Photo by Wendy Larsen/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
While the Texas derby between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo is an intense affair in its own right, the playoff implications surrounding Saturday's showdown have added a little more spice to the rivalry.
With each side currently sitting at fourth place in its respective conference, barely on the outside looking in at automatic passage to the conference semifinals, the match has the potential to substantially shake up the playoff picture.
Of course, it's not the only such contest scheduled this weekend. A winner between Kansas City and Philadelphia will be at least briefly launched atop the Eastern Conference, while Portland's trip to New York is a crucial fixture for the wildcard race. The current top teams in the East and West also clash when Columbus hosts Los Angeles.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 28 slate:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Friday, 8:30 p.m., FSC)
Seeing as Columbus is tasked with a tough Los Angeles team this weekend, this fixture provides a golden opportunity for Kansas City and Philadelphia to nab three points and surge to the top spot in the Eastern Conference (though teams might be better off avoiding the top seed in the East thanks to the wacky MLS playoff format.)
The Union will be notably shorthanded in the back, with goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon (broken finger) and right back Sheanon Williams (concussion) out, though rookie shot-stopper Zac MacMath has recorded back-to-back shutouts in Mondragon's stead.
FC DALLAS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 4 p.m., Telefutura)
Houston is still looking for its first win of the season on the road, and what better time to do it than in a crucial contest against its rival amid a playoff hunt?
Dallas, of course, will have something to say about that. The home side will be boosted by the return of MVP candidate Brek Shea, who was suspended for last week's 1-0 loss to New York.
D.C. UNITED vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Matters could go from bad to worse in a hurry for United, which dropped two vital points at home to Chivas USA on Wednesday and now hosts a Salt Lake side that has won five straight.
United will be hoping to have centerback Dejan Jakovic in the fold as the Canada international works his way back from a hamstring strain, while playmaker Javier Morales could make his long-awaited return from an ankle injury for Salt Lake.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
With the Galaxy riding a five-game unbeaten streak and Columbus winless in four, the odds would appear to tilt in Los Angeles' favor in this contest between conference leaders.
It's worth noting that the Crew's playoff positioning is not as stable as its current place in the standings would imply, as Columbus is just two points clear of Houston, which currently sits in the third of four wild-card slots.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
As dysfunctional as the Red Bulls looked during Wednesday's 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, they can still jump back into the projected playoff field with a win over the Timbers, who currently hold the last wildcard spot.
Carlos Mendes figures to slide next to the struggling Tim Ream at centerback for New York since coach Hans Backe suspended Rafael Marquez for this contest after the Designated Player criticized his teammates Wednesday.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick)
This rematch of the 2010 Eastern Conference final has lost some of its luster, with the Rapids losers of three straight and San Jose all but eliminated from playoff contention.
The Earthquakes will surely focus on stopping Colorado striker Sanna Nyassi, who, in a 2-1 loss to Toronto last week, scored his fifth goal in eight games since moving up top for coach Gary Smith's squad.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., TSN)
The final match at Empire Field before Vancouver moves into the renovated BC Place will be this Cascadia Cup affair against the rival Sounders. The contest will be a rematch of the teams' memorable 2-2 draw in Seattle on June 11, during which Whitecaps striker Eric Hassli scored a favorite for MLS Goal of the Year honors.
Both teams will be down a key left-sided defender in this one, with Vancouver's Alain Rochat and Seattle's Tyson Wahl suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
CHIVAS USA vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Coming from behind to steal a 2-2 draw at D.C. United on Wednesday may have breathed some life into Chivas' playoff push, but at 7-12-11, it realistically was too little, too late for the Goats.
But Juan Pablo Angel's rediscovered scoring touch along with Heath Pearce's return from injury do make Chivas a formidable foe for a Toronto side which has won three of four in all competitions.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Sunday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
Two of the Eastern Conference's bottom-feeders will clash to wrap up the weekend schedule Sunday afternoon. The Fire, which has won three of four, will be looking to continue building momentum ahead of next month's U.S. Open Cup final.
Chicago will be without suspended centerback Cory Gibbs, while New England's Rajko Lekic will miss the match because of an ankle sprain.