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MLS Week 31: A Look Ahead

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With only three weeks left in the MLS regular season, the pressure is cranking up for a few teams on either side of the red line.

One of several marquee matches on Saturday features FC Dallas hosting the LA Galaxy. These teams are separated by five points, but the Colorado Rapids have games in hand on both sides, adding more incentive to already heated matchup.

Elsewhere in the Western Conference on Saturday, the Colorado Rapids welcome the Portland Timbers, who are still winless on the road. The Timbers are in desperate need of a victory now that the Seattle Sounders have leaped over the MLS Cup champions for the final playoff spot in the West.

The Sounders close out the weekend’s action on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps in a Cascadia Cup clash on Sunday. Nicolas Lodeiro is suspended for this one, but another win could see Seattle move to within a point of hosting a playoff game.

The Eastern Conference is highlighted by Toronto FC and D.C. United at BMO Field. D.C. occupies sixth place in the East and is in top form at the moment, while TFC has failed to win its last four home games.

Sporting Kansas City will be hoping to record back-to-back wins as it battles a New England Revolution side that is chasing the final postseason berth in the East.

Here is a closer look at every game on Week 31:

HOUSTON DYNAMO VS. NEW YORK CITY FC (FRIDAY, 8 P.M., UNIMAS)

First place in the Eastern Conference is on the line for New York City FC this weekend.

City is one point adrift of Toronto FC for the top spot in the conference entering its match against the Houston Dynamo on Friday. NYCFC has been one of MLS’ best road teams this season, recording six wins outside of Yankee Stadium. Houston has been hit-and-miss at home, winning just five times, but apart from goalkeeper Tyler Deric, all of the Dynamo’s starters should be fit. Meanwhile, Frank Lampard is New York City’s only real injury concern.

NEW YORK RED BULLS VS. PHILADELPHIA UNION (SATURDAY, 7 P.M., MLS LIVE)

The New York Red Bulls also have a shot at first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Red Bulls will host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, and these teams need victories for different reasons. The Union are only one point above the Montreal Impact, and a defeat could see them slip to fifth, which would lead to Philadelphia starting the playoffs on the road. Philly is winless in four straight games, while New York is unbeaten since July 3. The hosts are still without defender Ronald Zubar, while Josh Yaro is out with a concussion for the visitors.

COLUMBUS CREW VS. CHICAGO FIRE (SATURDAY, 7:30 P.M., MLS LIVE)

The Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire are basically playing for their pride at this point.

The Crew’s playoff hopes were all but dashed after losing to D.C. United on Wednesday. They are now eight points behind United, while the Fire are 13 back after losing in Seattle on the same night. Chicago has only one win on the road this season, so Columbus has an opportunity to regain form and finish the year on a high note.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION VS. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (SATURDAY, 7:30 P.M., MLS LIVE)

Very few matches are as important as this one on Saturday night.

The New England Revolution are four points below the red line, while Sporting Kansas City is only two points away from missing the postseason altogether. SKC snapped a three-game winless skid in MLS by defeating the San Jose Earthquakes last week, but it may have to win out in order to qualify for the playoffs. The Revolution are without Bobby Shuttleworth, Gershon Koffie and Je-Vaughn Watson, but Sporting is missing Lawrence Olum and Chance Myers. The visitors should be boosted with the return of Graham Zusi, though.

TORONTO FC VS. D.C. UNITED (SATURDAY, 7:30 P.M., MLS LIVE)

D.C. United is in form at the right time, but Toronto FC is dropping points during the most crucial stage of the season.

Toronto’s 0-0 draw with Orlando City on Wednesday marked the fourth straight game without a home win. Sebastian Giovinco’s potential return would be a welcome boost for TFC, but given how strong D.C. has been in recent weeks, it will be a tough match. On the other hand, the last time United visited BMO Field on July 25, Giovinco scored a hat trick. Perhaps the Italian can snap the Reds’ mini funk.

COLORADO RAPIDS VS. PORTLAND TIMBERS (SATURDAY, 9 P.M., MLS LIVE)

The Colorado Rapids could close the gap in the Supporters’ Shield standings, while the Portland Timbers will try to jump over the red line.

Portland was leapfrogged by the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, but both teams are still level on points. However, the Timbers, who are winless on the road, have to face the unbeaten-at-home Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. With two of their final three games away from Providence Park, the MLS Cup champions will have to win at least one of them to make the playoffs. The good news for them is that the Rapids have only earned one victory in their last seven MLS matches.

FC DALLAS VS. LA GALAXY (SATURDAY, 9 P.M., MLS LIVE)

Two of the top teams in the Western Conference will meet at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night.

FC Dallas still has the Supporters’ Shield within reach, but a win over the LA Galaxy would significantly boost its chances of winning it. The Galaxy, meanwhile, have a top-two spot in their sight, but the Colorado Rapids’ games in hand could throw a wrench into their plans. Gyasi Zardes (LA) and Zach Loyd (Dallas) are the only injured players, so this promises to be an enticing matchup.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES VS. REAL SALT LAKE (SATURDAY, 10:30 P.M., MLS LIVE)

Real Salt Lake should have extra motivation this Saturday.

The fourth-place side in the Western Conference is being pursued by the Seattle Sounders, who are only four points away with a game in hand. RSL can widen the gap and virtually lock down a home playoff match with a win over the San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes own the league’s worst attack, scoring just 29 goals in 2016 and are barely alive in the postseason race. San Jose is also missing five starters due to injuries. Unfortunately for the Claret and Cobalt, Yura Movsisyan is questionable.

ORLANDO CITY VS. MONTREAL IMPACT (SUNDAY, 1 P.M., ESPN)

The first match on Sunday is massive when it comes to the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

The Montreal Impact can move into a position to secure a postseason game at home with a victory over Orlando City, who is all but knocked out of playoff contention. Orlando is five points adrift of sixth-placed D.C. United, while Montreal is only one point behind the Philadelphia Union for fourth place. The Impact may have problems at the back, as defenders Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera are suspended. Fullback Donny Toia is already ruled out with an injury.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (SUNDAY, 8 P.M., FOX SPORTS 1)

The Seattle Sounders could be one point away from hosting a playoff game after the weekend.

That would have been a mere fantasy in early August, but it could be reality if the Sounders beat the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on Sunday night. Seattle has only lost one of its last five meetings against Vancouver in all competitions, which includes two victories on the road. However, the suspension of Nicolas Lodeiro is massive, so the visitors high-octane attack could be shut out for the first time since July 24.

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