By DAN KARELL
With just two weeks remaining in the 2013 Major League Soccer season, the numerous matchups across the league are perfect for late-season drama.
Though incredibly unlikely, no one in the Western Conference has clinched a playoff spot, making each of the last two games as important for any of the ones that came before them. For the two teams at the top of the standings, the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake, their meeting on Saturday could determine not only who makes the playoffs but also first-place, and even potentially the Supporters Shield title.
Elsewhere around MLS, the New York Red Bulls look to keep their trophy chances alive with a trip to the Houston Dynamo, the slumping Seattle Sounders travel to a worn-down FC Dallas side, and the surging New England Revolution host the Columbus Crew with playoff hopes on the line in the Eastern Conference.
Here is a rundown of the Week 35 slate:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. D.C. UNITED (Friday, 8pm, NBC Sports Network)
In terms of the playoffs, both teams have nothing inherently to play for. Sporting KC have already qualified for the postseason while D.C. United has long since been eliminated.
However, this game will provide an interesting storyline if D.C. United lose. With a loss, Ben Olsen’s side will become the fifth team in MLS history to go through an entire season without a win on the road. Currently they’re 0-13-3. For Sporting KC, Aurelien Collin misses out due to suspension.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 2pm, MLS Live)
Despite holding a sizable lead in the Eastern Conference earlier in the season, the Montreal Impact have shown their age late in the season, losing five of their last six games.
The Impact now sit just one point above the last playoff spot in the conference, and could potentially miss out if they fail to win one of their final two matches. Both the Union and Impact need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Union will be buoyed by Jack McInerney scoring his first goal in 15 matches. Michael Farfan misses out due to suspension.
FC DALLAS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 2:30pm, NBC)
You’d thing that something’s got to give when the Sounders travel to face FC Dallas on Saturday. Both teams are winless in their past five and while FC Dallas are eliminated from the playoffs, the Sounders have struggled with injuries and inconsistency in a busy late-season schedule.
Osvaldo Alonso misses the match due to his red card last week, but Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, and Clint Dempsey are all injury doubts still. Brad Evans should be available to play though after returning from international duty.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 6pm, MLS Live)
With their backs against the wall, the Whitecaps have put in two impressive performances against the Timbers and Sounders on their way to winning the Cascadia Cup.
But heading into the first of two matches against the Rapids, they face another situation where anything but a win all but eliminates them from the playoffs. Kekuta Manneh is coming off his hat-trick performance from last week, though on the other side, Deshorn Brown is in top form for the Rapids as of late.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday 7:30pm, MLS Live)
Like the Rapids and Whitecaps in the Western Conference, the Revolution and Crew face off in the first of two meetings as both teams fight for one of the last three available playoff places in the Eastern Conference.
The Revolution recorded a crucial win last Saturday at the Impact, though they’ll be without Lee Nguyen for this Saturday’s game due to suspension. The Crew could be without star Federico Higuain, who has been suffering from a number of injuries late in the season.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 8:30pm, MLS Live)
A hot Fire team returns home after two wins that vaulted them into fifth-place in the Eastern Conference, and they have a chance to keep pace in the playoff race when they welcome the woeful Toronto FC to town.
Frank Klopas’ side welcome back Arevalo Rios and Joel Lindpere after the international break and while TFC also have their own international players returning, the Fire’s should give the side a bigger boost. In addition, TFC will be without starters Joe Bendik and Jeremy Hall due to suspension. Stefan Frei will have a rare chance to start.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 10:30pm, MLS Live)
The Timbers last Sunday jumped to the top of the Western Conference with their 1-0 victory against the Sounders, extending their unbeaten streak to six games.
Both RSL and the Timbers have had a few interesting matches this season, the most recent a 3-3 draw at Jeld-Wen Field that saw RSL save a point in stoppage-time. RSL will be without Javier Morales and Abdoulie Mansally due to suspension, though Alvaro Saborio returns from international duty.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 4pm, UniMas)
For one of the few times in MLS history, the New York Red Bulls control their own destiny and if they win out, they can win the club’s first ever trophy and Supporters Shield.
Though there are still a number of injuries for the Red Bulls, Tim Cahill and David Carney return and the team had an off week to help heal some of the bruises and knocks that have been picked up over the course of the second half of the season. The Dynamo are a different team than the last time these two faced, with the Red Bulls scoring four goals then but the Dynamo having shut out opponents in their last two games.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Sunday, 9pm, ESPN)
In the final game of a full and busy MLS weekend, the final edition of the Cali Clasico takes form at the StubHub Center.
The Galaxy won mid-week despite missing a number of regular starters due to injury and international duty, but Jaime Penedo, and Robbie Keane are available, while Omar Gonzalez and Landon Donovan could be game-time decisions. A Galaxy win on Sunday will clinch a playoff berth, while that plus a Whitecaps defeat will eliminate the Earthquakes.