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Handicapping MLS' playoff race

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

The racing form for Major League Soccer's playoff chase not only has been torn up in the last few weeks but also has been trodden on and generally treated like a piece of garbage.

The late-season drama in this pursuit of the postseason has produced fascinating subplots, last-minute heroics and a remarkable revival, setting up a final week filled with more permutations than you can shake a calculator at.

Last weekend's round of games got rid of one playoff hopeful in the Columbus Crew (despite an impressive victory over the New England Revolution) and tightened the rest of the pack in the battle for the seventh and eighth spots.

HOW FINAL WEEK WILL PLAY OUT
New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy, Thursday, 11 p.m. ET. This is the game that could set it all up for the final weekend. The Galaxy would be eliminated with a loss, but a victory keeps destiny in their own hands. Frank Yallop's team is high on confidence and should have more motivation than the Red Bulls, who already have qualified for the playoffs and have little to play for. David Beckham may return from injury. Prediction: Galaxy 2, Red Bulls 1.

Kansas City Wizards at FC Dallas, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET. The Wizards have been awful in recent weeks, managing just five points from their last eight outings to drop into the danger zone. However, Dallas already may have an eye on the playoffs, and the visitors' desire to save their season should be enough for at least a point. Prediction: Kansas City 1, FC Dallas 1.

Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET. There is no love lost between these teams, and the visitors from Utah will be keen to spoil their rivals' playoff hopes. Even so, Colorado has more quality and should have enough in the tank to keep itself in contention. Look out for big Conor Casey to cause problems for the Real defense with his strength and heading ability. Prediction: Rapids 2, RSL 1

Los Angeles Galaxy at Chicago Fire, Sunday, 3 p.m. ET. If prior results set it up, this could be the most meaningful game of the season – with the prospect of the league's two biggest names (David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco) butting heads for the right to keep their seasons alive. The Fire will be better rested than L.A., which has to hop on a plane after facing New York on Thursday, but the Galaxy have been revitalized in recent weeks and have started to believe in themselves for the first time all season. If Chicago needs only a tie to advance, that strategy could work against it; teams in that situation usually can't decide whether to attack as normal or adopt a more defensive policy. The season finale promises to be very tight, but current form suggests the Galaxy might just have the spark to complete a miraculous revival. Prediction: Galaxy 3, Fire 2.

The Galaxy finish in seventh place, while the Wizards claim the eighth and final playoff spot over Colorado on goal difference.

– Martin Rogers

With the Los Angeles Galaxy recording their fifth straight victory by beating Toronto FC on Saturday night, the Colorado Rapids were left in a do-or-die situation to retain their playoff chances.

With Colorado a minute away from elimination and a winter of what-ifs, Omar Cummings pounced from six yards out to hand Chivas USA its first home defeat of the season and revitalize the Rapids' ambitions. They need another victory this weekend, at home to regional rivals and playoff no-hopers Real Salt Lake, and must pray for other results to land in their favor.

While the streaking Galaxy are hungrily hunting down a postseason berth that looked impossible in every sense except the purely mathematical four weeks ago, the Chicago Fire and Kansas City Wizards can feel bated breath upon their necks. Both those teams should be safe already, but Chicago's run of drawn games and Kansas City's dramatic collapse have put both in danger.

Every team except Colorado still controls its own destiny, and much may depend on the strength of the lineups put out by opponents that already have reached the playoffs, such as the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas.

The dream scenario for MLS and the neutral fan is a winner-takes-all showdown in the Windy City between the Fire and the Galaxy on the last day of the season. But there still could be plenty of twists and turns before we get to that stage.

So here is Yahoo! Sports' rundown on what the four playoff protagonists need to do to get into the postseason – plus our prediction on how it will pan out.

KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (10-12-7, 37 points)

A victory at FC Dallas on Saturday would guarantee the Wizards a playoff spot, regardless of all the other results. A draw in Dallas would clinch a postseason berth if Colorado fails to win.

A tie in Dallas and a Colorado victory would result either in a decisive goal-difference tiebreaker for the final postseason berth between the Wizards and Rapids, or a three-way tie-breaker between those two teams and Chicago unless the Galaxy beat Chicago after already failing to beat New York.

If Kansas City loses in Dallas, it still can reach the playoffs, but only if both of the following occur: The Galaxy take less than four points from their final two games and the Rapids lose.

Odds on making the playoffs: 2-1

CHICAGO FIRE (9-10-10, 37 points)

Beating the Galaxy at home would guarantee the Fire a playoff spot regardless of all the other results. Tying L.A. would clinch a berth unless Kansas City and Colorado both win their final games. In that instance, Chicago would lose a goal-difference tiebreaker to Colorado and be eliminated.

If the Fire loses to the Galaxy, they still can reach the postseason if at least two of the following occur: The Galaxy already has lost to New York on Thursday, Kansas City loses or Colorado loses.

Odds on making the playoffs: 2-1

COLORADO RAPIDS (9-12-8, 35 points)

A draw or a defeat at home to Real Salt Lake eliminates the Rapids. A win over RSL would guarantee them a place if Kansas City loses, regardless of the Fire-Galaxy result.

A Colorado victory and a Kansas City draw would result in a tiebreaker between the two based on goal difference. The team with a superior goal difference would go through; the other would be eliminated regardless of the Chicago-L.A. result.

A Rapids win and a Wizards win would result in Colorado being eliminated unless the Fire-Galaxy game ends in a draw. In that instance, Colorado would beat Chicago in a goal-difference tiebreaker and claim the final spot.

Odds on making the playoffs: 3-1

LOS ANGELES GALAXY (9-13-6, 33 points)

Winning both remaining games clinches the Galaxy a playoff berth. Anything less than a win and a draw eliminates them. A victory over New York and a draw in Chicago on Sunday still could be enough, but only if both Kansas City and Colorado lose on Saturday.

A draw against New York and a win in Chicago would put L.A. ahead of the Fire on tiebreakers, but that still would not be enough if the Wizards managed at least a draw and Colorado won on Saturday.

Odds on making the playoffs: 4-1