match, but Portugal's draw with Germany in the first match paired with 4 points from Ghana/USA means we'll see Germany 5, Portugal 5, USA 4, Ghana 1.
What do you think?
2014 World Cup Group F
How they got here: Finished first in CONMEBOL qualifying
2010 World Cup: Beat 4-0 by Germany in the quarterfinals.
Best case: Argentina is one of the few teams that can say they have a real chance to win this tournament. Their trio of Messi, Di Maria and Aguero is better than any in the world and if the defense can hold up, they're going to cruise to at least the quarterfinals. They can't possibly meet Spain or Brazil until at least the semifinals, so the stage is set for Argentina...
Worst case: It would be shocking to see Argentina not at least advance to the quarterfinals. Perhaps the worst case is falling to a team like Germany or Belgium in the quarterfinals which, while possible, would be a huge disappointment for a team with championship aspirations.
Player to watch: Who else but Lionel Messi? He's the best player in the world and he's been in decent form with Argentina heading into this tournament. As unfair as it is, the 2014 World Cup will go a long way to determining whether we see Messi as the best of all-time.
X Factor: We know about Messi and Aguero, but if Angel Di Maria can play as well as he has been recently with Real Madrid, Argentina becomes almost unbeatable. Di Maria, now 26 years old and in his absolute prime, will be a huge piece of the Argentina offense.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
How they got here: Won their UEFA qualfiying group, beating Greece on goal differential.
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: Playing in their first World Cup, B&H leans on their stars, Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, and those two star forwards score the goals that get B&H through a relatively easy group. The USA must be wondering why they couldn't have been drawn here.
Worst case: With a no-name defense and a first-time World Cup squad, the stage is just a little bit too big and Nigeria is able to beat the Europeans, sending them out at the group stage.
Player to watch: We've seen him do the business with Manchester City winning two EPL titles and Dzeko can solidify his name among the best forwards in the world if he can lead Bosnia out of the group stage.
X Factor: Miralem Pjanic is the creative, attacking engine of this team and he will need to pull the strings to create the goals Bosnia needs.
How they got here: Finished first in AFC qualifying, ahead of South Korea
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: This Iran team is pretty much unknown with a squad that plays almost exclusively in Iran so it's incredibly tough to call. If they win a game, they'll be very pleased with themselves.
Worst case: Iran is simply overmatched against three solid teams with very different styles and they go out without a point from the group stage.
Player to watch: One of the few that plays in Europe, Ashkan Dejagah had an up and down season for Fulham, but is capable of scoring great goals and would be the one who likely scores if Iran could nip a 1-0 win.
X Factor: I'd be lying if I said there was a player other than Dejagah that I've ever seen play. The X Factor for Iran isn't simply one player, it's staying compact defensively against Nigeria and Bosnia.
How they got here: Defeated Ethiopia in their qualifying playoff.
2010 World Cup: Did not win a match, going 0-1-2. They haven't won a World Cup match since 2002.
Best case: Playing in a manageable group, the Super Eagles return to their former success advancing from the group stage for the first time since 1998.
Worst case: Nigeria is unable to cope with the European talent on Bosnia and they fall in that group-deciding match failing to advance from the group.
Player to watch: Ogenyi Onazi is the central midfield engine of both Nigeria and Lazio. At just 21 years old, Onazi is primed to move to a big European club with a solid World Cup.
X Factor: Peter Odemwingie has been a decent forward in the EPL since 2010 and while he's had an up and down career for Nigeria, he's likely their best forward option and will need to score some goals for the Super Eagles to advance.
Argentina 1st, Nigeria 2nd, Bosnia & Herzegovina 3rd, Iran 4th
This one is pretty straight forward for first place, but second is a toss-up between Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. They play second in the schedule and I think Nigeria playing Argentina 3rd could play into the Super Eagles' hands.
I like Nigeria to earn 5 points out of the group which will be enough to advance second.
What do you think about this group?
2014 World Cup Group E
How they got here: Finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: Playing in South America, Ecuador punches above their weight a bit and finishes at the top of a group that's there for the taking. With a matchup against the weak second place team in group F, Ecuador makes it all the way to the quarterfinals.
