Photo by Susan C. Ragan/USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
With just over a month remaining in the MLS regular season, playoff races are tightening league-wide.
Out west, the battle for the Supporters’ Shield heats up between the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy, who take on the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, respectively. Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers sit just one point back of Saturday’s opposition, the Vancouver Whitecaps, as the pair of Western Conference sides battle for the conference’s final playoff spot.
The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, boasts an absolute logjam with five teams eyeing the final two postseason positions. Two of those teams collide when the Philadelphia Union host the Houston Dynamo, while the Columbus Crew take on the New England Revolution and Toronto FC match up with Chivas USA.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS slate:
REAL SALT LAKE vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 10 p.m., NBCSN)
Following a last-minute loss to the Sounders last weekend, Real Salt Lake have a chance to rebound against their Rocky Mountain rivals.
RSL find themselves with a firm grasp on a playoff position, as they sit in third place in the Western Conference. Last week’s defeat all but ended the club’s Supporters’ Shield hopes, but RSL now face a meeting with the Rapids, who are winless in eight straight.
For their part, the Rapids remain just six points out of fifth place, despite their slumping form. Nick LaBrocca is set to miss out due to suspension, but a victory over RSL could vault the Rapids right back into contention.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 5 p.m., NBCSN)
Saturday’s clash between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps could go a long way to determining which side snags the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Timbers sit just one point behind the Whitecaps for the fifth and final playoff spot, but Caleb Porter’s side will have a chance to leapfrog the opposition with a victory Saturday at Providence Park. The two sides will be playing for the second time in three weeks, as the Timbers picked up a 3-0 victory over the Whitecaps on Aug. 29.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Despite suffering a disappointing U.S. Open Cup loss midweek, the Philadelphia Union have little time to grieve, as Jim Curtin’s team has to bounce back quickly and fight for a playoff spot.
The Union were able to salvage a late draw with the Red Bulls last time out to keep the team in the thick of the playoff race. Currently tied for the conference’s last spot, the Union face a battle to make the playoffs.
One of the teams looking to insert their name into that battle is the Houston Dynamo, who sit five points out with a game in hand. The Dynamo have three teams to leapfrog for fifth place, but a win over the Union this weekend could propel the Dynamo right back into the conversation.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN)
The New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders are both coming off midweek clashes, but the sides enter the weekend in much different situations.
The Sounders went all out in an effort to win the U.S. Open Cup, which the club did with an extra time victory over the Philadelphia Union. Having committed most of their starters to Tuesday’s cup victory, the Sounders will have to bounce back quickly against a team fighting for its playoff life.
The Red Bulls utilized a less experienced lineup in Wednesday’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League loss to the Montreal Impact. Despite the disappointing loss, the Red Bulls enter the weekend fresh, and will even see the return of league-leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who sat last week due to injury.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Winners of five straight, the New England Revolution enter the weekend as the league’s hottest team.
The Revs have surged back up the Eastern Conference table and now sit behind just D.C. United and Sporting KC in the standings. Lee Nguyen remains an MVP contender and the midfielder will have to lead yet again as the Revs face another potential playoff-bound side, the Columbus Crew.
The Crew have won three of their last five, but points will be imperative as they look to push their way into the playoffs. Columbus remains tied with the Union on points for the conference’s final spot and Saturday’s clash with the Revs gives them a chance to further cement their playoff candidacy.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Despite sitting at the bottom of the table, the Montreal Impact have been playing much better soccer.
Led by Ignacio Piatti, the Impact have displayed major upside in recent weeks, culminating with a 1-0 victory over the Red Bulls midweek. While this season is all but a lost cause, the Impact are building towards next season with a bit of momentum.
On the other hand, the San Jose Earthquakes enter in a major funk, having gone winless since Aug. 8. Despite their cold streak, Chris Wondolowski has thrived, scoring eight goals since returning from the World Cup.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. D.C. UNITED (SATURDAY, 8:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
After picking up a midweek CONCACAF Champions League victory, Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United turn back towards MLS play with a match against the Chicago Fire.
D.C. United remain two points above Sporting KC for the conference’s top spot while also having a game in hand. However, Ben Olsen will be looking to rebound from a disappointing loss to the Red Bulls in their last MLS action.
Saturday’s opposition, the Chicago Fire, picked up their league-leading 15th draw last time out, which is one behind the record set in 2011 by the Fire and the New York Red Bulls.
LA GALAXY vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Two clubs right in the thick of Western Conference contention collide Saturday as the LA Galaxy host FC Dallas.
Despite being entrenched in the Supporters’ Shield race, the Galaxy have endured a disappointing stretch that has seen a pair of draws with the lowly Impact and Earthquakes. With the Sounders sitting three points ahead, the Galaxy need to keep pace, starting this weekend.
FC Dallas put an end to their two game losing slide last time out by knocking off the Vancouver Whitecaps. Sitting comfortably in fourth place, FC Dallas can now focus on making the push forward, as the conference’s top spots are still within reach.
TORONTO FC vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 3 p.m., UNIMAS)
With the playoffs in doubt, Toronto FC face a must-win meeting with Chivas USA that could all but doom the Canadian side to yet another disappointing season.
TFC take on one of the league’s lesser sides and, despite all of the controversy in recent weeks, should be heavily favored to emerge victorious. Just three points out with a game in hand, TFC are still a contender, but a loss to Chivas USA would be a gut punch for Michael Bradley’s side.
Meanwhile, Chivas USA’s biggest fight over the next few week may not take place on the field, but in the boardroom as the club is facing a potential hiatus next season. Regardless of next year’s status, the club would surely like to go out on a high note, but will have to do so without leading striker Cubo Torres, who will miss out due to suspension.