MLS Week 31: A Look Ahead

SaborioBeckham (Getty)

By THOMAS FLOYD

Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy may have already clinched playoff berths, but the battle for Western Conference seeding is far from over.

With both sides fighting for a bye through the wild-card round, this weekend's rematch of last year's conference title game carries major playoff implications. And the match features two of the hottest strikers in MLS: the Galaxy's Robbie Keane (10 goals in 13 games) and Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio (10 goals in 10 games).

Elsewhere around the league, the New York Red Bulls will host the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City will travel to face the Columbus Crew in crucial matchups for the Eastern Conference playoff race. And in Seattle, more than 66,000 fans are expected to fill CenturyLink Field when the Sounders continue their Cascadia Cup feud with the Portland Timbers.

Here is a rundown of the Week 31 slate:

TORONTO FC vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 1 p.m., TSN/MLS Live/Direct Kick)

With a 3-0-1 mark since Dwayne De Rosario was sidelined by a sprained knee ligament, United have taken advantage of a forgiving schedule to strengthen their playoff positioning.

Facing a Toronto team that is winless in 11 is the last soft game on a D.C. schedule that wraps with key matches against Columbus and Chicago. United will be looking for a bounce-back effort from striker Lionard Pajoy, whose touch was off last week at Portland.

NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC/TSN2)

With these teams tied for second in the Eastern Conference but not yet guaranteed playoff bids, this match provides an opportunity for both sides to make a statement about their MLS Cup aspirations.

With Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper up top for the Red Bulls and Chris Rolfe partnering with Sherjill MacDonald for the Fire, the match will shine a spotlight on two of the league's most efficient forward partnerships.

PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)

With both teams eliminated from playoff contention, this match will be a classic case of players fighting for their jobs going forward as the respective front offices prepare for potential offseason overhauls.

With a 3-0-3 mark in the all-time series between these teams, Philadelphia will want to keep that record unblemished. The Union will have to do so, though, without suspended fullback Sheanon Williams.

HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)

With Houston clinging to a playoff spot by just a point, the Dynamo surely see this home fixture against a fading Montreal team as a must-win game. And Houston will also want to take another step toward becoming the fourth team in league history to go undefeated at home.

With Brad Davis (seven goals, 12 assists) sidelined by a calf strain, Houston will be looking to the likes of Oscar Boniek Garcia and Adam Moffat to provide increased inspiration out of midfield.

COLORADO RAPIDS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)

The Earthquakes have all but locked up the top seed in the West, but San Jose still will want to close the season strong and ensure home-field advantage through the MLS Cup by claiming the Supporters' Shield.

San Jose will be missing a massive piece in the back against Colorado, as defender Victor Bernardez is suspended. To complicate matters, centerback Ike Opara — Bernardez's natural replacement — is questionable with concussion symptoms.

LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 9 p.m., NBCSN/TSN2)

Whether it's Tommy Meyer, Andrew Boyens or David Junior Lopes, all eyes will be on Omar Gonzalez's new centerback partner following the knee sprain that likely will sideline A.J. DeLaGarza for the rest of the regular season.

The Galaxy also have some injury issues in midfield, with David Beckham (ankle sprain) and Christian Wilhelmsson (calf strain) both questionable. In another positive sign for Salt Lake, the season series between these two teams has seen the road side claim both encounters.

COLUMBUS CREW vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Sunday, 4 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)

This is a massive match for the Crew, who sit on the outside looking in at the playoffs and face a tough trip to D.C. next weekend before wrapping the season against Toronto.

It should be fascinating to watch the attacking talents of Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta face a league-best Kansas City back line that has strung together three straight shutouts. With a win and San Jose loss, Sporting could draw even in the Supporters' Shield race.

CHIVAS USA vs. FC DALLAS (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)

As losers of seven straight, including back-to-back 4-0 defeats heading into this game, Chivas USA are playing the worst soccer in MLS, with the club's last victory coming in July. That's good news for a Dallas squad with a chance to narrow Vancouver's five-point lead for the final playoff slot while the Whitecaps take the weekend off.

Chivas and Dallas last played in June, with the scoreless draw coming toward the end of the Texas side's 13-game winless stretch.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Sunday, 9 p.m., ESPN/TSN2)

For Seattle, this one will be about playoff seeding and awarding the packed house set to take the game in at CenturyLink Field. For Portland, a win or draw would clinch the Cascadia Cup and give its fans something to salvage in an otherwise forgettable season.

While Seattle's Fredy Montero (12 goals, six assists) and Eddie Johnson (13 goals, two assists) remain the marquee strikers in this contest, the Sounders will be keeping an eye on Portland's Bright Dike, who has scored in back-to-back games.

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6 Responses to MLS Week 31: A Look Ahead

  1. Hopper says:

    Really excited for the big NW derby. There’s no way my Sounders are losing that game.

  2. Kejsare says:

    Counting eggs before they hatch.

  3. Charkes says:

    Wow, is there anyone in the top 11, that doesn’t feel like it is must win. San Jose I guess, but the other 10, are fighting and hoping for MLS Cup Final home field, playoff home field, etc. Going to be a fun two months.

    Can I start tailgating now at the CLink ?
    Seeeeeeeaaaaaaatle !

  4. downintexas says:

    They could not get it done against the Caps. Damn you Sounders. says a FCD fan

  5. downintexas says:

    I still don’t get people who dump on MLS playoff system. Is it perfect? No but it is more exciting. If the championship was base solely on regular season SJ has it basically wrapped up at this point.

  6. Dimidri says:

    Has to be a middle ground, don’t want too many making the playoffs, and want incentives for finishing higher-until the final, what benefit is there to finishing 2 instead of 3, even 1 instead of 3? Need 3 game series.