Complicated and confusing

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Welcome to Major League Soccer -- the home of the most confusing, multi-possible-outcome playoff race in sports history.

Columbus, Los Angeles, Houston, Chivas USA, and Seattle all have punched their playoff tickets. Leaving three spots for seven teams, heading into next weekend's final games of the season: Chicago, Colorado, Toronto FC, New England, DC United, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.

The race couldn't be closer. And the possibilities couldn't be more vast or complex.

Before we attempt to break down Toronto FC's chances of playoff qualification, it has to be said it's a shame Major League Soccer didn't have the foresight to schedule the final games of the season at the same time to avoid scoreboard watching, posturing and playing for a result rather than a win.

The games being slated for different times on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday not only is unfair but lacks the drama of other leagues around the world where games are played simultaneously.

That being said, this race is quite compelling.

The one team out of the seven seemingly a shoo-in for a playoff spot is Chicago. The only way Chicago doesn't make the playoffs is if TFC, New England and DC United all win and it loses. A point Thursday at home against Chivas USA is sufficient to qualify.

The games on the weekend determining who is in and who is out:

* Saturday -- Toronto FC at New York, 7:30 p.m.; DC United at Kansas City 8:30 p.m.; Colorado at Real Salt Lake 9 p.m.; FC Dallas at Seattle,10:30 p.m.

* Sunday -- New England at Columbus, 5 p.m.

On the playoff bubble:

Chicago, sixth place, 42 points; Colorado, seven, 40; TFC, eighth, 39 New England, ninth, 39; DC 10th, 39; FC Dallas, 11th, 39; RSL, 12th, 37.

According to Major League Soccer's website, in the case of a tiebreaker, the highest position shall be awarded to the team with the better win/loss record in current regular-season games against all other teams equal in points (head-to-head competition).

The tiebreakers following head-to-head is season goal- differential, followed by goals scored.

TFC sits eighth because it wins head-to-head tie-breakers against DC United and New England, while DC United wins the tiebreaker against Dallas, but not New England. In a four-way tiebreaker between those particular teams, TFC comes out on top.

Things get even more complicated if other teams enter the tiebreaking fold.

TFC loses direct head-to-head tiebreakers against Chicago and Dallas, while it would lose in a further tiebreaker against Colorado and Real Salt Lake based on a worse goal differential. The only team with a worse goal differential than TFC's minus-4 is New England at minus-5.

If TFC wins, the combination that would keep it out of the playoffs would be a Colorado win and a Dallas win. If DC wins, too, TFC is out. But if New England wins, as well, TFC makes the playoffs.

In any tiebreakerer involving Dallas, TFC will need both DC and New England also to be level on points.

Although a Colorado loss or tie helps, it doesn't guarantee anything pending Dallas getting a result.

So TFC fans, Dallas essentially is the bad guy, New England is good, and DC United is a bit of both.

It's still confusing if TFC ties. If any one of the teams below it wins and TFC ties, it will not make the playoffs. If all teams below it lose, but DC ties, TFC qualifies. Same goes if just New England ties, TFC is in. If all teams below lose but Real Salt Lake wins, TFC is out based on head-to-head.

A loss gets TFC in only if all of the teams below it lose, as well.

Your head spinning yet? There is a bizarre, and extremely unlikely, chance that six teams finish on 40 points, if TFC, DC United, New England and Dallas all tie and Real Salt Lake beats Colorado. That situation can't be determined by a simple head-to-head tiebreaker because some teams played each other three times, while others met just twice.

The league could not be reached for clarification. But it would seem logical that either goal-differential or goals scored would be used, both playing against TFC's chances.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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