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Every step counts as playoffs near


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

Thanks to the exploits of Player of the Week Brad Davis, the Houston Dynamo rediscovered their offense and won for the first time since Aug. 9. The victory, combined with the Columbus Crew's tie in Chicago, allowed the Texas team to draw even with the Crew on 43 points in the race for Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield. With two games in hand, the latter club -- which won the honor last season -- remains in pole position, but don't sleep on the Los Angeles Galaxy, especially if Landon Donovan and a rejuvenated DavidBeckham can coax their squad to a win this weekend in Columbus. (On the other hand, if Robert Warzycha's club earns three points against the Galaxy, the Shield is essentially theirs.)

In five seasons since 1996, the winner of the Supporters' Shield has also raised the MLS Cup, but last season's Crew team was the first squad to do it since 2002. The reason for this is simple: While the Supporters' Shield prizes consistency throughout the entire season, the playoff structure rewards those who are playing well in October. (Hello, 2008 New York Red Bulls.) Also, don't discount the tired legs of teams pulling double-duty in the CONCACAF Champions League. With this year's smaller rosters, extra matches late in the season are sure to wear players down. Don't be surprised to see squads with a single focus, such as L.A. or the Colorado Rapids, surprise pundits in the postseason.

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It's getting to the time of year when one misstep can ruin a team's postseason chances. The week kicks off on Wednesday night, when a Rapids side that's sitting in the middle of the playoff pack hosts the San Jose Earthquakes, who are firmly lodged in the Western Conference cellar. The schedule picks up on Saturday with the Galaxy-Crew tilt, as well as a Sounders-New England Revolution fixture ripe with postseason implications. The Rapids double up with a trip to Kansas City, while Toronto FC needs three points from their battle with the Fire in Chicago if they want to keep this year's remaining matches meaningful. Chivas USA, still in line for a playoff birth despite recent struggles, gets a lay-up with New York, flying across the country to the Home Depot Center.