MLS Week 31 Preview: Weather worries and a wild west

www.soundersfc.com

by RYAN BRISTER

We enter the final month of the Major League Soccer regular season with much left to be determined. Of 10 weekend matches, all but one have significant meaning for the various playoff and trophy races that have yet to be decided. It’s a big week for important in-conference clashes, and will culminate with a big crowd in Seattle.

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DC United vs. New York City FC, Friday at 7 p.m. on Unimas

DC United has been struggling for more than a month now. NYCFC is trying to streak their way into the playoffs. But a third force might have a much bigger say in the match. Hurricane Joaquin plans to make a stop in DC on Friday night, bringing with it torrential rains and strong winds. It may force the game to be postponed entirely, which would complicate the late season schedules of both sides.

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union, Saturday at 5 p.m. 

Having lost the Open Cup final by the narrowest of margins in midweek, the Philadelphia Union must now play out the string in MLS. Their playoff hopes are effectively over, and their final three games will not be much fun. Toronto, presumably, will not mind. The Reds have already beaten Philly twice this year, and would love to make it three out of three. TFC could potentially jump over DC in fourth place, which would mean the difference between hosting and traveling for the knockout round of the playoffs.

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New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC, Saturday at 7 p.m. 

In another game that could be affected by Joaquin, the Red Bulls host Columbus in a battle atop the Eastern Conference. New York’s Supporters’ Shield hopes would be much improved if they could get past a challenging team at home. In two games earlier this season in Columbus, each side has won one.

Orlando City SC vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

If Orlando is to make a late push for the playoffs, they must get three points on Saturday against Montreal. Only a win will help them claw closer to the Impact for the final playoff spot in the East. To help with that task, the club is pushing to have 45,000 fans in the Citrus Bowl for the match. Those fans might not be able to see Didier Drogba; reports are that he is avoiding the turf.

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution, Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Rumors suggest that Chicago would be a possible landing place for former Mexico manager Miguel Herrera. This would be fun, marketable, and expensive, so it probably won’t happen. Interim manager Brian Bliss will be in charge as the Fire host the Revolution. This is a game New England should win.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday at 10:30 p.m.

It’s a game of huge significance for both sides when San Jose hosts Vancouver. The Earthquakes are looking to sneak into the playoffs, while the Whitecaps have their eyes set on the Supporters’ Shield. In two games so far this season, the Quakes and Caps traded home victories. If San Jose can win again on Saturday, they will move above the red playoff line.

Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday at 10:30 p.m.

While SKC was celebrating their Open Cup triumph on Wednesday night, the Timbers were quietly enjoying the fact that their opponents had to play 120 minutes of soccer on the opposite coast. Peter Vermes might have to call again on the makeshift lineup that performed admirably last weekend, but the stakes are high. With the Western Conference so tightly packed, this is a massive game in the playoff picture. Portland, in sixth, is just a point behind Kansas City in fifth entering the weekend, and either team could wake up on Monday out of the playoff places.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo, Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2

The Texas Derby kicks off Soccer Sunday. Dallas has a real shot at the Supporters’ Shield, and for Houston it is a virtual must-win game. Dallas has had the upper hand in this rivalry of late, having won the last four meetings going back to 2012. That includes two comfortable victories earlier this season.

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake, Sunday at 7 p.m. on FS1

The Rocky Mountain Cup will be decided in a match that has very slim playoff implications. The Rapids have taken four points from the previous two matches, which means RSL needs to win in order to maintain their hold on the trophy. More importantly, they need a win to stay alive with any realistic hope at the playoffs.

Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy, Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on FS1

Geography hasn’t made Seattle vs. LA a rivalry, but circumstances have made this the Western Conference’s biggest battle over the past few seasons. The Galaxy have gotten the best of the first two meetings this season, both in sunny Southern California. In Seattle on Sunday the upper deck will be open to fans for the third time this season, which promises a crowd of at least 50,000. The Sounders will be without last year’s defender of the year Chad Marshall, who suffered a scary head injury that forced him to leave training in an ambulance on Wednesday. It’s merely a sprained neck, but it will keep him sidelined.


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