The raucous Timbers Army and intense setting of a Cascadia Cup match at Jeld-Wen Field will serve as the introduction of Major League Soccer to the audiences of NBC on Saturday.
For the first time, NBC's main network will televise an MLS game as the Portland Timbers host the Seattle Sounders. While the Sounders will look to secure their positioning toward the top of the Western Conference, the Timbers will want to salvage an otherwise lost campaign by claiming the Cascadia Cup with a victory.
Elsewhere around the league this weekend, Sporting Kansas City will host the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals and FC Dallas will welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps in a pair of matches with major playoff implications. Not to be outdone, the New York Red Bulls will aim to hold off a hard-charging Columbus side, while the Montreal Impact can get back into the playoff discussion if they can knock off the Chicago Fire.
Here is a rundown of the Week 28 slate:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Friday, 8:30 p.m., NBCSN)
Unbeaten in five, Kansas City is looking like an MLS Cup contender going into the stretch run, even if the absence of the injured Teal Bunbury hinders the team up top. Houston, meanwhile, has been up and down lately, with the loss of transferred centerback Geoff Cameron perhaps beginning to take its toll.
The Dynamo will need to shake up their front line, with speedy winger Calen Carr — perhaps the player who has most embraced the 4-3-3 — suspended because of yellow card accumulation.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 11 p.m., Univision)
After an early-season slump, the Galaxy have rallied behind the return of Omar Gonzalez and the fine form of DPs David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan to secure playoff positioning. Now, the focus is on getting into the top three and grabbing a first-round bye.
Even with Landon Donovan's minutes likely limited by a hamstring strain, the Galaxy will be wanting no less than three points at home against a Colorado team that has just one win in its past five games. New winger Christian Wilhelmsson is in line for his debut with the Galaxy after joining the team last week as well.
TORONTO FC vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 1 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
The two teams sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference will do battle at BMO Field, where Toronto's 2-1 loss to Chicago midweek left interim coach Paul Mariner none too pleased with his squad.
Of course, things haven't looked much better for the Union, who now are winless in six games. Left back could be an issue for Philadelphia on Saturday if Gabriel Farfan (questionable with a toe sprain) can't go.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC)
The intense settings of Jeld-Wen Field will serve as the backdrop for the league's debut on NBC, as the Timbers could clinch the Cascadia Cup with their second win of 2012 over Seattle.
If Portland is going to slow down the scorching Seattle forward duo of Fredy Montero (11 goals, five assists) and Eddie Johnson (13 goals, two assists), the Timbers will have to do so without suspended left back Steven Smith.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Can the Red Bulls' defense contain the Columbus duo of Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain? If not, the Crew could climb within one point of New York for a first-round bye with a win at Red Bull Arena.
It'll be interesting to see how New York coach Hans Backe manages the return of Rafa Marquez now that the back line of Connor Lade, Markus Holgersson, Heath Pearce and Wilman Conde has developed some chemistry.
D.C. UNITED vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
For D.C. United, life without Dwayne De Rosario beings Saturday against a New England team ready to again play spoiler after dropping Columbus last week. With Juan Toja potentially in the mix and Saer Sene sidelined, the Revolution will offer a different look than during their two losses to D.C. earlier this season.
With De Rosario out, much of the creative responsibility now falls to midfielder Branko Boskovic, while striker Maicon Santos also can be a major factor if he returns to his early-season goal-scoring form.
FC DALLAS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
If Dallas is going to continue its unlikely push toward a playoff berth, this game against Vancouver is essentially a must-win. Although the Whitecaps have a game in hand on Dallas, an FCD win would put the club within one point of Vancouver for the final Western Conference playoff bid.
After Vancouver's Kenny Miller (Scotland) and Dallas' Blas Perez (Panama) both scored during World Cup qualifying this week, the strikers will look to ride the momentum into MLS play.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
All of a sudden, the Fire are closer to being the top team in the Eastern Conference than they are to battling for a lower-tier playoff spot. The team has not missed a beat without Marco Pappa, with newcomers Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald leading the attack.
Of course, Montreal's midseason addition of Marco Di Vaio isn't doing too badly himself, having found the back of the net in three straight games.
CHIVAS USA vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Earthquakes will continue their quest to lock down the top seed in the West and the Supporters' Shield when they travel to take on a Chivas team that has been hemorrhaging goals of late.
Although this one is at the Home Depot Center, that may not be much of an advantage for Chivas: The Goats have just eight goals at home this year, while the Earthquakes have scored 20 on the road.