Worst case: Ecuador is unable to take advantage of the South American conditions and fall to a pair of teams that, on paper, are probably better than Ecuador, sending the South American's out at the group stage.
Player to watch: Jefferson Montero is a dynamic attacking midfielder who has found lots of success in Liga MX for Morelia after washing out of Europe. He'll be a player Ecuador will be relying on for a lot of offense.
X Factor: Antonio Valencia is the one name on Ecuador that will be known by most soccer fans and he's got the ability to make Ecuador a very tough team to beat. It will be interesting to see where the versatile player lines up.
How they got here: Came from two goals down to defeat Ukraine in UEFA qualifying playoffs
2010 World Cup: Disastrously crashed out at the group stage failing to win a game.
Best case: France continues their yo-yo World Cup trend and dominates a group that, on paper, they're clearly the best team. The 1998 champions will miss Franck Ribery, but Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba pick up the slack for a France side that strolls to the quarterfinals.
Worst case: A younger French squad fails to gel together, Ribery is badly missed and the in-fighting once again plagues the French team who falls at the group stage for the second straight world cup.
Player to watch: With Franck Ribery out, a French winger named Antoine Griezmann could be set for a big tournament. Having played his whole career at Real Sociedad in Spain, the 23-year-old isn't terribly well known, but he's impressed in the Champions League and has scored three goals in France's World Cup warmup games.
X Factor: He's as streaky of a forward as you'll find, but Karim Benzema will have to be good for France to advance far in the tournament. If he can create his own chances and punish weaker defenses of Honduras and Ecuador, a guy like Benzema could be a dark horse for the golden boot.
How they got here: Finished third in CONCACAF qualifying.
2010 World Cup: Finished with one point in their group and did not score a goal.
Best case: For Honduras, they'll remember the lessons of 2010 and have a better World Cup. That doesn't mean they'll advance from the group, but perhaps they can score a couple goals.
Worst case: Another winless and goalless tournament is very possible for Los Catrachos.
Player to watch: A player that long-time MLS fans will be familiar with, former DC United Homegrown signing Andy Najar has done very well since moving to Anderlecht in Belgium. Still just 21, the winger has a chance to be Honduras' most famous and best player ever.
X Factor: Another former MLS'er, midfielder Roger Espinoza will be key to Honduras' hopes. Having played in the Premier League, Espinoza will not be out of his depth at the World Cup and could earn a move to a bigger team than Wigan with a nice tournament.
How they got here: Won their UEFA qualifying group.
2010 World Cup: Had a respectable 1-1-1 showing including a win over eventual champions Spain, but failed to advance from the group.
Best case: A young and dynamic team has one of their myriad of youthful attacking players step up to another level and Switzerland finds the goals to make them a formidable team in the tournament advancing from the group.
Worst case: Where do the goals come from? There are some very good players on the Switzerland team, but the lack of depth proves consequential and the Swiss simply can't find the goals to beat anyone in the group.
Player to watch: Tiny Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri could be set for a breakout tournament. He's been somewhat hidden by the mass of attacking talent at his Bavarian club side and the World Cup gives him the stage to shine.
X Factor: Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio can be among the best in the world when on the top of his game, but he's fallen off the map a little bit recently with Wolfsburg. Benaglio is a player that could earn Switzerland a result almost single-handedly.
France 1st, Ecuador 2nd, Switzerland 3rd, Honduras 4th
I really think France could be set for a surprisingly good tournament. Rumors have abounded that Ribery's absence may turn out to be a positive for Didier Deschamps' side and I like them to have a relatively easy group stage win.
After that, I'm going to take the South America factor for Ecuador to get them past Switzerland.
What do you think about this one?
2014 World Cup Group D
How they got here: Finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, easily advancing to the World Cup.
2010 World Cup: DNP
Best case: Costa Rica doesn't really have any hope of advancing from the first group in World Cup history with three former champions, so they'll be hoping to nick a famous result against one of the three big teams. A win in this group would be a huge accomplishment for Los Ticos .
