With the Western Conference playoff picture still incredibly hazy, every game this weekend is going to impact things in some way. And with FC Dallas' playoff lives on the line and the Seattle Sounders needing a win in order to pull ahead of Real Salt Lake for second place in the standings, there's none bigger than the one that will be taking place at CenturyLink Field this evening. And though the outcome of the earlier games could very well change the importance of a win for either side, a win for Portland in Vancouver or the Galaxy in San Jose would make this game the most important of the weekend.
The Sounders will be clear favorites by virtue of home field advantage and their superior record, but FC Dallas is far from a pushover. The visitors have dealt with some serious injury problems and long stretches of under-performance have been their undoing, but they are a talented enough side to not only beat but embarrass any team in the league on any given day. Unfortunately for FC Dallas, the injury struggles aren't a thing of the past; Jackson, Brek Shea and George John are all listed as questionable, and though all three should be expected to play if at all possible, they are likely to be less effective than when at full strength. Julian de Guzman is out due to yellow card accumulation, and an FC Dallas midfield without de Guzman, Shea and Jackson would be a very different (and considerably less effective) look for the visitors.
The Sounders have some issues of their own; Leo Gonzalez and Patrick Ianni are both expected to be unavailable and Zach Scott will be serving a one-game suspension for his sending off on Wednesday. Adam Johannson and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are back in the fold after missing the Real Salt Lake game so the Sounders starting defense shouldn't be too compromised, but an injury or red card could lead to yet another patchwork back line. The Sounders will have Eddie Johnson at their disposal, meaning that the midfield and attack will be at full strength. There will of course be one other very conspicuous absence for Seattle as well, with Sigi Schmid serving a one-game suspension for his comments regarding referee Ricardo Salazar at half time of Wednesday's game. Assistant Brian Schmetzer will take over coaching duties in Schmid's absence.
Ultimately, the significance of this game will be determined by results elsewhere. FC Dallas could line up for kickoff fully aware that they are playing for pride alone, while the Sounders could begin play knowing that a win would put them out of the LA Galaxy's reach. But in any event, Seattle will be after three points, as second place in the final standings brings with it a better chance of CONCACAF Champions League qualification, home-field advantage in the conference semifinal, and a better crack at hosting the MLS Cup final should they advance that far. Perhaps most importantly, the Sounders have been playing quite well in October after a horrendous September. Given the way the playoffs have gone these past three seasons, building some positive momentum heading into the post-season would be a very welcome change.