If the Seattle Sounders want to make a run at the Supporters' Shield, then this weekend will be the ideal time to start that push.
Coming off a gut-wrenching defeat in the U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday, Seattle will travel to take on the first-place San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in a clash of Western Conference heavyweights. The match features Chris Wondolowski and the league's most prolific offense going against a Sounders team boasting one of the top defenses in MLS. Only Open Cup champion Sporting Kansas City has conceded fewer goals per game than Seattle this season.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference this weekend, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA will wrap their SuperClasico season series. Over in the East, the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo will do battle on a second straight Friday night, and Sporting Kansas City returns to the field after dethroning Seattle in the Open Cup by facing D.C. United at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Here is a rundown of the Week 23 slate:
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Friday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports)
Take two. A week after Houston defeated New York 2-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium, these Eastern Conference front-runners will play again — this time at Red Bull Arena.
Considering Thierry Henry's recent remarks criticizing his team's defense of former Red Bull Macoumba Kandji last Friday, it's safe to say the New York back line will be focusing more on the lanky forward this time around.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 7 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
In another rematch of a recent contest, Vancouver will host Salt Lake two weeks after RSL defeated the Whitecaps 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Since then, Salt Lake has lost back-to-back matches via shutout while Vancouver has been on bye.
Brad Knighton is set to get the start in goal for the Whitecaps, who will be without suspended shot-stopper Joe Cannon because of a red card in the loss to Salt Lake.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Kansas City can't afford to celebrate its Open Cup title too long, as this match against United has major implications for the compact top half of the Eastern Conference standings.
The contest will feature Honduran Olympic teammates Roger Espinoza of Kansas City and Andy Najar of D.C. Najar could get the start at right back for United, who are short-handed defensively and may also go with recently acquired left back Mike Chabala on the other side.
FC DALLAS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Colorado will try to make it two wins in a row and get back in the Western Conference playoff discussion after snapping a six-game losing streak last weekend against rival Salt Lake.
Dallas will be without Zach Loyd (suspension), Blas Perez (foot) and Ugo Ihemelu (concussion), while Colorado will be missing Conor Casey (hamstring) and Tyrone Marshall (calf) for this 2010 MLS Cup rematch.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
There is no rest for the weary, as the Sounders must go into this tough matchup just three days after playing 120 minutes in the Open Cup final. Look for Seattle coach Sigi Schmid to rotate in some reserves from that contest, such as defenders Jeff Parke and Marc Burch and midfielders Brad Evans and Christian Tiffert.
The aerial game will key — Seattle's Eddie Johnson leads the league with seven headed goals, while San Jose's Chris Wondolowski is tied for second with six. Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon, who also has six headed goals, will not be in action, though, as he serves a suspension.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
Union defender Bakary Soumare could make his Philadelphia debut Sunday against his former Chicago team, which has a couple of new toys itself in DPs Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald.
The Union, who carry a four-game home winning streak into this contest, will be without suspended striker Jack McInerney. The third-year forward had been in fine form, scoring four goals in a six-game span.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Sunday, 7 p.m., Direct Kick/MLS Live)
New England's attack will get a boost in this one as Honduran Olympic striker Jerry Bengtson will be back, though hamstring injuries to A.J. Soares and Kevin Alston leave that back line a more dubious proposition.
Montreal centerback Nelson Rivas will be out as he serves the first match of a three-game suspension for head-butting Union forward Antoine Hoppenot last weekend.
CHIVAS USA vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Sunday, 11 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN3.com/ESPN Deportes)
After splitting their first two SuperClasico matches this year, Chivas and Los Angeles will decide the season series in Sunday's rubber match. Adding intrigue is the Galaxy's seven-point lead (with four additional games played) on Chivas for the Western Conference's fifth and final playoff slot.
The Galaxy will once again be without midfielder David Beckham, who is in London and expected to play a role in the Olympic closing ceremony.