By THOMAS FLOYD
High-profile match-ups in both conferences are set to make the next-to-last weekend of MLS action both an entertaining and intriguing one.
In San Jose, the Earthquakes will look to clinch the Supporters’ Shield and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by sweeping the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, who badly need a win if they hope to avoid the Western Conference wild-card game.
On the East Coast, meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City will look to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference while visiting a New York Red Bulls squad that still needs to ensure its path to the postseason. And down Interstate 95, D.C. United can clinch their first playoff berth since 2007 with a win over the Columbus Crew, who sit just one point out of the postseason picture.
Last but not least, the battle for the final Western Conference playoff bid will continue as the Vancouver Whitecaps hope to clinch with a Cascadia Cup triumph over Portland while FC Dallas looks to keep pace by stealing a result in Seattle.
Here is a rundown of the Week 33 schedule:
TORONTO FC vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., TSN/Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Don’t expect this Canadian rivalry game to have much of a spark, with both sides eliminated from playoff contention and the match played before Toronto’s dwindling fan base. After starting the year with nine straight losses, Toronto is winless in 12 as the season nears its end.
The winner will claim derby bragging rights, though, after Montreal won 2-1 in April and Toronto claimed a 3-0 triumph in June.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
While this matchup has seeding implications for Kansas City, the circumstances are bit more dire for the home side. Although New York is just a point back of a top-three slot, the Red Bulls also are still in danger of falling out of the playoff field entirely.
The contest will feature two of the top candidates for MVP honors, with Graham Zusi (five goals, 15 assists) pulling the strings for Kansas City and Thierry Henry (14 goals, 12 assists) spearheading New York’s attack.
D.C. UNITED vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
United need just a point to clinch passage to the postseason after a four-year drought, but Ben Olsen and Co. are looking for the win as they also try to hang onto a top-three spot and dodge the wild-card clash. Columbus, meanwhile, is one point back of Houston for the conference’s last playoff bid.
Although these two teams split a pair of 1-0 contests over the summer, the matches came before the emergence of Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain, who has drastically upped the Crew’s vigor in the attacking third.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Like several teams in the East, Chicago finds itself in a unique position. With the Fire just three points back of Kansas City, the top seed remains a realistic goal. But a loss could drop Chicago all the way to the No. 4 position.
New England will be without the creative talents of Benny Feilhaber in this match as the U.S. international sits out following his red card in the Revolution’s last fixture, a loss to Philadelphia.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN/TSN2)
Philadelphia will have an opportunity to play spoiler against the team that eliminated it from last year’s postseason, as the Dynamo will be seeking a win to bolster their precarious playoff positioning.
The return of Brad Davis (questionable with a calf strain) would provide a big boost to Houston, which still hasn’t lost a match at BBVA Compass Stadium and possesses a 24-game unbeaten streak at home dating back to Robertson Stadium.
CHIVAS USA vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Winless in 12 games, Chivas will try to snap that lengthy skid against a Colorado side that is unbeaten in its past seven matches against the Goats.
With goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who has started every game for Colorado this season, sidelined by an adductor strain, backup Steward Ceus is set to get the start in goal for the Rapids.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
Although Bruce Arena isn’t thinking about the Galaxy’s two losses to the Earthquakes earlier this season, it’s quite hard to forget the pair of dramatic, come-from-behind victories that helped entrench the “Goonies Never Say Die” mantra in San Jose.
With Jason Hernandez sidelined by a red card and Ike Opara questionable as he recovers from a concussion, center back could be a concern for San Jose against Robbie Keane and the Galaxy’s lethal attack.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Sunday, 7 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
A win in this contest will clinch the final Western Conference playoff berth for Vancouver, putting an end to weeks of unrest triggered by Dallas’ unlikely surge up the standings. Boosting the Whitecaps should be the return of Darren Mattocks (hamstring strain), who is listed as probable.
Portland, meanwhile, still can salvage something from its disappointing campaign, as a triumph in this contest would clinch the Cascadia Cup for the Timbers.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. FC DALLAS (Sunday, 9 p.m., ESPN/ESPN Deportes/TSN2)
By the time this game kicks off, Dallas will either be eliminated from playoff contention or playing for its postseason life. Even if Vancouver fails to defeat Portland, a Dallas loss eliminates Schellas Hyndman’s side.
Seattle, on the other hand, will be playing for seeding. Depending on how the Galaxy fare against the Earthquakes, the Sounders could clinch a bye to the conference semifinals with a result against Dallas.
What do you think of this weekend’s MLS match-ups? See the Galaxy knocking off the Earthquakes? Think the Red Bulls can rebound and hold off Sporting KC?
Share your thoughts below.