By THOMAS FLOYD
A unique set of circumstances may have nicely tied up the Western Conference playoff picture heading into this final weekend, but the seeding out East remains fairly unraveled.
There, the only club locked into its seed is a Sporting Kansas City team which has clinched the No. 1 spot. That leaves D.C. United, the Chicago Fire, the New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo to fight it out for remaining two first-round byes and the right to avoid the knockout round.
The stakes, of course, will be particularly high when the Fire host United as part of the NBC family’s triple-header of MLS action Saturday. While a win or draw will clinch the No. 2 seed for D.C., Chicago needs the full three points to guarantee a top-three slot.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, will travel down Interstate 95 to face a Philadelphia Union side looking to play spoiler against its regional rival, while the Dynamo will pay a visit to the Colorado Rapids.
Here is a rundown of the Week 34 slate:
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., NBC)
The Union may have been eliminated from playoff contention a while ago, but it’s safe to say they would like nothing more than to end their tumultuous season on a high note by dealing a blow to their budding I-95 rivals.
With a win, the Red Bulls will all but guarantee a bye to the conference semifinals. But a draw or loss will relegate New York to the knockout round. With Lloyd Sam sidelined by a knee injury, ex-Union favorite Sebastien Le Toux could get a start against his old club.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 2 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
Montreal will look to end its expansion campaign in winning fashion by securing the season sweep against New England after grabbing a 2-1 win over the Revolution in July and a 1-0 triumph in August.
For the players involved, this match represents a final opportunity to audition for jobs next season before what is sure to be a flurry of offseason moves from both clubs.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBCSN)
While this game carries major implications for both teams, the stakes are a bit higher for Chicago, which could slide all the way to fifth and a spot as the road team in the knockout round. United’s worst-case scenario, on the other hand, is the No. 4 seed.
The clash features two of the top young American goalkeepers, with U.S. under-23 teammates Bill Hamid of United and Sean Johnson of the Fire manning the posts. And the game also will be the final opportunity for D.C midfielder Nick DeLeon and Chicago centerback Austin Berry — former Louisville teammates — to bolster their Rookie of the Year credentials.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN)
With the Supporters’ Shield and the corresponding home-field advantage throughout the playoff locked up, the Earthquakes have nothing to play for in this trip to Jeld-Wen Field.
But don’t tell that to Chris Wondolowski, who needs one goal to tie Roy Lassiter’s 16-year-old single-season record of 27. How coach Frank Yallop manages Wondolowksi’s minutes will be one of the week’s more intriguing storylines.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
It seems unlikely Vancouver will field many regulars for this one, with the club’s trip Thursday to face Los Angeles in the knockout round already set in stone.
But while Salt Lake also is locked into its matchup — a conference semifinal against Seattle — Jason Kreis’ side still will be playing for the (albeit marginal) advantage of hosting the second leg, as well as the opportunity to pass teams in the East in the pecking order for MLS Cup hosting rights.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick)
There are no guarantees that the Dynamo will improve their seeding with a win over Colorado, as even a win might not be enough for Houston to get out of the unenviable No. 5 seed.
On the plus side, the Dynamo will know by the time this game kicks off exactly what (if anything) they must do to improve their positioning. And they could have a tougher matchup than one against an injury-riddled Colorado team that surely is looking forward to a clean slate in 2013.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. TORONTO FC (Sunday, 4 p.m., TSN/MLS Live/Direct Kick)
A week ago, this match seemed like it could very well have major playoff implications in the Eastern Conference. But with Columbus eliminated from contention, the only thing at stake will be pride.
With a draw or loss, Toronto can extend its winless stretch to 14 games, which would break the club record of 13 matches without a victory — remarkably set to start this season.
FC DALLAS vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
Like Columbus’ match against Toronto, this game could have been a key bout in the playoff picture before Dallas was formally eliminated with a loss to Seattle last weekend. For David Ferreira, Brek Shea and Co., it was too little too late.
This Chivas team, meanwhile, is winless in 13 and has been shut out in six of its past seven games. With new front office leadership already in place, it’s safe to say the club simply is looking forward to the start of the offseason.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Sunday, 9 p.m., ESPN/TSN2)
After playing a reserve squad in his squad’s midweek CONCACAF Champions League fixture, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena could very well use another backup-heavy lineup against the Sounders, with Los Angeles’ knockout-round date with Vancouver already set.
The Galaxy, though, could use the match as a way to get David Beckham (ankle soreness) and Landon Donovan (knee bone bruise) back into the mix against a Seattle team that, like Salt Lake, is mostly playing for home-field advantage in an already-set conference semifinal.