1. Montreal is ready for CONCACAF Champions League
Back-to-back defeats in week 20 saw L'Impact stretch its losing run to five consecutive games. Montreal has 14 points from 20 games and a -18 goal difference. It is dead last in MLS and can be counted out of the playoff race.
To get to 50 points, it needs to average 2.57 points per game in its remaining 14 matches. Even to get to the 45-point cut-off suggested last week, it would need 2.21 points per game.
Put another way, Montreal could win its next seven consecutive matches and it would still need to win five of the remaining seven games to reach 50 points. Eight wins and six draws won't be sufficient to get to 45.
So it's best for L'Impact to look for fresh motivation from this season. The regional tournament kicks off for Montreal on August 6, a few days after the club receives a visit from Toronto, the team it beat to win the Canadian Championship and get into CCL.
In CONCACAF Champions League, Montreal will start with games against El Salvador's FAS, barely out of pre-season, and finish with matches against New York Red Bulls, who seem destined to see their playoff ambitions go down to the wire.
Some MLS fans were aghast when D.C. United, last season's worst team in the league, qualified for CCL. Those fans may find their delicate sensibilities shaken once more, because this year's worst team has little else to concentrate on than getting itself into the CCL quarterfinals, and its opponents in that regard may lack the same focus.
2. Oscar Pareja is still working magic in Dallas
The scale of FCD's injury problems was highlighted at half-time of this week's Vancouver-Dallas match-up. The visitors were winning, despite giving up a lot of possession and chances to the Caps. For the start of the second half, the five-man back line FCD had deployed for the opening 45 was broken up, with Matt Hedges - the team's best center back this year - removed in favor of Mauro Diaz, an attacking midfielder.
Huh? No, Oscar Pareja hadn't suddenly decided attack was his best form of defense. Hedges was injured, and the team's bench comprised five midfielders, a forward and a goalkeeper. Pareja simply went for the best player available to him, and hoped for the best.
FCD did give up an equalizer, but clung on for the point on the road. Not only has Pareja navigated an injury blight on his squad that won't let up (Andres Escobar pulled up lame just after turning his best performance yet for FCD) and guided his team out of the two-points-and-zero-wins eight-game freefall that threatened to wreck another year in Dallas, he's got his side into mid-season with some momentum.
FCD is now six games unbeaten. In August, the team will play Philly for a spot in the US Open Cup final, as well as playing two Western Conference playoff rivals at home (Colorado and RSL), and three probable also-rans on the road (Chivas USA, San Jose and Chicago).
The last two months of Dallas's season will be spent playing teams that currently consider themselves Western Conference playoff contenders. Pareja's magic has been to take his team out of a slump and back into solid contention for the post-season during an injury crisis (much like he did with Colorado last year).
August doesn't seem likely to bring any relief on the injury front, but it does offer Pareja the chance to consolidate his team's position. FCD no longer needs points from every game it plays - which was the position it was slumping toward earlier this year - but it has shown it can get points against the sort of fair-to-middling opponents that are the bulk of MLS. And those are exactly the sort of opponents (RSL notwithstanding) FCD will face over the next month.
3. Keep an eye on Columbus
It's not just the fact the Crew has won its last two games - this week's 2-1 road win over the Revolution having been preceded by a 2-1 home win over Montreal - but that its schedule now delivers four out of six games at home. And the two road games are against Chicago and L'Impact, two of the least-winning teams in MLS.
And the Crew's remaining games include just one team that might be regarded as among the best in the league in 2014: LA Galaxy will visit on August 16. Furthermore, only two of their remaining opponents - LA and Toronto - currently have more points than Columbus.
This team might have regained its form at just the right time to not just secure its playoff place but perhaps also grab a better-than-expected position in the final Eastern Conference standings.
4. Sporting Kansas City has at least made the Shield race interesting for another month
Let us not kid ourselves: the Sounders are still running away with the Shield. Seattle has three games in hand over KC, and is four points ahead of the next closest team in the standings, D.C. United.
But KC's extraordinary ability to grind out results (finding a winner in Toronto after having Matt Besler sent off was impressive) has at least extended the regular season title race for another month. Between July 28 and August 30, Seattle will play seven MLS games - and eight overall, since it has US Open Cup to address also. KC, by contrast, has just five games to play (in the league; there is also a CCL match on the calendar) in that time, and four of them will be at home (the Sounders August schedule is more balanced).
No team in the league - not even Seattle - is as hot as KC right now: four straight wins; six victories in its last seven matches.
Even with CCL, KC will play two games fewer than Seattle in August. Both teams have had to deal with injuries and absences so far this season, and their records show they have the depth to figure things out. So fixture congestion may not be such a big deal for either squad.
The Sounders need to reassert their lead at the top of the standings, and August will see them burn two of their games in hand over KC. If the two teams are still close by the end of August, and/or DC has proven itself capable of keeping pace, we'll have a true race on our hands heading into September.
5. Jack Jewsbury joins the 300 club
Jewsbury became just the 26th player in the history of MLS to appear in 300 regular season games when he started (and finished) Portland's 3-2 win in Montreal this week. He should be joined by Justin Mapp later this year, since the Impact regular is just seven appearances short of his 300th game.
Jewsbury's achievement is significant: only eight (nine if you include Colorado's Brian Mullan, who is yet to play for the Rapids this year) of the players in MLS's 300 club are still active. But Jewsbury's achievement is also significant for being perhaps one of the last occasions we truly regard the 300-appearance mark as sign of extraordinary longevity in the league.
Mapp should become the 27th member of the 300 club sometime in September. After him, there are more than 10 players who could reach 300 regular season appearances by the end of the 2015 season. It will always be a remarkable achievement, since it generally correlates to a decade or so in the league, but it won't be so remarkable once it starts inducting new members at an increasingly steady rate.
In 2015, however, we can anticipate Nick Rimando will join Kevin Hartman in MLS's 400 club. And the 2016 season should see that club expand - since Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis and Landon Donovan can all reasonably hope to still be regular starters for their teams over the next two and a half years.
Jewsbury is 33. It would appear unlikely he'll hang around as a starter in MLS for another 100 regular season games. But he represents the tail-end of a generation of players for whom 300+ MLS appearances was truly extraordinary.
Unless there is a reduction in the number of league games per season (and some are arguing MLS should drop its schedule to a 28-game season), the next generation will need to hit 400 appearances to be considered in the same class as the likes of Jack Jewsbury.