MLS Matchweek 34 Preview: Seeds, Spots, Shield on the Line

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

In a week with a lot of off-the-field drama in Major League Soccer, there is still much to be decided on the field. Every team in the league has played 32 of their 34 games this season. For some, the final two will just be a chance for pride heading into the offseason. For most, however, the next two weeks will determine their place in the playoffs. For Seattle and LA, the last two games will decide the Supporters’ Shield.

Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution, Thursday at 8 PM on ESPN2

New England has already clinched a playoff spot, and there’s little chance of moving up to first in the East, but they’ll be looking to keep their edge on second place. At the moment,  the Revs are level with third-place SKC on points, but would host the second leg of a conference semifinal thanks to their additional win. That may seem like a small thing, but consider that last year New England and SKC went to extra time in their conference semifinal, and Kansas City won in front of their home fans. After losing to DC on Sunday, the Dynamo can only play the spoiler role as Dominic Kinnear appears poised to head back to San Jose.

Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, Friday at 10 PM on NBCSN

Portland enters the weekend just a single point behind Vancouver for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. But the Timbers have a much more difficult final two games than their Cascadia counterparts, and the chances of Portland returning to the playoffs are beginning to look slim. For RSL, the aim is to stay in third place, ahead of Dallas, in order to avoid facing Vancouver or Portland in the Western Conference play-in game.

Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday at 2 PM

Despite a week where seemingly everything went wrong, and the traditional Toronto eulogies already being offered, TFC still has a chance to make the playoffs. If they win their final two games, and Columbus loses theirs, the Reds would make the playoffs for the first time in their eight year history. They’ll have to play much better to keep that possibility open, even against last-place Montreal.

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas, Saturday at 3 PM on NBCSN

The Rapids have managed just two draws from their last 12 games in all competitions; a remarkable skid that goes back to July 25th. On the other hand, Dallas has avoided the sort of summer slide that cost them last year, and can finish as high as third in the West. FCD clinched a playoff spot with their win Sunday, but now they want to avoid the play-in game.

Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday at 7 PM

The Union were booed off the field at PPL Park on Saturday after a collapse against Columbus ended their playoff hopes. They’ll have to face those home fans one more time this season in a clash with playoff-bound Sporting Kansas City. SKC led the Eastern Conference for much of the season, but the defending champs could still finish as low as fifth depending on how results play out over the final two weeks. That’s a fate Graham Zusi and co. will be trying to avoid.

DC United vs. Chicago Fire, Saturday at 7 PM

With just a draw, DC United can clinch first place in the Eastern Conference and their second straight berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. It’s been an incredible turnaround for DC, who had the worst record in MLS just last season. Eddie Johnson was their highest-profile signing in the offseason, but the biggest impact has come from other acquisitions: Luis Silva, Chris Rolfe, and Fabian Espindola. Silva was picked up from Toronto last season in exchange for allocation money; the 26 year old leads United with 11 goals.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday at 10 PM

The Whitecaps defeated San Jose twice at BC Place earlier in the season. With a third win and help from RSL, Vancouver could clinch a playoff spot for the second time in their four MLS seasons. The Whitecaps need only one point to ensure that they’ll finish with more points than Toronto FC, which would secure them a place in the 2015-16 CCL. Barring even more delays with San Jose’s new stadium, this will be the final MLS game played at Buck Shaw Stadium. It will be the first of two games for the Earthquakes under Ian Russell, who is serving as the interim coach until the end of the season, when Dominic Kinnear will take over. The Quakes haven’t won since August 2nd under former coach Mark Watson.

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew, Sunday at 3 PM

As it currently stands, these two teams will meet at Red Bull Arena in the Eastern Conference play-in game. However, there is still too much at stake for Sunday’s match to be treated as a dress rehearsal. A Red Bulls win would ensure that they don’t have to travel to Columbus for the play-in game, and it would keep alive their hopes of finishing third or even second. New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips is two goals away from tying the single-season MLS scoring record. The Crew, who need just one point to secure their spot in the playoffs, can leapfrog New York for fourth place with a win.

LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders, Sunday at 8:15 PM on ESPN2

Whatever logic goes into the schedule-making process in MLS has paid off in a big way. The two best teams in the league will meet twice on national television in the final two weeks of the season to determine the Supporters’ Shield. Seattle and LA are level on points heading into the showdown, but because they have more wins, the Sounders need just two points to claim the shield for the first time in their five-year history. The Galaxy, who have won the Shield four times, won 3-0 in Seattle  in the only previous meeting between these two clubs in 2014.