By THOMAS FLOYD
At the moment, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps stand on somewhat uncertain ground in the Western Conference playoff hunt. But a win Saturday could go a long way toward easing the pressure.
With the home stretch approaching, the Galaxy and Whitecaps will face off in a crucial clash this weekend at the Home Depot Center. Much scrutiny will be centered on the left hamstring of Los Angeles captain Landon Donovan, who is listed as questionable for the match and also is in doubt for the U.S. national team's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica.
Elsewhere across the league, the Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact will try to continue their respective surges toward the playoff field, while the Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo will meet in another key Eastern Conference matchup.
Here is a rundown of the Week 26 slate:
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 10:30 p.m., NBCSN)
After finally getting their first win under interim coach Gavin Wilkinson last weekend against Vancouver, the Timbers will have a golden chance to make it two in a row when the struggling Rapids visit Jeld-Wen Field.
Colorado will be concentrating on slowing down Portland midfielder-forward Darlington Nagbe, who has scored in three consecutive games, regaining the stellar form he showed at season's start.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Talk about a six-pointer: Even at 39 points for sixth place in the Eastern Conference (and two points out of a postseason slot), Columbus and Montreal will each look to enhance their playoff chances while also dealing a blow to a top competitor.
Both teams will be short-handed defensively because of suspension, as Montreal will again be missing Hassoun Camara and Columbus will be without Josh Williams.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
This match a few weeks ago may have carried playoff implications, but these two teams have since fallen out of the picture, taking much of the buzz out of this East Coast showdown.
New England, though, will want to get its first-ever win over the Union after going 0-3-2 against the club since Philadelphia entered MLS in 2010. With the Revolution's Jerry Bengtson and the Union's Jack McInerney, the game will feature two of the league's top young strikers.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Back on top of the Eastern Conference and just three points behind San Jose in the Supporters' Shield race, Kansas City will look to draw even with the Earthquakes by notching a win at home against a Toronto team that is winless in six.
Kansas City will be without suspended All-Star centerback Aurelien Collin, which is a particularly tough blow considering the club is 17-1-6 when Collin starts alongside Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
D.C. United have won just two of their past eight. Real Salt Lake is winless in four. Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, these two clubs that once found themselves in first place will try to get back on track.
For United, the match marks the end of a busy stretch featuring five games in 14 days. It will be the 300th career game for captain Dwayne De Rosario, who hit a more notable milestone in Wednesday's 2-2 draw with New York when he scored his 100th regular season goal.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 10 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick/TSN2)
Whether or not Landon Donovan is in the lineup, the Galaxy likely will be feeling confident as long as they can deploy the MLS Cup-winning back line of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant. In recent weeks, that unit has returned to old form.
With standout rookie striker Darren Mattocks suspended, Camilo, Kenny Miller and the inconsistent Vancouver attack will have all the more trouble trying to crack Los Angeles' defense.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
These two Eastern Conference opponents have ridden key midseason acquisitions to surges in the standings, with Chicago acquiring Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald and Houston working in Oscar Boniek Garcia and, more recently, Ricardo Clark.
It will be the first game for Chicago without playmaker Marco Pappa, who left the club this week for Dutch side Heerenveen. Much of the added responsibility now will fall on winger Patrick Nyarko.
FC DALLAS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Sunday, 7 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
FC Dallas saw its three-game winning streak snapped last weekend against the Galaxy, but the club still finds itself back in the playoff conversation thanks to the resurgent play of David Ferreira, Brek Shea and George John.
Schellas Hyndman's side, however, will have its hands full against a Seattle team paced by the scorching form of Fredy Montero (seven goals in six games) and Mauro Rosales (nine assists in seven matches).
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 9 p.m., NBCSN)
Reliable defensively for most of this season, Chivas lately have been surrendering goals at a stunning rate, with 14 allowed in their past four matches.
That's alarming in any situation, but it could be especially troublesome against San Jose's league-leading attack, which features the lethal forward trio of Chris Wondolowski (18 goals), Alan Gordon (11 goals) and Steven Lenhart (eight goals).