By RYAN TOLMICH
A matchup of American stars including Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler takes centerstage this weekend when the winners of the past three MLS Cups clash Saturday night.
Reigning Champions Sporting KC will play host to the winner of the two titles that preceded their own, the LA Galaxy. Both teams enter the games on massive undefeated streaks, with the Galaxy and SKC having not registered a loss in eight and five games, respectively.
Elsewhere, the Vancouver Whitecaps head to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls host Chris Wondolowski and the Earthquakes and the Houston Dynamo look to begin their playoff push against Jermain Defoe Toronto FC.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS slate:
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 11 p.m., NBC Sports)
The Portland Timbers return home for a key matchup against the Colorado Rapids for their second meeting this season. With the Timbers on a four game winless streak, including a lost to rival Seattle Sounders last week that has to string, the Timbers will look to bounce back against a Rapids side that has gone three without losing.
The Rapids came back from a two goal deficit to draw even with the Philadelphia Union last week and will look to ride that momentum into Providence Park. The Rapids are in third place in the Western Conference while the Timbers are well out of playoff contention for now.
SPORTING KC vs. LA GALAXY (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN 2)
Reigning champions Sporting KC have successfully avoided a post-title slump, finding themselves in sole possession of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The 2013 champions have won back-to-back contests and are undefeated in five straight, which include wins over the Crew, Impact, Dynamo and Timbers.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy are fresh off of a 5-1 shellacking of the New England Revolution and are currently sitting in third in the Western Conference. However, the Galaxy will be without star defender and 2014 World Cup participant Omar Gonzalez, who will miss the game with an ankle injury.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES ( Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS LIVE)
In a matchup of two of the league’s most feared goalscorers, current Golden Boot leader Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls host the league’s top goalscorer from 2010 and 2012 in Chris Wondolowski and the Earthquakes.
Both sides enter this weekend’s clash having experienced some disappointment in recent games, as the Red Bulls are coming off of a disappointing 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Union. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes are losers of four straight and haven’t picked up a point since a May 31 victory over FC Dallas. However, with an elite goalscorer lining up on either side of the field, both teams are sure to have plenty of chances to pick up the all-important three points.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
The Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact currently find themselves in very similar situations.
Both sides currently sit outside the playoff picture, are on two game losing streaks and are coming off identical 2-1 defeats at the hands of Sporting KC. Both teams have struggled in recent weeks, with the Crew winless in seven games while the Impact currently maintaining the lowest point total in the entire league. With roughly half of the season already in the past, both team’s will need to start picking up points in bunches of threes if they hope to make a surprising push for playoff contention.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS LIVE)
In a week headlined by his acting chops, Mike Magee and the Chicago Fire are back in action Saturday when they take on the Philadelphia Union.
After enjoying his now-viral “day off”, Magee will look to get back to work Saturday in an effort to continue a hot streak that has seen him register three goal and two assists over his last four starts. Meanwhile, the Union will be looking to build on some momentum of their own, having knocked off the Red Bulls 3-1 at home midweek.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS LIVE)
In a matchup of teams that have seen their fortunes exchange this season, Defoe and Toronto FC head to Texas to take on the Houston Dynamo.
TFC look to be on their way to their first MLS playoffs appearance in team history, as their star signing Defoe’s 11 goals have set the tone for a new era at TFC. Meanwhile, despite being perennial playoff contenders, the Dynamo have uncharacteristically struggled this season and are currently buried in ninth in the Eastern Conference, having lost 11 of 19 games. If the Dynamo are to rebound and make a run up the table, a win Saturday over Toronto could be a major turning point to lack back on.
FC DALLAS vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS LIVE)
The New England Revolution have been the streakiest team by far in MLS the season.
After enjoying a run that saw the team win six-of-seven throughout April and May, the Revs have dropped six in a row. Fresh off a 5-1 beatdown at the hands of the Galaxy, the Revs still find themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, while their Saturday opponents, FC Dallas, find themselves in a similar position out west. Saturday’s contest looks to be a statement game for both sides, as both FC Dallas and the Revs look to pick up some valuable breathing room in their respective conferences.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 10 p.m., MLS LIVE)
With a draw with one of the league’s more star-studded teams in the rear view mirror, the Vancouver Whitecaps now turn their attention to another of MLS’ top sides.
The Whitecaps were able to hold Toronto FC to a 1-1 draw midweek, but the Canadian side will now face the task of a trip to the always-tricky Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake. RSL, who currently sit second in the Western Conference, find themselves in a major rough patch by their standards, having won only two of their last eight games. Saturday’s contest is the beginning of a three-game homestand for the reigning MLS Cup runner-ups and it could prove to be a memorable one, as longtime goalkeeper Nick Rimando is in need of just one more clean sheet to tie the all-time MLS record held by Kevin Hartman.
D.C. UNITED vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 8 p.m. Univision Deportes)
After recent stops in Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose, the Eric “Cubo” Torres show will make it’s next stop in the nation’s capital.
Torres has been on an absolute tear, with five of his thirteen goals on the season coming from the past five games. Torres and Chivas USA are undefeated in those five contests, but a trip to RFK Stadium is sure to prove a tough task. D.C. United have picked up points from five of their last six games, including four victories. If United manage to stop Torres and Chivas, they will have the opportunity to take sole possession of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with a Sporting KC loss or draw.