By DAN KARELL
First place in the Western Conference standings is on the line on Friday when Real Salt Lake visits Clint Dempsey and the Seattle Sounders.
The Sounders are the hottest team in the league since the middle of July, losing just once and earning 23 of 27 points thanks to seven wins in their last eight matches. RSL though enter the match having won the season series against the Sounders as well as winning their last two matches by a combined score of 8-2. The likelihood of these two teams meeting again in the playoffs make this match a must-watch affair.
Elsewhere around MLS, the Colorado Rapids host FC Dallas, the Philadelphia Union hope to stay in the playoff race when they face the reeling Houston Dynamo, and the Montreal Impact host the Brian Bliss-coached Columbus Crew.
Here is a rundown of the Week 29 slate:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Friday, 7pm, NBC Sports Network)
Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey return to Seattle after their successful night in Columbus helping the U.S. Men’s National Team qualify for the World Cup. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando return to RSL as well from the U.S. squad.
With the international dates over, both teams should be close to full strength, though the Sounders are likely to miss Shalrie Joseph and Brad Evans is still questionable. On the other side, Alvaro Saborio is still listed as questionable for RSL.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 2pm, MLS Live)
Marco Di Vaio extended his league leading 17 goals last Sunday with two in a 4-2 victory against the ten-man New England Revolution. Patrice Bernier also added two in the win, as the Impact stayed atop the Eastern Conference with 45 points.
The Crew meanwhile were thumped handily by Sporting Kansas City last week, falling back to earth. Federico Higuain is still likely to miss out after suffering an adductor injury, and the centerback depth is being tested with Josh Williams and Eric Gehrig still working their way back.
D.C. UNITED vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 4pm, UniMas)
Saturday’s game at RFK Stadium marks the 40th meeting between the Galaxy and D.C. United, but the D.C. franchise has seen better days during the long-standing rivalry.
The Galaxy have an eight-match winning streak against D.C. United and it’s likely to continue, as D.C. is mired in a five-game winless streak at the moment. The hosts are the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention. Jared Jeffrey is missing for D.C. United, while Robbie Rodgers is still sidelined for the Galaxy.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 7pm, MLS Live/TSN 2)
Toronto FC hasn’t won a game in six matches, and if they lose on Saturday at Red Bull Arena to the Red Bulls, they’ll be mercifully eliminated from playoff contention.
The visitors will be without Doniel Henry due to suspension, but the Red Bulls have plenty of injury issues of their own, including Roy Miller, Tim Cahill, and the recent injury to Lloyd Sam, who was making a name for himself on the right wing.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 7:30pm, MLS Live)
Union head coach John Hackworth called his side’s match against the Dynamo a “six-pointer” and for good reason.
Following the Union’s defeat last Sunday to San Jose, a victory for the Dynamo on the road would see them leap-frog the Union in the standings. Depending on how the New England Revolution play, the Union could even be outside of the playoff positions.
Union forward Jack McInerney has continued his goal drought, and Hackworth promised to make a number of lineup changes for this weekend. The Dynamo will have to do without Adam Moffat, who was just traded to the Seattle Sounders on Friday afternoon.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 8:30pm, MLS Live)
Bobby Shuttleworth returns to goal for the Revolution as Matt Reis is forced to serve his one-match suspension after picking up a red card in the fifth minute of last Saturday’s loss to the Impact.
The Fire missed out on a chance to gain ground in the standings with their mid-week draw at Toronto FC, but they return home with Arevalo Rios and Joel Lindpere, pieces in the lineup that could get them a crucial victory late in the season. Revolution forward Juan Agudelo is still day-to-day with a hamstring injury.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 9pm, MLS Live)
If the Union-Dynamo match is classified as a six-pointer for the hosts, then so is the Rapids vs. FC Dallas match set to take place in rainy Denver on Saturday.
An FC Dallas victory would put them above the Rapids in the standings, a stunning turn of events considering that the Rapids have been in the playoff picture all summer. Meanwhile, a win for the nearly healthy Rapids will could potentially put them over the Los Angeles Galaxy once more.
CHIVAS USA vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 10:30pm, MLS Live)
The Timbers were once the talk of the Western Conference, but now sit in fifth place, needing a victory to keep themselves in the playoff picture.
Caleb Porter’s club defeated Toronto FC last week in dominating fashion, but they’ve won just two matches since July 20, which has lead to them dropping down the standings. Chivas USA meanwhile have looked sharper since Erick Torres joined the club in July, and have lost only once in their last four matches. Timbers midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Valeri are questionable, but they should play.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 10:30pm, MLS Live)
Two teams tied on points in the fierce Western Conference playoff battle face off at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Earthquakes, who won last season’s Supporters Shield, have struggled mightily this season, but they are still only five points outside of the playoff. However, they’ll have to play without Rafael Baca and Steven Lenhart, two regular starters in the lineup. The Whitecaps should have their whole squad available to them, aside from the long-term injury issues of Brad Rusin and Jay DeMerit, who is still working his way back from a torn Achilles.