By RYAN TOLMICH
With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, this weekend’s MLS action boasts an interconference clash between a pair of the league’s top teams.
After enduring one of the more painful seasons in recent memory last year, D.C. United have climbed the 2014 table to join the Supporters’ Shield race. However, the team now faces a major test with a Saturday trip into the always-difficult Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Western Conference powerhouse Real Salt Lake.
In other MLS action, the Seattle Sounders host the Houston Dynamo, the New York Red Bulls head to Chicago to take on the Fire and the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas collide in the battle for playoff positioning.
Here is a rundown of the Week 22 slate:
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. MONTREAL IMPACT ( Saturday, 7:00 p.m., MLS Live)
Saturday’s matchup will be the third of the season between the Impact and Union, and the second since the two swapped young strikers in April. Impact forward Jack McInerney has scored six in his 14 games since moving north of the boarder, although the 22-year-old forward has been held scoreless since netting a brace against the Houston Dynamo back on June 29. Meanwhile, the Union’s April acquisition, Andrew Wenger, has netted just two for his new side with his most recent coming on July 12.
The Union and Impact enter Saturday’s contest riding streaks of opposing fortunes. The Union, who currently sit just three points out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff position, are undefeated in their past four conferences, while the Impact limp into Saturday’s matchup having lost six straight league contests.
However, the Impact are undefeated in their last six against the Union, having picked up points in every matchup between the two since the teams met for the first time on July 14, 2012.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. TORONTO FC ( Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew meet-up Saturday for the third meeting of this season, with TFC already claiming the series’ first two contests to bring home the Trillium Cup.
Both sides enter the weekend having won their previous contest, as TFC snapped a two-game slide with a 2-0 victory over their Canadian rivals, the Montreal Impact. Meanwhile, the Crew currently sit in the Eastern Conference’s final playoff position on the heels of a three-game undefeated streak.
TFC enter the weekend shorthanded, however, with star striker Jermain Defoe out due to a groin injury. The Canadian side will once again rely on fellow DP Gilberto, who netted his second goal of the season in the team’s last game.
FC DALLAS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., MLS Live)
With just three points between the two Western Conference sides, Saturday’s matchup between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids could be crucial in the fight for a playoff position.
FC Dallas manager Oscar Pareja takes on his former team for the second time, having previously overseen a 3-2 FC Dallas victory over the Rapids in June. FC Dallas are currently enjoying one of this season’s best runs, with last week’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA extending the team’s undefeated streak to seven.
Meanwhile, the Rapids enter the weekend having struggled in their previous two outings, having been shutout in back-to-back contests. The Rapids will now look to bounce back with a trip to Toyota Stadium, where they have only won six of the 31 games between the two sides.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 10:00 p.m., MLS Live)
In a matchup between the Eastern and Western Conference’s second place teams, Real Salt Lake host D.C. United Saturday in a contest between two sides in pursuit of the Supporters’ Shield.
RSL currently sit just two points behind the Seattle Sounders for the top spot in the Western Conference and are currently riding a run of four straight without a loss. However, the hosts will be without defenders Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert and Aaron Maund, each of whom is suspended for Saturday’s contest.
Meanwhile, D.C. United enter on a slightly more sour note, having seen their four-game winning streak snapped with a loss in their last contest to the Houston Dynamo. However, the team still finds itself just two points behind current Eastern Conference leaders, Sporting KC.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. CHIVAS USA (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Just days after hosting the MLS All-Star Game, All-Star Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres will once again take the field at Providence Park when Chivas USA takes the field against the Portland Timbers.
The Timbers currently sit just three points out of the Western Conference’s final playoff position, despite suffering a 3-1 loss last time out to Chivas USA’s closest rivals, the LA Galaxy. Meanwhile, Chivas USA. Meanwhile, the visitors have been shutout in back-to-back contests and are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the latest of which was a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas.
The two sides have met twice previously this season, with the Timbers having picked up four points from the teams’ first two clashes.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., MLS Live)
Fresh off his spectacular All-Star Game finish, the Bradley Wright-Phillips show travels to Chicago Sunday as the New York Red Bulls take on the Fire.
Wright-Phillips, who currently leads the Golden Boot race by four goals, has scored seven in as many games. In addition, the Englishman has already bagged a hat-trick against the Fire this season, having scored three in the teams’ meeting on May 10.
Unfortunately for the Englishman, the Fire had a hat-trick hero of their own that day, as rookie Harrison Ship netted three of his own in the Fire’s eventual 5-4 victory. Despite sitting in ninth in the Eastern Conference, the Fire remain just five points out of a playoff position and a win Saturday could be the start of a major push for a postseason spot.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. SPORTING KC (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., MLS Live)
Despite leading the Supporters’ Shield race, Sporting KC enters Sunday’s contest having lost more games than their opposition.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have dropped just four contests all season, which is tied for the fewest losses in MLS this season. The Whitecaps enter the weekend having drawn four straight, which is good enough to push them to sixth in the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, Sporing KC enter the weekend having won five straight on the road, including a pair of victories over Canadian sides Toronto FC and Montreal Impact. A win Sunday would be enough to tie the record for most consecutive road victories, which is held by the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Sunday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN 2)
The Seattle Sounders head into Sunday’s clash with the Houston Dynamo in need of a confidence boost.
Clint Dempsey and co. have dropped back-to-back contests for the first time this season, with the latest defeat coming to the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes. The Sounders losing skid has been enough to see the current Western Conference leaders concede the league’s top spot, which now belongs to Sporting KC.
The Dynamo picked up a confidence boost of their own last time out, having finally snapped an eight-game losing streak with a home victory over Eastern Conference contender D.C. United. The Dynamo will now turn their gaze from the East’s elite to the West’s, as they head to CenturyLink Field, where they have yet to pick up a win in the team’s history.