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MLS Week 20: A Look Ahead

Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Oh, what a week it’s been for Major League Soccer.

All of the headlines this week have come off the field, as a big shift occurred in both conferences with the playoff race ready to heat up.

Sporting Kansas City traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando City for a massive sum of allocation money and then all hell broke loose on the LA soccer scene. Jonathan dos Santos signed with the LA Galaxy in the same 24-hour span in which the club sacked Curt Onalfo and brought in Sigi Schmid on an interim basis. 2018 expansion team LAFC also announced Bob Bradley as their manager this week.

Now the focus shifts back to the field, where there are plenty of juicy storylines to follow during a full schedule that includes a packed Saturday night slate.

Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s MLS schedule:

Orlando City at Atlanta United (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

Eight days after opening up their rivalry, Orlando City and Atlanta United renew hostilities with a new face ready to make his MLS debut for Orlando. Dom Dwyer, who played for the USL version of Orlando City, is expected to start up top for the Lions, who are in the fight for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta is searching for its fifth victory in a row and even more separation between itself the group beneath the red line in the playoff hunt. A win on Saturday would equal the second-longest winning streak by an expansion team in MLS history.

Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

The Union breathed life back into their season on Wednesday with a 3-0 win over the nine-man Crew, but now they have to take care of business on the road, which they failed to do in Montreal and Columbus last week. The good news for the Union is they’ve outscored the New England Revolution, 10-0, in their last three regular-season meetings.

The Revs are in the same situation the Union were on Wednesday. A victory is imperative to keep themselves alive in the playoff hunt, and a loss to a fellow contender would sink them even further down into the Eastern Conference basement alongside D.C. United.

Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

The Montreal Impact are another one of the Eastern Conference contenders in need of a result on Saturday. Entering Red Bull Arena, the Impact have the upper hand in the series against the New York Red Bulls at the moment after their 2016 playoff win and a 1-0 win on June 3.

Jesse Marsch’s Red Bulls are in good position for now in the standings, but that doesn’t mean they can be comfortable. The Red Bulls brought in reinforcements with the signings of Muhamed Keita and Fidel Escobar. Daniel Royer’s provided the attack with a boost with three goals and an assist in his last two games.

Vancouver Whitecaps at FC Dallas (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

The Whitecaps dropped the ball on Sunday as they fell to the depleted Timbers at home and now they’ll have to try and make up for those lost points starting in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. The Whitecaps were able to take a point from FC Dallas at BC Place on June 17, and they’ll need the same result again on Saturday.

FC Dallas gets the cavalry back as Jesse Gonzalez, Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta return from Gold Cup duty, but how much the trio plays remains to be seen. Expect at least Hedges to get some time on the field, but Acosta might not since he played a good amount for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the knockout round. Oscar Pareja’s men will be without Maynor Figueroa and Hernan Grana due to yellow-card accumulation.

Portland Timbers at Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

The Timbers put in one of the gutsiest showings of the season last weekend in Vancouver with Jeremy Ebobisse leading the charge. Fanendo Adi will be back from suspension, but it’s doubtful Darlington Nagbe returns to the starting lineup after playing in the Gold Cup final on Wednesday night. The Timbers will try to be the third team to take points from BBVA Compass Stadium this season.

The Dynamo ¬†finally earned an elusive first road win last weekend against struggling D.C. United, and with a full compliment of attackers back from the Gold Cup, they should fire on all cylinders against a Timbers defense that’s still trying to figure everything out.

Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

In all reality, this should have been the game of the week in MLS until the Dwyer trade went down. The Fire enter as the second-place team in the East with one more game left before the All-Star Game chaos takes over the town. With Ike Opara still out with a concussion, Nemanja Nikolic avoids one of his toughest challenges of the season, but he’ll still face a bit of a test from the organized Sporting KC back line.

Where Sporting KC go from here is up in the air. Peter Vermes will have his team prepared for Saturday, but it will have less firepower with Dywer in Orlando and no direct replacement on the roster yet. A combination of Daniel Salloi, Latif Blessing and Diego Rubio will have to get the job done up front until a new signing comes in.

D.C. United at Minnesota United (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

I think we’re all united in agreement that Saturday’s clash of bottom feeders will be far down the queue of must-watch matches during the busy Saturday night window. D.C. United hit rock bottom last week by dropping a three-goal lead to the Sounders and losing at home to Houston. Losing to Minnesota would be another low note, but remember nothing is as bad as the 2013 D.C. campaign.

Minnesota has given up 45 goals, sits last in the Western Conference and has a goal differential of -20, but somehow enter as the favorite to come out with points on Saturday. Incredibly, all is not lost for the Loons if they win. If things go their way, a victory might put them less than six points out of the final playoff spot in the West.

Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

The Crew defense looked like a disaster against the Union on Wednesday, just days after looking like one of the best units in the league. Without Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar in defense for the trip to Rio Tinto Stadium, the Crew will have their back against the wall, although some may argue not having Mensah available is a blessing after his poor showings in Black and Gold this year.

Despite being tied for the second most losses in MLS, Real Salt Lake has found a way to make an imprint on the standings in recent weeks. With Mike Petke as energized as after his fabulous postgame rant a week ago, RSL should have enough to take care of business against the depleted Crew.

Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

Call this the under the radar game of the week. The Rapids got the best of the Earthquakes last season with two wins and a draw while conceding just one tally. If the Rapids want any chance of sneaking their way up toward the red line, they need to pull a result out of Avaya Stadium, which isn’t an impossible task given the home record of the Quakes and the recent form of the seventh-place side in the West.

On the other hand, the Quakes need Saturday’s game to turn into a positive result in the worst way after falling to the Red Bulls and Sounders in deflating fashion last week. The Quakes have plenty of attacking firepower to down the Rapids, but they need to show it off like they did in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal win over the Galaxy.

Seattle Sounders at LA Galaxy (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Oh, how a week can change the hype for a match between two of the league’s biggest clubs. A week ago, the Sounders would’ve been seen as the favorite to go in and be the latest team to take points from the Galaxy at StubHub Center. However, all the momentum the Sounders are riding may not matter with Sigi Schmid now in charge of the struggling Galaxy.

The first game of the Schmid era in Carson should have one single objective: win at home. The Galaxy were 1-6-3 in their stadium under Curt Onalfo, a record that is simply unacceptable in order to reach the postseason. There’s plenty of time for the Galaxy to make up ground, and there’s no better way to start that against their longtime foe and their new manager’s old team.

New York City FC at Toronto FC (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN)

The final clash of the weekend should be another enticing nationally televised game, as New York City FC head up to Ontario in an attempt to shake up the top three in the Eastern Conference standings. Patrick Vieira’s men dropped points at home to the Reds last week, and in order to be in the chase for the two playoff byes, they need to spoil the afternoon at BMO Field.

The deepest team in MLS had little trouble with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley away with the USMNT. Although they did play on Wednesday night, there’s a small chance either player could feature with an extra day of rest. With the Fire playing a difficult road clash in Kansas City, Toronto has an opportunity in front of it to open up a five-point gap atop the East with a victory.

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