MLS Week 23: What to Watch For

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With the transfer window closed (though free agents can still be signed), Major League Soccer this week enters its stretch run toward the playoffs. All 10 games will be played on Saturday, beginning with a of big afternoon game in the Western Conference. Buckle up.

Showdown in Seattle

Here’s how tightly packed the Western Conference is: Seattle (9-7-7, 34 points), currently in fourth, could leapfrog to the top with a win over Kansas City (9-4-10, 37). SKC heads to Seattle having not lost in their last 13 games in all competitions, but stretching that to 14 will be tough. Sporting played 120 minutes and a shootout on Wednesday night in to advance to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final (against either FC Cincinnati or the Red Bulls), and travel to face a Sounders side with momentum. Seattle hasn’t lost in seven games, averaging more than two goals per game over that span.

Interconference Clash

Toronto (12-3-8, 44) has emerged as the team to beat in MLS, but stumbled last week against the league’s worst team in D.C. It’ll try to bounce back at home against Portland (9-8-7, 34). The Timbers have fallen to fifth in the West after a long inconsistent stretch, and would love to make a statement by toppling TFC. It would help if they could get Fanendo Adi scoring again; he has just two goals in the past eight games, a far cry from his early-season pace.

New Faces in New Places

MLS’s transfer deadline came and went this week with several teams making significant moves. Seattle added a couple pieces to its squad, re-acquiring Lamar Neagle from D.C. and trading for Montreal’s Callum Mallace. Columbus opened up a lot of flexibility , acquiring allocation money after sending Ethan Finlay to Minnesota, and allowing New England to move up to sign Krisztian Nemeth. Normally frugal D.C. splashed some cash in buying Paul Arriola from Tijuana.

Big Game for Playoff Hunters

On the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff race are Philadelphia (8-10-5, 29) and Montreal (7-8-6, 27) ahead of their match in Chester, Pa. The Union, in eighth, lead the Impact by two points, but have played two more games. Philly’s season hit its nadir in late April against the Impact, as the then-winless Union let a 3-0 lead turn into a 3-3 draw. The current Union side is a much more confident one, having won their last four home games.

Houston Hosts San Jose

Houston (9-7-7, 34) and San Jose (9-9-5, 32) enter their match this weekend above the red playoff line in the crowded West. Their meeting marks a particularly big challenge for the Earthquakes, who were on the other side of SKC’s semifinal Open Cup win in midweek. Beyond that, the Dynamo are unbeaten at home (8-0-3) this year and the Earthquakes sit precariously in sixth, just a point above Vancouver. The Dynamo won this match-up 2-0 in April.