FRISCO - Don't be surprised if Saturday's regular season finale between FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers feels like a playoff game; there's going to be a lot on the line for both clubs.
It's a do-or-die game for Portland. A win or a tie would (at least temporarily) move them above the thin red line in the Western Conference ahead of Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Timbers would then need Vancouver to stumble against the Colorado Rapids later that night in order to hold onto the final playoff spot, but a Portland loss in Dallas would end the club's postseason hopes immediately.
"We’re going to be playing against a team that’s motivated," said veteran midfielder Adam Moffat of this weekend's match. "Portland’s only chance is to come here and go for the three points, nothing else will do for them."
Things aren't quite as dire for FCD. Oscar Pareja's club clinched a playoff berth two weeks ago, but the team is still fighting for final seeding.
As things stand now, FC Dallas would have to win a single elimination wild card game on Wednesday, Oct. 29 in order to advance to the Western Conference semifinals next weekend (Nov. 1 or Nov. 2).
Playing three games in eight days is fairly common in Major League Soccer, but it's not an ideal way to start the postseason. Especially when you consider that FCD could jump up to third in the West with a win over the Timbers on Saturday, thus avoiding the wild card game and getting a full week to prepare for the semifinals.
"It’s going to be a big game for us," said team captain Matt Hedges. "We’re getting ready for the playoffs and we want to be in that three spot, so we have to get three points and we have to play well."
And the players are excited to get a taste of playoff intensity before the real thing starts next week. Only six players on FC Dallas' active roster have MLS Cup playoff experience, so a match with something more than just three points on the line for both sides could serve as a postseason simulator for the club.
"A lot of our boys haven’t played in any playoff games, so they’re going to know [after this weekend] it will be intense," said Moffat, who boasts the most playoff experience on the squad with 21 matches under his belt. "It’s always good when there’s something at stake in a game."
For players like Hedges, who was drafted after FCD's last playoff appearance in 2011, getting a sample of the postseason atmosphere will be invaluable.
"Everybody’s got something to play for [in this game]," said Hedges. "I think it’ll be a good foreshadowing of what the playoffs will be like."