The Union still are on course to qualify for the postseason in their second Major League Soccer season, but it's no longer the slam dunk it once appeared to be.

And there don't appear to be many gimmes in the final 10 games of the regular season.

That is why the Sept. 7 game at PPL Park in Chester against the New England Revolution - rescheduled from Sunday due to Hurricane Irene - is so crucial.

New England is the last MLS team the Union beat, 3-0 on the road at Gillette Stadium on July 17. Since then, the Union are 0-2-3 in their last five MLS games.

And even though New England is 4-11-11, the Revolution are coming off consecutive ties against two teams also in the playoff race, the Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls.

The playoff system isn't complicated but needs some explaining.

The top three teams in the Eastern and Western Conference earn automatic berths and first-round byes. Then the next four teams, regardless of division, earn wild-card berths.

Entering Thursday, the Union were fourth in the Eastern Conference and ninth overall with 34 points.

The Columbus Crew (40 points) were first in the East, followed by Sporting Kansas City (36) and Houston (35). The Union have a game in hand on both Columbus and Kansas City and two on Houston, again making the Revolution matchup that much more important.

Of the 10 remaining games, four are against teams ahead of the Union in points: at Real Salt Lake (36) and the Seattle Sounders (45), and home against Columbus (40) and Kansas City (36).

In addition, the season finale is at the Red Bulls, who entered Thursday in the 10th and final spot, two points behind the Union but having played two more games.

The schedule also features games against teams just below the Union in points: home against Portland (32 points) and improved D.C. United (31), and in Los Angeles against Chivas USA (31).

The Union also have a home game against Toronto (23 points in 27 games), a team the Union have beaten, 6-2.

So even if one would concede the Union the Toronto game - and with their inconsistent play of late, nothing should be assured - this is one difficult schedule.

Team manager Peter Nowak has blamed the uncertainty of the Carlos Ruiz situation as a reason the Union went into a tailspin.

Ruiz finally was sold to Mexico's Veracruz earlier this month.

While it said here that the team is better off for the move, the fact remains that since Nowak announced that the Ruiz move was pending following a 2-1 home loss to the Colorado Rapids, the Union are 0-2-3 without the striker, including that game against Colorado.

Regardless, Ruiz, who played only 14 games for the Union, is still the team's leading goal-scorer with six, which indicates how inconsistent the offense has been.

The rest of the schedule has five games at home, where the Union are 5-1-6, and five on the road, where they are 3-5-4.

Three of the final four games in October are on the road.

It's not wrong to say that every game from here on in will be like a playoff encounter for the Union.