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As stars prepare for Azteca, MLS playoff race heats up stateside


Our weekly dose of Major League Soccer quick takes, plotlines to watch and Power Rankings.

On Wednesday afternoon, the United States Men's National Team will play Mexico at Estadio Azteca in a vital 2010 World Cup qualifying match for both squads. While eight players from Major League Soccer -- Jonathan Bornstein, Chad Marshall, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Conor Casey, Brian Ching and Landon Donovan from the U.S., as well as Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco -- will represent their countries, few club teams will be affected.

For one, Bornstein, Marshall, Holden and Casey aren't likely to figure in the proceedings, and because it's a mid-week fixture (and the U.S. is departing immediately after the match), everyone should return in time for the weekend. Whether their club mangers choose to play them is another story entirely.

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It's never too early to start talking about the playoffs. With Major League Soccer's new format, the top two teams from each division qualify as well as those with the next four highest point totals. A quick look at the standings shows that New York is the only team essentially eliminated, although San Jose, FC Dallas, and Kansas City can ill afford to drop any more points, and early season darling Chivas USA needs to find itself quickly as Preki's side plummets down the standings.

Even the Houston Dynamo, who sit seven points clear of their nearest competition in the Western Conference, can't be considered safe after having played two more matches than any other squad. Every slot is up for grabs.

After a summer filled with friendlies against some of the best clubs in the world, MLS squads get a week filled solely with league action. In the match of the week, Seattle travels to L.A. to battle the red-hot Galaxy, a team that's earned 16 points in its last six matches. The Galaxy now sit in second place in the Western Conference, but the Sounders could leap-frog David Beckham and his mates with a win.

On the other side of the country, Chivas could get the salve it desperately needs with a trip to New York, while FC Dallas will look to continue a solid run against a Columbus Crew team that's been unbeatable of late.