By THOMAS FLOYD
After a nearly seven-year hiatus, Clint Dempsey on Saturday will take the pitch for an MLS match once more.
The captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team is poised to make his debut for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at Toronto FC, a week after Dempsey’s stunning return to his MLS roots was made official. Sitting two points out of a playoff spot, the Sounders will hope for a smooth integration from their new designated player.
Elsewhere around the league, Sporting Kansas City host the New England Revolution in a key Eastern Conference tilt; the Houston Dynamo travel to face first-place Real Salt Lake; and FC Dallas take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in a match with major playoff implications out West.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 24 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live)
After winning just two of their first 20 matches, Toronto FC have strung together back-to-back victories heading into this match against a Sounders team also coming off two straight triumphs.
It will be intriguing to see how Seattle coach Sigi Schmid deploys Clint Dempsey, with the versatile playmaker a candidate to fill roles up front, on the flanks or in central midfield.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Enjoying a 3-0-1 stretch, the Red Bulls will try to maintain first place in the Eastern Conference when they take on the Crew, who have lost three straight and six of seven.
With Tim Cahill (knee) still out of the lineup, Red Bulls coach Mike Petke has some interesting decisions to make as he weighs giving Ibrahim Sekagya another start or shifting players around to put super-sub winger Lloyd Sam in the lineup.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/TSN)
For all of the hardships the Earthquakes have endured, it seems remarkable that a win at Vancouver could push them into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With San Jose on a three-game winning streak and the Whitecaps winless in three, it’s a prime opportunity for the Earthquakes to make their move — especially since Chris Wondolowski has finally rediscovered his goal-scoring touch.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBCSN)
With a win over Montreal last weekend in league play and a midweek triumph of Chicago in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, D.C. United suddenly have life, thanks to a slew of new youngsters and reinvigorated captain Dwayne De Rosario.
D.C. United likely will be missing playmaker Luis Silva (head), which should give fellow newcomer Conor Doyle a chance to partner up top with De Rosario against the Union’s at-times vulnerable back line.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Fresh off a 2-0 Champions League win over Real Esteli midweek, Sporting KC will turn its focus back to league play against the Revolution. It should be an interesting chess match, as both teams utilize 4-3-3 formations bolstered by sheer athleticism out wide.
Don’t look for newly acquired Revolution forward Charlie Davies in this one, though, as the on-loan striker isn’t planning to join his teammates until early next week.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Considering both teams lost to last-place D.C. United in the past week — Montreal in league play, Chicago in the Open Cup — there will certainly be a desire in this one for the clubs to get back on track.
This match will likely mark the MLS debut of Montreal midfielder Hernan Bernardello, who impressed in a midweek Champions League win over the Earthquakes.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Two stalwart MLS franchises will meet for the only time this year, with Jason Kreis’ technically proficient philosophy going up against Dominic Kinnear’s direct approach.
Keep an eye on Dynamo forward Will Bruin, who could cause problems for a depleted RSL centerback corps still trying to find the right chemistry as new faces cycle in.
FC DALLAS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2)
With their International Champions Cup obligations fulfilled, the Galaxy will return to MLS duty when they face a Dallas squad that has remarkably gone nine matches without a win.
Whether he’s running at left back Jair Benitez or right back Zach Loyd, in-form Galaxy winger Landon Donovan figures to be a headache for the Dallas defense.
CHIVAS USA vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Sunday, 11 p.m., UniMas)
Owners of a seven-game unbeaten run, the Rapids will try to maintain their fine form when they visit a Chivas USA side that will be without suspended centerback Carlos Bocanegra.
Considering Chivas USA have just one win in their past 17 matches, the Rapids will certainly be disappointed if they can’t bolster their playoff resume with three points in this one.