We've already tried to tab the biggest matches left in the Eastern Conference race, so now it's time to give the same treatment to the Western Conference.
With the exercise laid out in the East list, there's no need for great ceremony. Let's jump straight into the West's eight-pack of awesome importance that'll mold the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Loons have been knocked down by the West's best on the road the last two times out, so they'll be happy to get home this weekend. Instead of competing for a home playoff game, Adrian Heath's bunch have dropped below the playoff line (though they do hold a game in hand). They'll aim to get back on track against a team they're yet to beat in eight tries. The Galaxy have Chicharito back and scoring, but also their own five-game win drought to snap. Motivation should be high all around.
Even with Carlos Vela injured and Diego Rossi gone, LAFC are suddenly scoring goals and piling up points at their best rate of the season. It won't be easy to make it four wins in a row, as the Timbers are on a four-game unbeaten streak that reps their best form of the year. Providence Park is never an easy place to play, but the LAFC could improve their chances by finding a way to take advantage of Portland's poor set-piece defending. Thus far this term, only two clubs have scored fewer restart goals.
Vancouver may have been knocked off their win streak, but the Whitecaps are eager to get back in the saddle because they're still hot on the last playoff spot's tail. The problem for them this weekend is few are performing more consistently right now than Colorado, who defend solidly and score efficiently (only New England and Orlando City have a better goal-per-shot attempt rate). Just one problem for the Rapids, though: The Whitecaps are actually 3-0-1 in the last four Rocky Mountain meetings. Both sides are revved up in hot table pursuit mode, so expect a hard clash this weekend.
This will be the first of two games remaining between the current top two in the West standings. Let's pick this one because it's sooner and we're excited. This matchup has produced a string of wild affairs in recent years, and next weekend's showdown could put a team TBD clear atop the West. Or it could further jumble a tight race for its top playoff seed (which includes Colorado) to set up a tense finish. The Sounders have been in high gear for a month, but haven't won in Kansas City since 2013. And Brian Schmetzer's team has the Leagues Cup Final against Liga MX's Club Leon to contend with midweek.
Surely you didn't imagine we would get through this exercise without touching on the Carson edition of El Trafico, otherwise known as LAFC's living nightmare. The last thing Bob Bradley wants is another rough one across town just when his side is gaining back some stretch traction. The first thing the Galaxy will want is to solidify a table slot that ensures them at least one home playoff game by foiling their Los Angeles rivals again.
How about another rivalry grudge match with loads of meaning? Colorado are in the thick of the title fight, Real Salt Lake are in the fray for the last few postseason passes and this one also decides the Rocky Mountain Cup for 2021. Don't just assume that the in-form Rapids will enjoy these particular Rio Tinto spoils. Colorado have only left Utah with a road win once in their last 21 tries, and it won't help them in getting another that derby menace Albert Rusnak is playing his best soccer in a long while of late.
The way the Sounders are going, this late-season matchup could turn into Colorado making one last top-spot charge on their own court. It's true that the Sounders experienced a Lumen Field mini-slump during summer, but they've been pretty strong on the road this year. Neither team necessarily needs the ball to come away victorious, so it will be fun to see which one plots to take the front foot first. Could this firmly decide the West's No. 1 seed? We wouldn't be surprised if that's the case.
They aren't natural geographic rivals, but there's always plenty of friction when these two meet. And chances are good both will be playing for their final table placement on Decision Day. To their credit, Real Salt Lake are 3-1-1 in the last five at Children's Mercy Park. A good idea for the visitors' closing day game plan might be to focus on denying Sporting KC the ball as much as they can. The new West leaders are 8-2-2 this season when they get 55% of possession or more and only 5-5-3 when they do not.