Steve Davis
Friday September 10th, 2010

Major League Soccer's playoff race reveals itself just a little more each week. Here are 10 relevant numbers to consider while teams play out Round 24 this weekend:

The number to consider: 1

That's the number of points earned for ties. And for several teams, that's just not good enough anymore. Shake it all out and here's where it lands: Five sides at the top are sitting pretty. D.C. United won't get there. New England, Houston and Chivas USA are hanging on by the slimmest of threads. The rest are playing high-stakes musical chairs, which means realistically seven teams have eyes on three remaining berths. And for them, earning one measly point, especially while playing at home, just won't cut it. We're talking to you, Chicago. The Fire blew a couple of big chances Wednesday, including a tantalizing Freddie Ljungberg breakaway, in a 0-0 draw against fellow playoff chaser Toronto. Seattle could manage no better than a scoreless draw at home against Real Salt Lake on Thursday. Again, it's about "Ws," people.

Number to consider: 3

That's the number of FC Dallas center backs struggling at the moment, a terrible turn for a side that seemed well-stocked at the position for 2010. Ugo Ihemelu and the rising George John were in lead roles while former U.S. under-20 Captain Kyle Davies waited in reserve. Now Ihemelu is struggling with concussion recovery, John has been nipped by a hamstring problem (something bothersome to him last year) and Davies can't seem to get fit enough to get back on the coaches' radar. So, that club-record 13-game unbeaten run will get a big test this weekend in San Jose, where the Earthquakes will be desperate to exploit the visitors' sudden back-line vulnerability.

The number to consider: 7

That's the number of games started so far for Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who could be making a late push for Rookie of the Year. The fourth-round draft pick has looked wise and able beyond his years 21 years. He manages his box with confidence, makes the occasional game-changing save (like turning away Landon Donovan's penalty kick last week) and hasn't experienced any of the oopsies we've seen from other young men guarding MLS goals. But Johnson will force Rookie of the Year voters to make a tough call: Assuming he starts the rest of the way, Johnson's body of work would include 16 games. In past years that might have been enough. But Omar Gonzalez last year and guys like the Red Bulls' Tim Ream this year, starters from beginning to end of the season, may have raised the bar higher.

Number to consider: 12

That's how many penalty kicks Donovan had successfully converted in MLS before last week's failure to connect in Chicago. The streak goes back to 2007. (He did miss a tiebreaker attempt during last year's MLS Cup final but has been perfect on spot shots in that time during matches.) Donovan has three goals and two assists since July 4, which is when things began to spiral so curiously for the Galaxy. And he continues to put himself in good positions to score. So there doesn't seem to be a fatigue/overuse factor at work. But let's keep watching.

The number to consider: 13

That's how many games Seattle will play over 45 days (beginning with Thursday's draw at Qwest Field against Real Salt Lake). That's one contest every 3.5 days for Sigi Schmid's side, a heck of a haul that includes trips into Mexico and Costa Rica as well as the important title U.S. Open Cup title defense. Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Toronto have it rough, too, but none so bad as the Sounders. Which is why the team's upcoming money grab makes zero sense; the Sounders have stacked a friendly against Mexico's Chivas on top of the slog from games in MLS, the CONCACAF Champions League and the Open Cup final. The tax of it all is almost certain to reduce the Sounders' playoff chances.

The number to consider: 17

That's the number of combined goals from Colorado's Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, the league's hottest striker tandem at the moment. They have five in the last two weeks but face a stiffer test this week while visiting Red Bull Arena.

The number to consider: 19

That's the number of starts this year for third-year Columbus center back Andy Iro, tops among all defenders around Crew Stadium. The Liverpool-born man's pro career got off to a sluggish launch. He started just 19 times in his first two years, a light load for the sixth-overall draft pick in 2008. Chad Marshall gets more pub, as he's having yet another great season for the Crew. But Iro has quietly put together a solid season too.

The number to consider: 23

That's the number of games started this year by Ream, the Red Bulls surprisingly effective, formerly anonymous rookie center back. That's all of them, by the way, as he is yet to miss a match. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said last week that he's aware of the so-called "rookie wall," where first-year men unaccustomed to an extended grind suddenly wear down. So he's watching closely. "It looks like Ream can handle this," Backe said by phone last week. "You can't be sure, but when I look at every session, every game so far, I have the feeling he can cope with it."

The number to consider: 24

That's how many games three-high priced figures around Toyota Park, Collins John, Ljungberg and Nery Castillo, have played collectively this year for the Fire. The net-out is an uninspiring three goals and three assists. Castillo is still working into shape and Ljungberg only recently made the scene. Still, that's a lot of dough for precious little show. Let's keep watching.

The number to consider: 181

That's how many days, by Saturday, it will have been since David Beckham last played in a real match. He crumbled on March 14 during an AC Milan match. The 35-year-old midfielder is eligible to play Saturday as the Galaxy hosts Eastern Conference-leading Columbus. But will he? The former England captain managed 45 minutes in a practice match Wednesday against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center. Afterward, L.A. coach Bruce Arena pooh-poohed Beckham's chances of action Saturday -- but didn't rule it out completely.

Top matches from the weekend ahead:

New England at Chivas USA (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET): The Revs' chances of extending their prized streak of playoff appearances to a ninth consecutive season aren't dead -- but they're looking pretty haggard. Shalrie Joseph and Co. would need to win all three remaining home games and probably another three (out of five remaining) on the road just for a chance. Put it all together and here's the bottom line: Friday's game at Chivas USA is an absolute gotta-have for New England, a side with a meager 1-8-1 record away from Gillette this year. Chivas USA hasn't lost all playoff hope, threadbare as it may be. So Martin Vasquez's men see this as a chance to extend their relevance in the race, too.

D.C. United at Toronto (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET): Toronto is another side that just can't get it done on the road in 2010, although Preki's side has looked better over its last two outings as visitors. So, if there's going to be playoff soccer at BMO Field this year, TFC absolutely must win at home and can afford nothing less than all three points Saturday against hapless D.C. United. The Canadians have no time to feel sorry for themselves for the two handballs (unseen or at least uncalled) that could have been massive in a midweek draw in Chicago.

Colorado at New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET): You get a feeling there is a breakout game loitering out there somewhere for Thierry Henry, who has struck just once since his Red Bull arrival. Colorado's defense has been respectable all year and especially strong lately, with the underrated Drew Moor in good form and Pablo Mastroeni looking lively in his screening role. Still, that Henry breakout game is surely out there. Isn't it?

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