By RYAN TOLMICH
As the MLS playoff race intensifies, two of the Eastern Conference’s top sides collide Friday to kick off a weekend filled with important games.
The New England Revolution enter the weekend sitting just three points behind Friday’s opposition, Sporting KC, for second place in the Eastern Conference. While Friday’s clash could prove vital in the constant battle for playoff positioning, it could also offer fans a potential postseason preview.
Meanwhile, in other MLS action, the New York Red Bulls look to shake off a disappointing midweek CONCACAF Champions League elimination with a trip to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy, while the Portland Timbers visit Toronto FC as both teams fight for their playoff lives.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS slate:
SPORTING KC vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION ( Friday, 8 p.m., NBCSN)
With just three points separating the two sides, Friday’s meeting between Sporting KC and the New England Revolution represents a battle for positioning.
Sporting KC, fresh off a 4-0 victory over Chivas USA , will be looking both up and down the table, as a victory paired with a D.C. United loss would see the reigning MLS Cup winners claim the conference’s top spot.
The Revolution had won five straight, including a 3-1 victory over SKC, before falling to the Columbus Crew last weekend. The Revs could equal Sporting KC’s point total with a win Friday in what could potentially turn out to be an Eastern Conference playoff matchup.
TORONTO FC vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday 1 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Fresh off a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers have a bit more breathing room than Saturday’s opposition: Toronto FC.
TFC enter the weekend on the outside looking in, as the Canadian side sits three points out of the fifth and final playoff spot with a game in hand. As the regular season winds down, each and every point becomes more and more valuable for TFC, who face this weekend’s game without Jermain Defoe and Jackson.
For their part, the Timbers hold one of that last precious playoff position, leading the Whitecaps by two points after last week’s victory. However, a loss this week could all but nullify last week’s result, as the Timbers have to emerge from BMO Field with something to show for it.
D.C. UNITED vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 3 p.m., NBCSN)
Following back-to-back draws on the heels of a U.S. Open Cup final loss, the Philadelphia Union need to start winning games.
The Union currently sit two points out of the playoffs and are undefeated since Aug. 9. However, the Union settled for draws in their last two outings, giving teams around them the chance to leapfrog up the Eastern Conference table.
The team sitting atop that table, D.C. United, are fresh off a midweek victory that saw the team advance into the CCL quarterfinals. With North American competition on the back burner for awhile, the Eastern Conference leaders can focus on MLS play, where they haven’t won since Aug. 31.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. CHIVAS USA (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
After a disappointing midweek loss to FC Dallas, the Seattle Sounders now face their ideal opponent, as the Chivas USA show rolls into CenturyLink Field.
Chivas USA have lost 10 of their last 11 MLS games and will be without veteran midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker due to a suspension stemming from a red card in last week’s loss to Toronto FC.
The Sounders will expect nothing less than three points, which will prove vital in the quest for a Supporters’ Shield trophy. Currently tied with the LA Galaxy for the league’s top spot, the Sounders will need to knock off LA’s other team to continue the push toward the club’s second trophy of the season.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
One week after falling behind the Timbers for playoff positioning, the Vancouver Whitecaps’ workload doesn’t get any easier.
The Whitecaps will look to rebound against one of the league’s top sides, as Real Salt Lake pays a visit to BC Place. The two sides have settled for draws in the two previous meetings this season, but the pair will need to emerge with more than a point to keep pace in their respective races.
RSL currently sit five points out of the Supporters’ Shield race, meaning every point will be necessary to claw their way past the Sounders and Galaxy. Meanwhile, the Whitecaps are also in need of a crucial three points to erase the two point deficit created by last week’s loss to the Timbers.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Stuck in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, a visit from the lowly Montreal Impact couldn’t come at a better time for the Columbus Crew.
The Crew currently sit in the conference’s fifth position, good for the final playoff spot. Having earned seven points from their past three games, the Crew will look to maintain a hot streak against the Impact.
However, the Impact are the last team to deal the Crew a loss, a 2-0 Impact victory back on Aug. 30. The Canadian side enters the weekend playing much better of late, including a 2-0 victory over the Earthquakes last week.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
The Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes meet Saturday in an effort to keep their increasingly dim postseason hopes on life support.
Both sides are all but eliminated from the postseason race, as the Rapids and Earthquakes currently sit eight and 11 points out, respectively. Enduring a run of form that has seen the team lose eight of their last nine games, the Rapids are in need of a win just for confidence’s sake.
Meanwhile, the Earthquakes haven’t fared much better in recent weeks, as the team is winless since Aug. 2. However, a victory Saturday would see the Earthquakes equal the Rapids on points, although the Rapids would remain ahead on tiebreakers.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. CHICAGO FIRE ( Sunday, 3 p.m., UniMas)
After settling for draws last time out, the Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire would need miracles to save playoff hopes that now hang by a thread.
Both sides have a slew of teams above them in the table, meaning a postseason birth is unlikely. Anything less than a win for either side would resign them to a season that falls short of the playoffs, and three points might not be enough to will the winning team back into contention.
To add to the Fire’s difficulties, the visitors will be without starting defender Lovel Palmer, who will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation. As for the hosts, the Dynamo could see the return of Will Bruin, Jermaine Taylor and Boniek Garcia after the trio trained during the week.
LA GALAXY vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN 2)
In a matchup of two of the league’s marquee teams, both the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls enter needing victories for entirely different reasons.
The Galaxy enter as the league’s hottest team, having gone unbeaten in their last eight games. Sitting equal with the Sounders on points, the Galaxy are pushing hard for the Supporters’ Shield by riding the attacking trio of Robbie Keane, Gyassi Zardes and Landon Donovan.
Sunday’s opposition, the New York Red Bulls, sit right in the middle of the Eastern Conference logjam, as Thiery Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips and co. hold on to fourth place. Fresh off a midweek elimination from the CCL, the Red Bulls’ strategy of resting key starters will need to be justified with some sort of result in Los Angeles.
Which match are you most anticipating? Think the Galaxy end the weekend sitting atop the Western Conference? Can defending champion Sporting KC claw their way to the top of the East? Will the Timbers cement their hold on the last Western Conference playoff spot?
Share your thoughts below.