Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
After a Labor Day weekend dominated by international fixtures and a schedule watered down by Hurricane Irene the week before, MLS is finally back in full swing this weekend with a packed slate of matches.
Western Conference heavyweights headline the early contests, as the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy and defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids will clash in FSC's "Soccer Night in America" matchup Friday, before Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders kick off Saturday with an afternoon fixture at CenturyLink Field.
Elsewhere, the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City will meet in a key Eastern Conference tilt. Later on, the Portland Timbers visit the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United takes on Chivas USA in two matches with crucial playoff implications.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 26 schedule:
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 11 p.m., FSC)
The Galaxy can wrap up a playoff berth with a month and a half left in the regular season against Colorado, but with just a four-point lead in the Supporters' Shield race, Los Angeles won't be letting up any time soon.
The Rapids, meanwhile, will be looking to enhance their playoff positioning and take a step closer to one of the Western Conference's three automatic bids, although the absence of suspended defender Drew Moor will surely make matters more difficult against Los Angeles.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
With two games in hand on the three teams currently locked into Western Conference semifinal berths — Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle — Salt Lake will be looking to make a late surge to nab one of those slots and avoid playing a wild card match.
But getting a win on the road against Seattle, the hottest team in MLS, will be a tall task, especially considering how dominant the Sounders looked in their last match, a 6-2 thrashing of Columbus.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 4 p.m., Telefutura)
With a win on the road against Kansas City, Houston could jump from a wild card slot to second in the Eastern Conference. And by holding serve at home, Kansas City could draw even with Columbus at the top of the conference table.
Each team will down a key centerback Saturday, though, as Kansas City's Aurelien Collin and Houston's Bobby Boswell will both sit out the contest due to yellow card accumulation.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
The Crew have never lost to Toronto and won't be looking to start Saturday as they attempt to remain atop the Eastern Conference and fend off the likes of Kansas City and Philadelphia.
With Toronto's playoff hopes virtually nonexistent and a key CONCACAF Champions League encounter against Pumas on Wednesday, don't be surprised if coach Aron Winter's side finds itself looking ahead to that midweek match.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Emotions are sure to be high at Red Bull Arena for this match played one day before the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But once the opening whistle blows, this one will be all about whether New York can end its seven-game winless stretch, the club's longest since Hans Backe took over as coach.
Although the Whitecaps have the league's worst record, they are coming off a 1-0 win over Houston and will be looking to again play spoiler to a playoff contender.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Just when it seemed like Portland was fading out of the playoff picture, the Timbers won two straight to draw even with New York for the final wild card spot.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has its eyes on catching Columbus for first place in the Eastern Conference. But with a loss to Portland on Saturday, the Union could suddenly find itself on the verge of falling out of the playoff field entirely.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Any chance of New England making a late playoff push probably went up in flames when the Revolution surrendered a three-goal halftime lead to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Amazingly, that match marked the fourth time in New England's seven-game winless stretch that the Revolution allowed an equalizer after the 86th minute.
For Dallas, on the other hand, this match could be crucial in terms of hanging on to one of those top three spots in the Western Conference. To complicate matters, coach Schellas Hyndman's side will have to play without suspended centerback Ugo Ihemelu.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Chicago and San Jose may only be separated by one point in the standings, but these two long-shot wild card contenders are going in opposite directions. The Fire are unbeaten in four and winners of back-to-back contests, while the Earthquakes are winless in their last 13 games.
Neither team will have its regular left back available in this one, with San Jose's Bobby Convey and Chicago's Gonzalo Segares both suspended.
CHIVAS USA vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
These two sides are even at 31 points and just outside the current playoff field, though with three games in hand, United's chances at qualifying for postseason play are much sturdier than Chivas' odds.
Hamstring strains to Chivas' Heath Pearce and United's Dejan Jakovic mean both teams will likely deploy a reserve at centerback, but D.C. will have a fit and rested Charlie Davies available after a two-week layoff that couldn't have come at a better time for the banged-up striker.
Playoff races are looking great this year. The new format is 1000% improved.
Wow, they got moves.
Who wouldn’t love to see NYRB lose out on the playoffs to expansion side Portland… that would be awesome.
Let’s go RSL. It’s payback time.
Not actually expecting much of a game tonight in LA, unfortunately… I suspect the best news for the Rapids this weekend will come out of Seattle.
Rumors that the Sounders have already sold 25k for the USOC Final which is a month out.
That is going to be a blast !
4 times champs losing to back to back to back winners !
Caption: the audience throws a ball during a routine on “America’s Best Dance Crew”
SSFC all the way!!