Before the game against Seattle, I said that the Seattle-Dallas-SJ three game set would be the most important three of the season for Colorado. I said three wins would basically guarantee a playoff berth, three losses would basically knock us out, and any other combination would depend. Well, we're over that stretch and got four points out of it so lets see if the Rapids playoff hopes are alive and well using the schedule that remains.
There are twelve games remaining on the docket - that's just under three full months worth of games - for Colorado in the 2010 MLS schedule. Here's what they need to do if they want to finally get into the playoffs and try for that elusive MLS Cup; Real Salt Lake proved last season that all you really need to win the cup is to show up! (Having a team that isn't totally dysfunctional helps, but baby steps here.)
First of all, we have to point out that the first four spots of the playoffs - I'm talking division leaders - might as well be set in stone by this point. Columbus and New York in the East, Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake in the West. Toronto could make a run and overcome New York, but I think the Red Bulls are way too strong a team to falter like that. So this article will be assuming that the Rapids will be battling for one of the remaining "top 4 elsewhere" playoff spots available.
Last season the Rapids barely missed the playoffs with 40 points and a 10-10-10 record. Real Salt Lake wound up getting in with the same point total but better goal differential. On that note we'll assume that the Rapids will need a minimum of 42 points to get into the playoffs this season. If they started today, they would actually be the final seed to get in with their 27 points, copying last year as five teams from the West would make it in, as only three East teams have better records than Colorado. Let's see if we can get to that 42 points in the remaining games.
The games that remain for the Rapids break down like this:
* Six home games
* Six away games
* Six Western conference games
* Six Eastern conference games
* Six games against Contenders*
* Six "gimme" games*
As you can see, dead even on every front. Six of just about every category I can think of here. Frankly, the scheduling is fairly kind for the Rapids at the end of the season I think. The Rapids never have a road trip of more than two games and get shots at a bunch of weaker teams down the stretch and will also have plenty of chances to beat their Western rivals along the way as well. Whether or not that's a good thing is a wash. On one hand they can make their own destiny, on the other hand losses to Western teams could be killer. The thing that it looks like to me is that there will be at least six games that will be very winnable for the Rapids in one way or another.
So with the win against San Jose, what are the chances they make the playoffs? Here's three situations that will make it easy to see that the win against San Jose will be the final push to get the Rapids chances up.
Situation 1 (The "Rapids turn into Manchester United" situation): Let's assume they win all the "Gimme" games that I put up there; the Rapids end up with 18 more points from those games, for a total of 45. No draws, all wins. That right there is an automatic playoff berth, pretty much. Even a couple of draws and wins among the remaining six games would be enough to push their chances from in to "higher seed" in.
Situation 2 (The "Rapids play like they did all July" situation): Let's say the Rapids draw every single game from now on except for two. So 10 draws and two wins. That's STILL 43 points right there. Even substituting losses for three of the draws gets us 40 points, which is enough to sneak in as the last playoff seed most years... last year being the best example obviously. (No, I'm not bitter at all!)
Situation 3 (The "Situation" Situation): Lets say the Rapids split their final 12 games right down the middle, and go 4-4-4. That's also 43 points, easy money.
Basically, the Rapids need four more wins minimum to make the playoffs as long as they can keep their tendency to fight out tie games going. Can this team do it? I think they can. So that's my prediction after the hard-fought win at home against San Jose. The Rapids WILL make the playoffs this season.
*By "Contender" I mean everyone that I think has a legitimate shot of making the playoffs. In this case, everyone except for Philadelphia, New England, DC United, Houston and Chivas USA. Games against those five teams were labeled the "Gimme" games. Talk about parity in the league, I was surprised that only five seemed out of it to me!