MLS Preview: Houston, Red Bulls hope for playoff push, Vancouver and Sporting KC battle for West supremacy
With just four games left on the docket, teams around the playoff cut line are desperate for points. And yet, the top of the West remains wide open, with plenty of questions to be answered.
Things may look much clearer after this weekend, with lots of games that could provide space, or simply muddy the waters further.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]
The marquee matchup sees Vancouver and Sporting KC meet each with a chance to take charge of the Western Conference, separated by just a point at the top. Neither has a realistic shot at the Supporter’s Shield, but a #1 seed could make a world of difference in the playoff picture.
Plenty of teams are simply fighting for a playoff spot, with the New York Red Bulls with a brutal trip to Eastern Conference leaders Toronto. New York is four points clear in the final playoff spot, but with Montreal taking on basement-dwellers Colorado, they’ll want to maintain the distance. On the other end, the Houston Dynamo host Minnesota United while sitting a point back of a playoff position, trailing FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS preview:
Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps -- Saturday, 9 p.m. ET
Either side has the opportunity to take control of the Western Conference as Sporting K.C. hosts current leaders Vancouver. With just one win in the last three, the Whitecaps have just a single point lead over the trio of Portland, Seattle, and KC all knotted up. Most recently, a 3-0 loss to Seattle has Whitecaps fans on edge.
On the other side, the hosts are rolling, unbeaten in four across all competitions including victory in the US Open Cup final, and with a pair of league wins in a row. They have outscored opponents 8-4 in that span, a relatively poor performance for the league’s best defense that will have to contain Fredy Montero and company.
Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls -- Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls are still safe for a week in a playoff position, but with a daunting task in front of them, a loss and other results elsewhere could leave them clinging to just a single point advantage.
They head to Toronto, where the home side has lost just once all season en route to a seven-point advantage in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the visitors will just want a result of some kind, currently four points above Montreal in the final playoff spot.
New York will feel they have a chance as Sebastian Giovinco will likely sit thanks to quad tightness, and Toronto has lost its last two with the Italian on the sidelines, although Jozy Altidore returns from a three-game absence of his own. He’ll look to take advantage of a recently leaky Red Bulls back line.
Chicago Fire vs. NYCFC -- Saturday, 9 p.m. ET
A potential playoff preview sees NYCFC hit the road - where they’ve been vulnerable - to visit Chicago. The Fire have been just as vulnerable at home of late, with just one loss in its last four home games to go along with a pair of losses.
The Fire could see Bastian Schweinsteiger come back, having missed the last four matches with a calf problem, and his return matches that of a number of NYCFC midfield starters.
Both these teams are firmly in the playoff picture, and could meet down the road in the postseason. Now, their view is on a bye. Chicago sits in 4th with 51 points, while NYCFC is in a more advantageous spot with 55 points to put them in second.
Full MLS schedule (All Times E.T.)
Orlando City vs. FC Dallas -- 4 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls -- 7 p.m.
New England Revolution vs. Atlanta United -- 7:30 p.m.
Colombus Crew vs. D.C. United -- 7:30 p.m.
Houston Dynamo vs. Minnesota United -- 8:30 p.m.
Chicago Fire vs. NYCFC -- 8:30 p.m.
Colorado Rapids vs. Montreal Impact -- 9 p.m.
Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps -- 9 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers -- 10:30 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake -- 10:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Union vs. Seattle Sounders -- 1 p.m.