Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
A crescendo has built since March all the way until now as we head into the final week of the Major League Soccer regular season.
Seven teams, including the once first-place Montreal Impact and last season’s MLS Cup runners-up Houston Dynamo, enter this weekend not knowing whether they’ll still be playing into next week. An eighth team, the New York Red Bulls, stands on the verge of their first major piece of silverware in club history when they welcome the Chicago Fire to Red Bull Arena.
Elsewhere in MLS, the Impact visit Toronto FC, Sporting Kansas City travel to face the Philadelphia Union, and the Seattle Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy in a fitting close to the MLS regular season.
Here’s a look at the week 36 slate:
PHILADELPHIA UNION VS. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 3pm, NBC Sports Network)
The Union were saved last Sunday when the Red Bulls defeated the Dynamo, but that doesn’t mean that John Hackworth’s side are in the clear.
Hackworth announced earlier this week that Keon Daniel and Brian Carroll will miss out due to injury and suspension, respectively and the Union need to not only win but have other results go in their favor in order to advance to the postseason. Sporting KC, while they have locked up a playoff spot, have recorded four consecutive shutouts in all competitions and haven’t conceded in 414 minutes.
TORONTO FC vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 4pm, TSN/RDS/MLS Live)
With two of the Canadian clubs already out of the postseason race, the Impact are hoping they can avoid what would be a spectacular collapse in the second half of the season.
The Impact know that all they need are three points and they’re in and it shouldn’t be too difficult a task against the perennially struggling TFC. Impact forward Marco Di Vaio is tied for the lead in goals this season with 20 and will look to add to his tally. Alessandro Nesta has been ruled out due to injury.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. FC DALLAS (SATURDAY, 5:30pm, NBC Sports Network)
The Earthquakes earned a huge momentum building win mid-week in the CONCACAF Champions League but it came at the expense of their likelihood of qualifying for the MLS postseason.
San Jose needs to score 13 more goals than the Colorado Rapids as well as a win and a Rapids loss, while FC Dallas will likely play inspired as it’s the final game in charge for Schellas Hyndman. FC Dallas though will be without starters Raul Fernandez, Mauro Diaz, David Ferreira, Jackson, and George John due to injuries.
CHIVAS USA vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 10:30pm, MLS Live)
Both team’s futures have already been decided as the Timbers will be playing in the postseason and Chivas USA’s season is finished following Saturday night.
The Timbers could still potentially finish in first place in the Western Conference with a win and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts could take the league-lead in shutouts if he earns a clean sheet against Chivas on Saturday evening.
D.C. UNITED vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Sunday, 1:30pm, NBC)
Last season’s MLS Cup finalists have been in a bit of a tailspin recently but they’ve picked a good match to try and turn their fortunes around.
The Dynamo have been shutout in three consecutive matches including last Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at home to the Red Bulls. Brad Davis, Jermaine Taylor, and Oscar Boniek Garcia were all rested for the Dynamo’s mid-week match on Thursday in Panama and should be set to go against D.C. United. If Ben Olsen’s club fail to win, they’ll set a record for least wins in a season (three). D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen is suspended for the match.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Sunday, 4pm, MLS Live)
The second game of a home-and-home end of season series heads to Crew Stadium with the red-hot Revolution needing a win to stay alive.
18-year-old Diego Fagundez scored the game-winner last Saturday vs. the Crew and currently the Revolution are in the final playoff place, but need to win to keep their hopes alive. Federico Higuain and Danny O’Rourke are both questionable for the Crew.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Sunday, 5pm, UniMas)
The New York Red Bulls head into the final weekend of the year with a chance to win a title for the third time in team history, though they failed in the first two occasions.
The Red Bulls fell to the Columbus Crew in the 2008 MLS Cup final and against the Chicago Fire, the Metrostars fell in the 2003 U.S. Open Cup Final, but the team believes they can turn around their fortunes this season. Fabian Espindola is nearly fit and the Fire will have to replace Jeff Larentowicz in the starting lineup as he misses out due to suspension.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Sunday, 8pm, MLS Live)
Despite the formidable strike force of Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller, the Whitecaps won’t be playing in the postseason while the young and inexperienced Rapids surely will be.
Rookie of the Year candidate Dillon Powers is unlikely to play as Oscar Pareja rests some of his starters from the trip to Vancouver, but the Whitecaps will be without Jordan Harvey due to suspension and Miller due to injury. Whitecaps forward Kekuta Manneh will have another chance to show off his skills before the long offseason.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Sunday, 9pm, ESPN)
This game has lost a bit of it’s luster as both side’s have slumped as of late, especially the Sounders, who haven’t won in six consecutive matches after winning five in a row.
Eddie Johnson was held out of training earlier this week and the entire team is pretty banged up with injuries between Djimi Traore, Clint Dempsey, and Obafemi Martins. Meanwhile the Galaxy have their own injury problems as Robbie Keane overcomes an ankle problem and Landon Donovan tries to play through one. Juninho, who played mid-week for the Galaxy in El Salvador, misses out due to suspension.
The winner of this game could determine who plays in the knockout game and who makes it automatically to the conference semifinals.