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Top five MLS picks on a stacked and packed schedule

Sep 15, 2012, 12:15 PM EDT

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There’s a full schedule of nine MLS matches tonight, and there’s not a barking dog among them.

Eight of the nine come wrapped in intrigue, involving teams that will make the playoffs or still have a legitimate chance of punching their way in. (That is, we’re talking about something beyond the ol’ “mathematical” chance.)

Even the one match involving two sides realistically out of the playoff chase (Toronto at Philadelphia) has some intrigue; Philadelphia remains an interesting team (not to mention a well-supported one) for its young roster. Manager John Hackworth is using the lingering matches of 2012 to further evaluate the wealth of young talent at PPL.

Unless you’ve got all day and all night to watch MLS, you can’t see them all. Here are my top five picks for the afternoon:

1. Portland-Seattle: The Timbers’ season has been reduced to looking for those slivers of silver. “Lining” that is. Little ports of shelter from the storm of a season gone awry for the organization and its passionate supporters. In terms of slivers, a win over rival Seattle and the ability to lay hands on that Cascadia Cup would be a golden one.

Besides, Saturday’s contest from rockin’ and resplendent Jeld-Wen Field is on NBC, so pretty much everyone can see this one.

(MORE: Arlo White preview’s Saturday’s contest at Jeld-Wen)

2. New York-Columbus: Is Federico Higuain the new Thierry Henry? Perhaps the Colombian attacker will never displace “Mr. Arsenal” in terms of marketing appeal; Henry not only has that fabulous club resume, he’s got a World Cup and European Championship attached to his name, as well.

Still, no player was a bigger offensive force in August and into September than Higuain was in Columbus. Along with Jairo Arrieta, another shrewd Crew summer signing, they have propelled the men in yellow right back into the playoff race. This one from Red Bull Arena should be a September dandy.

3. Dallas-Vancouver: Dallas has been reborn during the time of DF. Soon as playmaker David Ferreira got back on the field, a formerly deflated Dallas side began to making a late playoff push. It may still be a bridge too far; we’ll see.

This much seems 100 percent certain: getting into the playoffs almost surely means catching Vancouver, the only team that appears realistically still within reach. And catching those struggling Whitecaps means winning tonight at a sold out FC Dallas Stadium. When it’s all said and done, we may know this one as the match that decided the Western Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot.

(MORE: Noah Davis tells you more about this one)

4. D.C. United-New England: United’s playoff chances took a major blow with Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury. But hope persists around RFK, abetted by a fairly soft schedule. To wit: in comes New England tonight, and the hapless Revs are already looking to 2013. (Or, they should be if they aren’t.) If United can stay in the playoff hunt, three points tonight against Jay Heaps’ Revolution is an absolute must.

(Oh, new Revs midfielder Juan Toja might get into this one, so mark that down as another reason to check it out.)

(MORE: Who can step forward in De Ro’s absence?)

5. Chicago-Montreal:  Chicago just keeps quietly climbing the Eastern Conference table, now in second place. Chris Rolfe up front and Arne Friedrich in the back have (also quietly) established themselves as two of the really stable forces around MLS. Meanwhile, expansion Montreal, having a great summer, still has an outside shot at squeezing into post-season matches. The Fire needs a win to apply pressure on Kansas City for the Eastern Conference crown. Montreal needs a win to keep its head above playoff water.

Here is the complete schedule of matches tonight. Enjoy:

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