By THOMAS FLOYD
In the congested Western Conference, where just six points separate the top seed from exiting the playoff field, every match carries major implications.
That much is known by the Portland Timbers and Los Angeles Galaxy, who sit in a tie for third place going into their meeting Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field. In the Lone Star State, meanwhile, FC Dallas will look to draw even with Real Salt Lake atop the conference when those clubs clash.
Elsewhere across the league, Carlos Bocanegra is poised to make his Chivas USA debut against the Philadelphia Union; the New York Red Bulls will take on the Montreal Impact in a battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights; and a pair of surging clubs meet when the Vancouver Whitecaps host the Chicago Fire.
Here is a rundown of the Week 20 slate:
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. CHIVAS USA (Friday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Carlos Bocanegra is set to make his first appearance for Chivas, who have allowed a league-worst 32 goals and are desperately in need of stability in the back.
While Chivas are winless in 13 matches, the Union saw a five-game unbeaten run snapped with a loss at Dallas last weekend. Look for Conor Casey to engage in a bruising battle with his former U.S. national team colleague Bocanegra as the Union continue to make due without Gold Cup call-up Jack McInerney.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live, TSN2)
After splitting their first two meetings, these foes meet again with New York now sitting three points behind Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference.
While the focus will fall on Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio and New York’s Thierry Henry, the match could very well be won in central midfield, where the Impact duo of Patrice Bernier and Felipe Martins will battle New York’s Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
With New England trailing Houston by two points for the final playoff position, the Revolution will want to pounce on this opportunity as the Dynamo come to town without the likes of Brad Davis, Corey Ashe and Will Bruin.
The Revolution likely will try to find Diego Fagundez on the right flank with regularity, as the dynamic young attacker should be matched up with an out-of-position Jermaine Taylor at left back.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Enjoying a modest 1-1-3 stretch of respectability, Toronto will try to steal a result at Sporting Park, where Kansas City certainly will look to wear down the visitors with possession and high pressure.
Toronto will be able to add some stability to its defense, as right back Richard Eckersley will be available to match up with Kansas City winger Kei Kamara after being sidelined since early April with a hamstring injury.
FC DALLAS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live)
This meeting of the top two teams in the Western Conference will feature an intriguing contrast of systems as Dallas’ 4-3-3 alignment goes up against the interchange-heavy 4-4-2 diamond formation deployed by RSL.
Salt Lake’s Gold Cup call-ups (Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio), however, will make keeping up with this talented Dallas side a tall order, with RSL reserve Yordany Alvarez tasked with holding playmaker David Ferreira in check.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
With two losses in three games, the Sounders have hit a bit of a rough patch after a stellar stretch got them back in the playoff picture. The Earthquakes, meanwhile, are 2-5 in their last seven and remain without Gold Cup call-up Chris Wondolowski.
The Sounders will be happy to finally have Osvaldo Alonso (quad) back in the lineup after the integral defensive midfielder played just 52 minutes in Seattle’s past seven matches.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 11 p.m., NBCSN)
A month after playing to a scoreless draw at StubHub Center, these Western Conference foes will meet again, with Portland’s possession philosophy going up against the Galaxy’s well-oiled counterattack system.
While the Galaxy will be missing the ever-influential Landon Donovan, the Timbers will have Pa Modou Kah suspended in addition to the absences of Gold Cup call-ups Rodney Wallace, Will Johnson and Frederic Piquionne.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Sunday, 7 p.m., MLS Live)
Fresh off their first Cascadia Cup victory and enjoying a 4-0-1 stretch, the Whitecaps will try to keep that momentum as they face a Fire team that is 4-1-1 in its past six.
Chicago will be without the suspended Gonzalo Segares and Dan Paladini, while Vancouver will still be missing Gold Cup call-ups Carlyle Mitchell and Russell Teibert.