Colorado and Toronto FC battle Saturday at BMO season Major League Soccer match.
Although the defending MLS Cup champion Rapids are comfortably in a wild-card berth for the postseason, nothing is guaranteed down the stretch with Toronto among seven teams currently outside the top 10 that are still alive.
Even Vancouver Whitecaps FC, which has the worst mark in MLS, is just 12 back of current 10th-place side D.C. United. Although that deficit will be hard to overcome, for teams like Toronto, the gap is just seven points.
TFC (5-12-12) started its push toward the postseason last week with its first win over the Columbus Crew, 4-2, and if it can maintain a perfect home mark in the series with Colorado, the playoffs would seem more realistic.
Aron Winter's squad cannot just look at last week's win over Columbus for some motivation, because Mexican side Pumas rolled to a 4-0 win midweek. That match put things back in perspective for Toronto, which is still a work in progess.
But Toronto has posted four of its five wins at home this year, and has beaten Colorado in all four previous meetings in Canada. Another win this weekend and TFC could build some momentum for the stretch run.
Although Danny Koevermans returned to MLS action last week, Joao Plata will be out with a hamstring injury. "It should be three weeks and maybe he can play," Winter said about Plata, who has three goals and five assists.
At least Koevermans, a designated player added midseason, is an option again, and with a team-high four goals this season in limited action, Toronto needs him on the field.
He scored against Columbus in his first appearance since Aug. 13, and because TFC goalie Stefan Frei is uncertain with a bruised thigh, his importance will only be magnified.
Colorado (10-8-11) has struggled to stay in top form this season, but after a run through the playoffs last year, when it just managed to qualify, will keep the club positive down the stretch.
Macoumba Kandji made his first start of the season after tearing his ACL last year in the Cup final, a 2-1 overtime win over FC Dallas, and provides another nice option late in the season.
Although he was taken off in the first half of last week's 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, coach Gary Smith will certainly find a role for him.
Colorado's problem is success on the road, where it has five wins this season. After a 4-1 defeat to Mexico's Santos in the Champions League, the Rapids also need to rebound.
The Rapids are on a three-match league losing streak as well, but remain fifth in the Western Conference and eight points clear of Red Bull New York and the Portland Timbers - who both enter the weekend eight points back tied for 11th.
Although Colorado is in a tough stretch, captain Pablo Mastroeni admitted the club just has to learn from all of its games, get things together late in the season, qualify for the playoffs, and put itself in position for another run.
"It's definitely a game that we need to reflect upon and continue work toward the type of form to make a run toward the playoffs," Mastroeni said after the loss to Los Angeles last week.