Photo by Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
With less than a month remaining in the MLS regular season and a logjam of teams colluding the playoff picture, every point becomes vital in the quest for postseason play.
Headlining this weekend’s action is a clash between two Eastern Conference contenders, as conference leaders D.C. United take on reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting KC. Sporting KC centerback Matt Besler recently admitted that heavy legs may be slowing his side down recently, but that they’re ready to push through in order to make another run to the MLS Cup final.
Meanwhile, the East’s playoff race intensifies as the New York Red Bulls take on the Houston Dynamo, the New England Revolution face the Columbus Crew, and Toronto FC travels west to take on the LA Galaxy.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS slate:
D.C. UNITED vs. SPORTING KC (Friday, 8 p.m., NBCSN)
If Sporting KC are to maintain any hope of claiming the East’s top spot, a win at a hostile RFK Stadium will be vital.
Sporting KC enter the weekend on a bit of a cold streak, having won just one of their last six MLS matches. However, last year’s MLS Cup champions will face that added boost of facing a D.C. United side lacking Perry Kitchen, who will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
D.C. United are facing a cold streak of their own, having won just one of their last four. However, that one came last week in a 1-0 decision over playoff contenders 1-0.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 6 p.m., NBCSN)
The New York Red Bulls are in need of a good old fashioned bounce-back victory.
Coming off a 4-0 loss to the LA Galaxy last time out, the Red Bulls enter the weekend full uncertainty, both on and off the field. With the club’s future full of questions, this season’s playoff race becomes all the more important as the Red Bulls currently maintain the conference’s fifth spot.
One of the team’s still in the quest for that spot is the Houston Dynamo, who currently sit five points out with a game in hand. While leapfrogging the Red Bulls, Union and TFC will be no easy task, the Dynamo have the experience to do so, starting this week at Red Bull Arena.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Sitting just one point above the red line, the Vancouver Whitecaps are in for a battle for a postseason appearance That battle continues Saturday for what could be a potential playoff preview, as the Whitecaps host fourth-place FC Dallas.
The Whitecaps demonstrated their bounce-back ability last weekend by recovering from a gut punch of a defeat to the Portland Timbers with a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. That streak will have to improved upon Saturday, although taking down FC Dallas will be no easy feat.
FC Dallas sit with what appears to be a cozy eight point cushion above Saturday’s opposition. However, with tough games against the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers on the the horizon, FC Dallas could use a few extra points to secure their spot.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MLS Direct Kick)
The Columbus Crew head into Saturday facing one of the league’s toughest challenges: stopping the New England Revolution.
The Revs have won six of their past seven games, which includes two victories over reigning champions Sporting KC. However, the Revs will now look to continue that streak against the last team to beat them.
Coincidentally, the Crew are the last team to take down the Revolution freight train as part of a streak that has seen the team collect 10 points in four games. Boosted by the potential debut of defender Emmanuel Pogatetz, the Crew will look to push up towards the top of the Eastern Conference by continuing their run of form.
LA GALAXY vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Currently on the outside looking in in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC are now tasked with visiting a team that looked a lot like an MLS Cup contender.
The LA Galaxy asserted their dominance last time out with a 4-0 destruction of the New York Red Bulls as Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Gyassi Zardes continued their run through the opposition that has seen the club go 7-0-2 in their last nine games.
TFC’s chances will surely be boosted by the return of star striker Jermain Defoe, who has missed the last two months with a groin injury. Sitting just one point out with a game in hand, TFC will need every bit of Defoe’s magic in Saturday’s clash with the Galaxy.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday 11 p.m., NBCSN)
In need of victory, the Portland Timbers are surely not disappointed to see a San Jose Earthquakes side that is winless in their last six.
Any momentum built up by the Sept. 20 victory over the Whitecaps is surely all but gone, as the Timbers slumped in a loss to TFC last week. Now sitting one point back, the Timbers are forced to play catchup. The Earthquakes, meanwhile, seem destined to just go through the motions as the season winds down, as the team is all but eliminated from postseason contention.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Sunday, 3 p.m., UniMas)
The Supporters’ Shield remains within reach for the Seattle Sounders and Sunday’s clash with the Colorado Rapids provides the next step in the Sounder’s quest for the league’s top regular season crown.
After struggling through back-to-back losses, the Sounders returned to form with a 4-2 victory over Chivas USA last time out and are now sitting equal to the LA Galaxy for the league’s top spot. The Rapids are winless since July 25 and have claimed only two points in that span.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Sunday, 5 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Just days after forward Mike Magee proclaimed that the club could “tie a pair of velcro shoes”, the Chicago Fire have to rebound against the Montreal Impact.
The Fire picked up yet another draw, their 17th of the season, last time out against the Philadelphia Union. Winless since Aug. 30, the Fire will look to pick up three points against the conference’s worst team. Sunday’s clash will have a special meaning for Impact head coach Frank Klopas, who managed the Fire from 2011-13 and was a club legend as a player.
CHIVAS USA vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Sunday, 7 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
The Chivas USA farewell tour plays host to Real Salt Lake, whose hopes for the Supporters’ Shield were dashed with last week’s loss to the Whitecaps
Chivas USA have collected just one point in their last 12 games, as the team’s final season in existence has continued in its downward spiral. With just four games left before the apparent hiatus, Chivas USA will look to end on a high note, starting Saturday.
Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake have little hope remaining when it comes to the Supporters’ Shield race, where they currently sit eight points back with four games to play. However, the importance of momentum cannot be understated, as RSL will have to recover a bit of confidence heading into the playoffs.