FRISCO - We're down to seven.
That many games stand between FC Dallas and a possible return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. As the team returns from its first stretch of several days off this season, the mindset shifts to what is left on the table for 2018.
"It’s important to recharge the batteries to get new energy because it’s going to be a tough end of the season," defender Reto Ziegler said after the team's first training session this week. "We want to be at the first place at the end of the season before the playoffs, so it’s going to be tough. We need energy and thats why I think it was good to have a few days off.”
As it stands in early September, Dallas maintains a three-point lead on the rest of the Western Conference, however, unlike the leaders in the East with some 25 points between them and the playoff line, the top eight in the West are neck-in-neck for the six postseason berths available.
"We’re always pushing for that top spot and we still have a shot at the Supporters' Shield, so we’re looking for that as well," Reggie Cannon said of the home stretch. "I think the team is going to look for the last seven games to really grind out those three points. We’re still on top of the West, so we just have to learn to close out those away games and I think the team will be in a very good spot in playoffs.”
Looking at those seven remaining games, FCD's final opponents are nearly all in a playoff push of their own. With each passing week, the stakes will get higher and higher:
- Sept. 15 vs. CLB: Crew SC is riding high with 13 points in their last six matches as they fight to reach the upper echelon of the East. Currently in fourth with 43 points, Columbus is almost out of the conversation around the competition for the final few spots, but still has work to secure the postseason. It's a long shot to earn a Knockout Round bye, but first and foremost the Crew are looking to hold on to at least home-field advantage in a potential mid-week playoff opener.
- Sept. 23 at VAN: The Whitecaps are now unbeaten in six to find themselves knocking at the door of the West's sixth seed. Currently they're one point back of the Timbers and Sounders as the Cascadian teams will duke it out for what could be two playoff spots. RSL is trying to maintain ground as the Sounders charge up the conference, while the Galaxy need to veer out of their six-game winless skid to keep from falling out of the race. Regardless, Vancouver has to take every point possible at home for their own hopes, including a late-September match against FCD.
- Sept. 29 at POR: Dallas returns to Cascadia just six days later to face a Portland team also trying to extend its season. A four-game losing streak in August has the once-soaring Timbers now in a battle, like Vancouver, for the postseason. For the second time in a week, Dallas will travel to an opponent leaving it all on the field.
- Oct. 6 vs. ORL: The penultimate home game of the regular season is going to be a must-win for FCD against an Orlando team that currently has just one win since May 6. With three games leading up to the match against teams in need of every point, Dallas can't overlook the Lions because you never know what can happen in MLS - look no further than the two games agains the worst team in the league. But knowing the company this game keeps on the remaining schedule, the points at home are a must.
- Oct. 13 at DC: Brand-new Audi Field has been a spark to DC United's playoff hopes, posting a 6-2-0 in the District since it opened in mid-July. A 1-9-5 road record in 2018 has DC needing every win at home to continue its push up the East table. Sitting six points out with nine games to play means come mid-October, and any slight misstep could spell the end of a dream opening season for the new grounds.
- Oct. 21 vs. SKC: Pomp and circumstance will be surrounding perhaps one of the biggest matches of the season, with Hall of Fame Opening Weekend culminating with #FCDvSKC. Kansas City, like Dallas, will be hoping to finalize a playoff bid and potentially set their sights on a top-two finish and a Knockout Round bye. Sporting is one point back of LAFC for second place, but with a game in-hand, it could once again be the top two teams in the conference going toe-to-toe for the third meeting of the year across all competitions.
- Oct. 28 at COL: Dallas ends the regular season in the Rockies and while on the surface it might not seem to be an important on-field matchup, it's one that has big implications for both sides. FCD could be in search of whatever points possible in the final positioning for the postseason, but it's also a last-ditch effort to secure the best possible pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. The clubs swapped first-round selections in the Kellyn Acosta-Dominique Badji trade and handing the Rapids a loss on the final day just might be the difference in drafting order for Dallas. On the other side, it'll be the very first time either player faces his former team and for Acosta it means the club he spent 10 years with in total. There's no doubt he and Badji would like nothing better than to take the points from their friends across the pitch.