1. Keep an eye on Real Salt Lake
The reason to keep an eye on RSL is that the rest of its run-in is against terrible teams: Vancouver (one win in its last seven games), San Jose (winless in nine matches), Portland (five wins in its last 10 games, but the wins were over Colorado, Montreal, Chivas and twice against the Whitecaps), and Chivas USA (lost 10 of the last 11; RSL gets to play the Goats twice more this year).
Even allowing for RSL's dismal road form - the team hasn't won away from home since May - that is a very winnable set of games. And if the club wins out, adding 15 points to its current total, it will finish the year with 64 points: which might not be enough to win the Shield, but could be sufficient to bounce Seattle or LA down to second place in the Western Conference, if either suffers a dip in form.
The Shield is very much a two-horse race between Seattle and LA, who look increasingly likely to take the contest out of reach of all but each other. But if you're searching for a dark horse candidate, keep an eye on RSL: if the team keeps winning and the front-runners start losing, it will be in the Shield conversation by the time the Sounders and the Galaxy square off against each other for their last two games of the regular season.
2. Tying the record for ties is the best way to be MLS's king of ties
It is to be hoped the Fire stops there. Tying your own (tied) record for ties is clearly the best way to establish your credentials as the tie king of MLS.
Chicago has six games left to play this season. It still has a (remote) mathematical chance of making the playoffs. The record for ties ought to remain tied, so here's hoping the Fire spends the rest of the season savoring the forgotten pleasures of the binary outcome. Win or lose, Chicago, but leave that tie record exactly as it is - it's perfect.
3. Set Western Conference playoff qualification at 46 points
The fact Vancouver has won just once in its last seven games and is still in the Western Conference playoff race says everything that is required about the contest for fifth-place in the West: it involves some dreadful teams.
The Timbers beat the Caps 3-0 this week, just as they had done when the teams last met in August. Somehow, Vancouver is only two points behind a team that has taken six points from it in the last month.
In principle, given the general importance of home advantage in MLS (seven of nine home teams won this week; the other two drew), one ought to have Vancouver as favorites to edge out Portland for the last playoff spot in the West. The Caps have three home games remaining; the Timbers only have two. And Portland still has a couple of CONCACAF Champions League games to get through.
But Vancouver's next two home games are against RSL and FC Dallas, two of the better teams in the league, not just the West.
Portland, on the other hand, has won more matches on the road (five) than it has at home (four) this season, and will be traveling to play two of the more fragile teams in MLS this year: Toronto and San Jose.
It would not be surprising if the Timbers emerge from their two-game road trip with more points than the Caps take from their two-game home stand.
For now, let's set the points total expectation for the last qualifying spot in the West at 46 points. Portland will only need 1.4 points per game to reach that total, which is less than the usual 1.5 ppg assumption used to set these targets. But the Timbers only need to outpace Vancouver (assume Colorado, San Jose and Chivas USA are all treading water until the end of the season) - and a below-average set of results over the last five games should be sufficient to keep Portland above the red line.
4. The Eastern Conference playoffs could be upside down
Over their last eight games, the leading teams in the Eastern Conference have accumulated points at a rate of 1.38 ppg (DCU) and 0.88 ppg (KC) respectively,
Conversely, the teams comprising the East's also-rans - currently occupying third through sixth in the Conference - have been on a tear. The Revs lost this week, which slowed their roll to 2.0 ppg over their last eight games; the Red Bulls beat Seattle and are also averaging 2.0 ppg over their past eight matches; the Crew's eight-game average is 1.75 ppg; the Union's average is 1.88 ppg.
Assuming DC and KC don't suffer a complete collapse through the end of the season, and even if they win the majority of their remaining games, they will likely be sitting ahead of three teams in terrifying form - since that is increasingly looking like what it will take for these clubs (New England, RBNY,Columbus, and Philly) to shake off whichever one of the four is not going to make the playoffs. (And if Toronto, Houston or Chicago manage to force their way into the mix, they too will be winning at an impressive rate.)
The form teams in the East could well be the lower seeds in the playoffs.
5. Nick Rimando has played more MLS regular season minutes than anyone except Kevin Hartman
Rimando is still nine games behind Steve Ralston on the league's all-time regular season games-played list, and he's 49 games behind Kevin Hartman - so it will be next season before he jumps to second on the MLS career appearances chart, and at least the season after when he overtakes Hartman (assuming a premature retirement is not in his future).
But Rimando did overtake Ralston on the regular season minutes played list. In terms of time spent playing in MLS - 33,183 minutes as of the end of Week 28 of the 2014 season - he is now second only to Kevin Hartman (37,260).