By THOMAS FLOYD
The California Clasico is always a heated feud. But this weekend's version offers an extra dose of hype.
With the San Jose Earthquakes boasting the best record in MLS, the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy on a three-game winning streak, and more than 50,000 tickets sold for Saturday night's clash at Stanford Stadium, the fixture is this week's must-see match.
Elsewhere around the league, Thierry Henry seems poised to return to the starting lineup for New York for a match against a Toronto FC team unbeaten in its past three under Paul Mariner. And in a key Eastern Conference meeting, Sporting Kansas City will host the Chicago Fire.
Here is a rundown of the Week 17 slate:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Friday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports)
After jumping out to a big lead early in the Eastern Conference standings, Kansas City has cooled down of late, allowing D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls move into a first-place tie.
And just five points back of Kansas City is the Fire, who are looking to make the jump into the conference's upper echelon. Although defender Arne Friedrich has recovered from a hamstring injury to re-enter the fold, Chicago will be without suspended left back Gonzalo Segares.
TORONTO FC vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
After blowing two-goal leads in back-to-back games and settling for a pair of draws, Toronto turned in its first complete performance of the Paul Mariner era Wednesday, defeating Montreal 3-0.
The Reds will look to make it two in a row against a New York team that should be getting Thierry Henry back in the starting lineup with the French forward nearly recovered from a calf strain. In a 3-2 win over D.C. United last week, Henry logged 21 minutes.
D.C. UNITED vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Game two of the Marco Di Vaio era brings Montreal back to the nation's capital, where they grabbed a 1-1 draw April 18 — the last time United dropped any points at home this season.
Look for United coach Ben Olsen to shake up his lineup a bit and bring midfielder Branko Boskovic, who just agreed to a new contract, into the starting 11 and shift Dwayne De Rosario up top.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Winless in seven, the Sounders sure aren't looking like the MLS Cup contenders most have expected this season, and losing Fredy Montero to suspension Saturday is not going to make breaking that streak any easier.
New England, meanwhile, continues to linger in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. Losing injured right back Kevin Alston (hamstring) for this game, though, is a difficult blow.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 8 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Salt Lake will look to bounce back from a two-loss week with a result at Columbus, though having captain Kyle Beckerman serve a one-match ban during the fixture could make that task difficult.
Another sign that Columbus might have the advantage Saturday: The Crew have won five in a row over RSL at Crew Stadium. Salt Lake's only victory in Columbus came in August 2006.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
It's safe to say the Dynamo will be concentrating on shoring up their defense after conceding seven goals in two games last week. The Union could provide a tough test after scoring nine in their past two games — a 4-0 win over Kansas City and a 5-2 Open Cup triumph against Harrisburg.
Both teams will be victimized by suspension in this one, with Philadelphia right back Raymon Gaddis and Houston midfielder Adam Moffat banned.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
This match could be crucial to the Western Conference playoff picture, as both teams currently find themselves barely on the outside looking in at the projected postseason field.
Portland will be short-handed defensively, with Hanyer Mosquera and Lovel Palmer both suspended. That's good news for a Colorado attack that is finally getting healthy, with Omar Cummings and Conor Casey set to share the field yet again after both dealt with injuries.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
The last time these California rivals met, the Earthquakes grabbed all three points at the Home Depot Center thanks to a furious comeback, turning a 2-0 deficit with 15 minutes remaining into a 3-2 win. Sealing the deal, of course, was Alan Gordon, who scored the stoppage-time winner.
With Robbie Keane back from Euro 2012 duty and the Galaxy finally turning the corner, Los Angeles will want to return the favor with a triumph on the road of their own.