Worst case: You can certainly see a scenario where Costa Rica is eliminated from the tournament with three losses and nary a goal scored.
Player to watch: Look out for 21-year-old forward Joel Campbell. The strong and fast forward made his move across the pond at a very young age and has bounced around Europe as he worked towards an English work permit. He now has that permit and could be a big part of Arsenal next year.
X Factor: Costa Rica's one big hope is their world class goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The former Saprissa man took La Liga by storm this season making some jaw-dropping saves this season. At just 27, Navas could be set for a big money move soon.
How they got here: Finished first in their qualifying group one point ahead of Ukraine.
2010 World Cup: Unconvincingly advanced through to the knockout round where they were blown out 4-1 by Germany.
Best case: The Three Lions perhaps have the least pressure coming into a World Cup that we've seen in quite some time and that could play into their advantage. A young team gels together and wins the group setting up a manageable second round matchup against Group C that England wins to advance to the quarterfinal.
Worst case: The experienced England players like Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard fail to pull their weight and England crashes out at the group stage for the first time in this World Cup format.
Player to watch: All the reports out of the England camp have been praising Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling. Similarly to FCD's Fabian Castillo, we've seen flashes of greatness from Sterling and at just 19 years old, this could be his world coming out party.
X Factor: Another Liverpool player, Steven Gerrard will go a long way in dictating how this England team does. If the legendary winger and England captain can conjure up one more world class tournament, England has a great shot at advancing. If he looks like the 34-year-old who was inconsistent for the Reds this year, they're going to have to find answers elsewhere.
How they got here: Easily advanced from their UEFA qualifying group 6 points ahead of second-placed Denmark.
2010 World Cup: Crashed out in the group stage without winning a match.
Best case: Italy typically alternates between good and bad World Cups and they're set for a big one in 2014. This is a tough group, but these Italians are experienced and will know what it takes to advance. If the stars align, a semifinal appearance isn't out of the question.
Worst case: The Italians falter in that first game against England and fail to get a result in a tough final group stage match against Uruguay crashing out at the group stage for the second-straight World Cup.
Player to watch: Italian forward Ciro Immobile is set to explode onto the world stage and the 2014 World Cup could be his tournament. After scoring 22 goals in Serie A last year, Borussia Dortmund came in and snapped up the 24-year-old who scored a hat trick in Italy's 5-3 win over Fluminense.
X Factor: Italian defensive mid Daniele De Rossi will have a huge task shutting down the England and Uruguay offenses. If he can find his form, that will free up Andrea Pirlo to work his magic and Italy will be the favorites to win this group.
How they got here: Struggled to qualify from CONMEBOL, defeating Jordan in the inter-continental playoff.
2010 World Cup: Had their best showing since 1970 advancing all the way to the semifinals before falling to Netherlands.
Best case: Uruguay has the talent to make it back to that semifinal spot of 2010, but it's going to depend on the health of Luis Suarez. If he's fit and ready to go, Uruguay playing in their own back yard can pose problems for any country in the world.
Worst case: If Suarez is unfit to play and talismanic players Diego Lugano and Diego Forlan show their age, this is a good enough group to send Uruguay packing after the group stage.
Player to watch: "El Matador" Edinson Cavani will be the man that Uruguay turns to if Suarez can't find full health and he's got the talent at forward to fill some big shoes. He scored 16 goals in his first season in Serie A with PSG and will be a huge force for Uruguay.
X Factor: We keep mentioning him, but Luis Suarez is as big of an X factor for his side that you'll find in the World Cup. If he's fit and healthy, this small country can do big things in Brazil. If he can't hit form, it's tough to see Uruguay advancing past the round of 16.
Uruguay 1st, Italy 2nd, England 3rd, Costa Rica 4th
It's clearly three teams for two spots in group D and this one is a tough call. I'm fascinated to see how this England side does with a squad that faces no pressure, but I just can't see them getting out.
Put me in the camp that thinks Uruguay might be playing a little bit of possum with Luis Suarez as I feel he's going to be ready to go at least by the second game. They'll have no problem with Costa Rica and should be able to get the 7 points they'll need to win the group.
Let us know what you think in the poll!