Every MLS team except the Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Real Salt Lake is in action Wednesday, and between league matches and friendlies, fans are in for a packed day of action around North America.
Matches of great importance in the Eastern Conference take place in New York and Houston, as the Red Bulls welcome the Chicago Fire in a battle of two teams jockeying for playoff positioning, while the Dynamo host Sporting Kansas City in a rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.
Out West, the Los Angeles Galaxy look to build on their five-goal outburst against Portland by taking on another Pacific Northwest opponent, and the Supporters' Shield-leading San Jose Earthquakes look for three more points against an FC Dallas team that is quietly unbeaten in four matches.
Here's a closer look at Wednesday's packed slate of matches featuring MLS teams:
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. CHICAGO FIRE (1 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
This mid-day matinee will be played in extremely hot weather conditions, and it's one that carries great significance for both clubs. New York leads Chicago by a point for third place in the East through 19 matches, and the Fire can make their first serious push toward the top of the standings by dealing the Red Bulls a loss — something they have yet to suffer at home through eight games.
The Red Bulls will be without Rafa Marquez (calf injury), but the Fire will be shorthanded too, as centerback Arne Friedrich is suspended for the match after picking up two yellow cards against Vancouver over the weekend.
CHIVAS USA vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (4 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
The Timbers have yet to win on the road, and Chivas USA has struggled at home. All that adds up to an unpredictable afternoon at the Home Depot Center, where Chivas returns to action following a bye week in league play.
Portland, meanwhile, plays for the second time under interim manager Gavin Wilkinson and must put the nightmare that was its defensive performance on Saturday night in the rear-view mirror. The club yielded five goals to the Los Angeles Galaxy, including four in a nine-minute stretch. On the plus side, Kris Boyd turned in his first multi-goal performance of his MLS career.
TORONTO FC vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (7 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
The Rapids return to the scene of their greatest success — the 2010 MLS Cup final at BMO Field — looking to snap out of a funk that has seen the club lose five of its last six matches. The Conor Casey-Omar Cummings partnership is starting to gel again, which is good news for a team in desperate need of some.
TFC, meanwhile, takes to the field after losing red-hot striker Danny Koevermans for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. The Reds have vastly improved under manager Paul Mariner, going 3-2-4 to climb back to respectability and finally get within striking distance of the handful of teams ahead of them in the conference table.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. ASTON VILLA (7:30 p.m.)
American internationals Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan make their way to PPL Park for this friendly, one that the Union will likely look to get their reserves some playing time during a congested portion of the schedule and a big match with the Red Bulls looming on Saturday.
For Guzan, who just re-signed with the club this week, it's his first chance to leave an impression on his quest to wrestle the No. 1 goalkeeper job away from Shay Given.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (8 p.m., TSN2/MLS Live/Direct Kick)
In a battle of first-year head coaches, both Jesse Marsch and Jay Heaps will aim to right their respective ships at Stade Saputo. The Revs had their five-game unbeaten streak snapped by TFC over the weekend and sit six points out of playoff contention in the East (with a game in hand) behind Houston.
Montreal has played three more games than the Revs and is a point behind them, meaning the Impact need a result to keep pace. Suddenly losers of four out of five matches (they've been outscored 12-4 in that span), Montreal needs its defense to tighten things up and DP striker Marco Di Vaio to find his form.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (8:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Playing each other for the second time in 11 days, the two Eastern Conference finalists from a year ago square off at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Unbeaten in three matches, first-place Sporting KC will be without Roger Espinoza, who has departed for Honduran Olympic duty. It remains to be seen whether Houston will take to the field with Geoff Cameron, who played Sunday despite a looming transfer to Stoke City but reportedly entered negotiations with the Premier League club on Tuesday and may not want to be risked against such a physical opponent. Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall has posted three straight shutouts, including one at Livestrong Sporting Park in a scoreless draw on July 7.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. CHELSEA (9:30, ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
The Sounders get the first crack at the UEFA Champions League winners on their North American tour in a rematch of their 2009 friendly, which the Blues won 2-0. The match also marks the final time Seattle fan favorite Roger Levesque will lace up his cleats, as he is retiring following the game. The Rave Green faithful should be out in force for this nationally televised battle.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (10 p.m., TSN2/MLS Live/Direct Kick)
The last time the Whitecaps played the Galaxy, they were completely outclassed in a 3-0 result at the Home Depot Center on June 23. Since then, Vancouver is 1-2-1, has struggled to find offensive consistency, shipped out Davide Chiumiento and Sebastien Le Toux and brought in Dane Richards and Scottish DP striker Kenny Miller. The Whitecaps will also have to account for the loss of Alain Rochat, who is suspended for this match because of card accumulation.
Los Angeles is coming off a performance in which its DPs combined for five goals and three assists and aims to take down another Pacific Northwest foe. With a win at a sold-out BC Place, the Galaxy can creep within a point of the Whitecaps for fourth place in the West.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. FC DALLAS (11 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
Just 11 days ago, the Earthquakes were held to a 0-0 draw by FC Dallas, which has struggled mightily this season but has quietly gone on a four-game unbeaten run (1-0-3). Coming off the high of a 5-0 victory over RSL and with a match against Vancouver looming this weekend, San Jose and league-leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski should be wary of this being a trap game.
FCD is still without Blas Perez, but Fabian Castillo stepped up with his most influential performance of the year to help carry the club to its first road win against Colorado over the weekend. Considering the schedule congestion, newcomer Julian de Guzman could be in line to make his team debut after being acquired from Toronto FC.
How do you see Wednesday's matches unfolding? Which game are you most excited to watch?
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