By THOMAS FLOYD
When it comes to establishing an identity in MLS, few organizations have done it better in recent years than Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.
RSL, of course, is known for the club’s possession-driven 4-4-2 approach, using a technically proficient diamond midfield so control games. Kansas City, meanwhile, throws numbers forward with a 4-3-3, in which high pressure snuffs opposing attacks in their infancy.
It’s a contrast of styles that will take center stage Saturday night when the teams face off at Rio Tinto Stadium for their only regular-season meeting of 2013.
Also on the docket this weekend? A crucial match for playoff positioning between the Seattle Sounders and Colorado Rapids; an intriguing intraconference tilt pitting FC Dallas against the Montreal Impact; and a key Western Conference bout featuring the Los Angeles Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Here is a rundown of the Week 21 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live/TSN)
Fresh off an embarrassing loss to 10-man Chivas, Toronto will try to regroup and manage a result against a Red Bulls squad that thrashed Montreal 4-0 last weekend.
With Darren O’Dea gone, Toronto likely will deploy Ashtone Morgan at left back, where he will be handed a tough matchup against in-form Red Bulls winger Eric Alexander. And TFC also will be without strikers Danny Koevermans (calf) and Robert Earnshaw (hamstring).
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live)
Colorado and Seattle at the moment are the first two teams on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff field, making this meeting a critical encounter.
The Sounders, who have had so few chances to play at full strength this season, will again be short-handed with forward Eddie Johnson reporting for Gold Cup duty and a forearm injury still sidelining goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live)
The two hottest teams to start 2013, these clubs have cooled down considerably since, with Montreal winless in four and Dallas enduring a seven-game stretch without victory.
Dallas will be happy to likely get George John (hamstring) back in the lineup. And making matters even more difficult for Montreal is the possibility of Marco Di Vaio missing the match after returning to Italy for personal reasons.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Struggling through a 1-2-3 stretch, the Revolution have been dealt a tough hand, following up a midweek contest with a game against the Crew, who haven’t played since July 7.
New England coach Jay Heaps will have at least one tough lineup decision to make, as he weighs bringing Kelyn Rowe back into the 11 after a rest Wednesday or letting midweek goal-scorer Juan Toja keep his place.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Both teams will be thrilled to have an MVP candidate back from Gold Cup duty, as Jack McInerney returns for the Union and Will Johnson steps back into the Timbers’ midfield.
Portland, though, will still be without Costa Rican winger Rodney Wallace. That’s welcome news for Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams, who can overlap without having to deal with Wallace’s diligent work tracking back.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Returning to league play after a 13-day hiatus, United will certainly have a different feel with newcomers Jared Jeffrey and Luis Silva factoring into Ben Olsen’s lineup choices and veterans Alain Rochat and Brandon McDonald removed from the equation.
After compiling a 4-0-1 record following the acquisition of Mike Magee, the Fire have since dropped two straight and will be looking to right the ship against a United squad that hasn’t scored from the run of play in eight matches.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 10 p.m., MLS Live)
Already missing Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio to Gold Cup duty, RSL was dealt another blow when Josh Saunders tore his ACL, meaning third-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella will get the call.
Kansas City, though, will be missing a key piece of its own, with centerback Matt Besler joining the U.S. for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Landon Donovan may still be on U.S. national team duty, but the Galaxy will have centerback Omar Gonzalez for one more game before he joins the U.S. in the semifinals, should the team advance.
Vancouver, on the other hand, will have Canadian winger Russell Teibert back from his Gold Cup stint, posing a tough matchup for veteran Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant.