MLS Week 20: What to watch for this weekend

VANvsSJ - July 15 - San Jose celebrates - v000

We're another week closer to the end of the regular season, and all across the standings teams will be jockeying for positioning — whether that's to claim the top seed, host a home game, or simply to get in.

Which teams need it most? Who will get key players back in time for the stretch run? Below are all the stories to follow in this weekend's slate.

NYCFC vs. Montreal Impact

Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada

Winless in their last three matches, NYCFC will want to use this opportunity to get back on track at home. Although they have an 8-point playoff cushion, NYCFC will be motivated by a desire to bypass the play-in round and avoid a drop into the final four playoff seeds in the East. They're pushing through to the finish line without some of their most important players lost to injury or transfers, and they're relying on the likes of attackers Valentin CastellanosIsmael Tajouri-Shradi and Jesus Medina to finally get on a hot streak to end the regular season.

Thierry Henry's Montreal Impact are also battling through a rash of injuries and player losses, layered on top of the inability to play matches at home in Canada. But they still found a way to dig deep for a big win against Inter Miami in their last match. They've proven to be a stubborn side with the always-dangerous Romell Quioto now joined by Bojan Krkic, who has lately come alive with a handful of big plays. Henry and his tactics have the Impact believing and despite all the adversity, they're likely to be sticking around in the East playoff race until the very end. 

Chicago Fire FC vs. NY Red Bulls

Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

It's a big home game for the Chicago Fire, who go into the weekend occupying the final playoff position in the East. With three of their final four matches of the season coming on the road, three points at Soldier Field will be a huge boost for a team that's played well enough in 2020 to be a playoff contender down the stretch. 

They'll have to tangle with a New York Red Bulls side that is still riding the wave of enthusiasm brought on by teenage sensation Caden Clark. RBNY are undefeated in the three matches he's played (1W-0L-2D) with Clark scoring two of their three goals during that stretch. He was quiet in his last outing against Orlando, but he might get more space to attack against a Fire side that has been on the front foot to start home matches. On more than one occasion the Fire have used that fast start to jump out to big early leads and then manage the advantage in the second half. That might make for a nervy strategy against a never-say-die RBNY team which managed to score an equalizer deep in stoppage time against Orlando.

FC Cincinnati vs. Minnesota United

Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

It’s getting close to crunch time for Cincinnati, especially as they couldn’t follow up a signature win against Columbus and lost at home to the only team below them in the Eastern Conference last weekend (D.C. United). If FCC can claim victory this time around, it would be a boost to morale and their slim playoff hopes, but it might be too big an ask at this stage.

Minnesota don’t present the hottest opposition, having only one won of their last seven games. But with veteran midfielder Osvaldo Alonso back in the fold after recovering from injury (he went 75 minute as a first-half sub in his return last weekend), the Loons become a much harder team to beat. Also welcome will be the return of Ethan Finlay to the scoresheet — after missing almost all of September due to injury and having a rough evening in front of goal in his return two games ago, he went on to bag a brace last time out vs. Houston, and showed the extra dimension he can add to the Minnesota attack when he's scoring goals.

Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC

Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN 1/4 in Canada

This one is for all the marbles at the top of the East: Toronto have conquered all before them since arriving in the U.S. last month, and if they can top Philadelphia they will all but guarantee themselves the best regular-season record and playoff home games that go with it.

The Union’s form has been nearly as good, though, with a 2-1 loss to TFC back on Oct. 3 the only real blemish as they’ve collected 23 points from the last 30 available to climb to second in the East. They will also welcome back captain Alejandro Bedoya, who missed Monday evening’s grind-it-out win at New England due to suspension and influential No. 6 Jose Andres Martinez (returning from international duty), who will provide fresh legs and the Union’s first choice pairing in the center of the park.

Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC

Sat., 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

The bad news is that things have gone terribly wrong for the Dynamo over the last month as they continue to slide down the Western Conference table. The good news is that one win might be all that is needed to get them back in a playoff position. It won’t come easy against Columbus, who halted a skid of their own last time out and should be favored against the Dynamo despite having to travel to Space City.

The Crew finally found a way to win without Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe last weekend, but the duo are expected to figure in this game along with starting goalkeeper Eloy Room. Meanwhile, Dynamo attackers not named Darwin Quintero have struggled to step up after the club transferred Alberth Elis in September. Luckily for them, help may be arriving imminently after Elis’s ostensible replacement, Mateo Bajamich, finally arrived in the United States last weekend following his transfer from Argentina.

Sporting KC vs. Colorado Rapids

Sat., 8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

The Colorado Rapids haven’t played in a month due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the club, so they’ll be eager to prove they still deserve to be talked about as a playoff team when they visit a top West contender in Sporting. SKC manager Peter Vermes has been upset about a few calls in the last couple of games so extra attention will be paid to the referee crew in this one as Sporting look to snap a two-game winless streak.

Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas

Sat., 9:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

FC Dallas travel to Utah in what is an important match along the playoff line out West. A win for RSL would pull them even with FCD in the playoff race, though the road team has a game in hand. Big forward acquisition Franco Jara will be looking to snap a six-match scoreless streak for FC Dallas, especially after his brief spat with head coach Luchi Gonzalez, while RSL will see the return of Albert Rusnak after his time with the Slovakian national team.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Sat., 10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN 1/4 in Canada

These two teams produced perhaps the most exciting match of the MLS is Back Tournament, and San Jose followed that up with a 3-0 win over the ‘Caps just a couple of weeks ago. With Colorado back in action, Vancouver will need to work to solidify their place above the playoff line. For San Jose, this is the first game of a two-game stretch against teams directly below them in the standings, which should give them obvious motivation.

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy

Sun., 3:30 pm ET | ABC in US; TSN2 in Canada

El Trafico, Part IV: After handing a 6-2 thumping to the Galaxy at MLS is Back, LAFC dropped two games to their city rivals at the end of the summer when Guillermo Barros Schelotto & Co. were in the midst of a four-game winning streak. Since then the Galaxy have won just once, with that win coming in their last match against Vancouver.

Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi should be back and available for LAFC after playing for Uruguay in World Cup qualifying and we could even see MLS MVP Carlos Vela back on the field. Vela’s former El Tri teammate Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is still searching for his second goal in MLS after a few more missed opportunities last weekend.