MLS Week 22: What to watch for this weekend

Brenden Aaronson vs. Darlington Nagbe - Philadelphia vs. Columbus

The end of the 2020 MLS regular season is rapidly approaching with just over a week to go until Decision Day presented by AT&T. Twelve teams have already clinched spots in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs but there are still six spots to be decided and, for many teams, no more margin for error heading into a packed weekend when all 26 clubs will be in action.

As if that weren't enough, the Supporters' Shield could also be decided by the time Sunday comes to a close.

Here's what to watch for in all 13 games.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo

Sat., 3: 30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter in US; MLS LIVE on Dazn in Canada 

Rarely has a Texas derby been as important for the Houston Dynamo. If they fail to beat rivals FC Dallas on Saturday, their playoff hopes will very likely be over for another season. That would represent a significant disappointment for the Dynamo, who have shown flashes of real promise under first-year coach Tab Ramos in 2020. A three-game winning streak in late summer highlighted that potential but the fact that the streak has been followed up by just one win in their last 12 matches tells you all you need to know about why Houston's predicament is now a desperate one.

Dallas have also had something of an up and down season, but an impressive come-from-behind victory over Inter Miami on Wednesday has put them within touching distance of clinching a spot in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. The win also featured a welcome first goal in eight appearances for striker Franco Jara, whose goals will be essential if Dallas are to claim an unlikely top-four spot in the West and make a real mark in the playoffs.

Nashville SC vs. Chicago Fire FC

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

They may have become only the sixth club in history to claim a playoff berth in their first MLS season, but Nashville won’t be taking things easy. Despite having already defied the expectations of many, recent recruit Alex Muyl made clear after the team’s latest win on Tuesday that qualifying for the postseason is only the floor of their ambitions in 2020. The expansion team’s next objective will be to grab a top-six berth in the East and avoid the necessity for a play-in game. 

The task is a more rudimentary one for their opponents on Saturday. Chicago have continued to impress with their performances and continued to frustrate with their results in recent weeks. One win in their last six leaves the Fire in desperate need of points as they look to stay above the playoff line in an increasingly tight battle for the final Eastern playoff spots. 

Columbus Crew SC vs Philadelphia Union 

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

Sunday could be a historic day for the Philadelphia Union. Depending on what happens against the Columbus Crew and results elsewhere, the Union could claim the first silverware in their history with the lifting of the 2020 Supporters’ Shield. It would be just reward for a tremendous season and continued year-on-year improvement under head coach Jim Curtin. Most encouraging for their hopes of claiming a Shield-MLS Cup double, the Union are hitting top form at just the right time, having followed up a sensational 5-0 drubbing of closest challengers Toronto FC with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.

It’s not all that long ago that many were ready to start penciling the Columbus Crew in as Shield winners. A run of one win in seven has effectively scuppered those hopes but Caleb Porter will be keen for his team to rediscover some momentum heading into the playoffs. With a near fully fit squad to choose from once more, it would be unwise to write off the Crew’s chances of making some real noise before 2020 is done.

NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls 

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

The latest edition of the Hudson River Derby sees the two New York outfits near each other in the table at the time of writing, even if the stakes will be slightly different for each team. NYCFC, who sit four points above their rivals, are looking upward in the standings, hoping to take advantage of any slip-up by Columbus or Orlando to leap into the top four and earn a home game in the playoffs. They did well to beat Toronto midweek and look like a team  starting to find its way offensively after losing star attackers Heber (injury) and Alexandru Mitrita (long-term loan).

The seventh-place Red Bulls, meanwhile, have been pulling out late result after late result and will be looking to create separation from the pack below them. Their chances at a home game (unless it’s in the play-in round) are for all intents and purposes finished, but a win against their rivals will give them a great chance to skip the play-in round and possibly travel to Columbus or Orlando, rather face a play-in game and then travel to Toronto or Philadelphia if they win.

Whichever way you slice it, these two rivals will take satisfaction not just from helping their playoff positioning, but damaging that of their opponents, which should add plenty of spice to what is always a high-stakes affair in the first place.

Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati 

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

Welcome to the last chance saloon. Both Atlanta and Cincinnati will be fighting for 2020 survival in this one, although the Five Stripes — sitting three points ahead of FCC — have a much more realistic path to the playoffs that starts with them claiming three points at home against the team with the worst record in the league.

Atlanta will have to pick themselves up, though after being battered 4-1 in Orlando, the type of loss many fans would have imagined unthinkable even a year ago. On the bright side, new DP playmaker Marcelino Moreno is looking more and more the part as he continues to familiarize himself with his new team, and will be one of the focal points on Sunday evening with FCC likely to sit deep and get numbers behind the ball.

Montreal Impact vs. Orlando City SC

Sun., 7:30 pm | TSN, TVAS in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

Orlando snapped a four-game mini-skid (three draws, one loss) in spectacular fashion on Wednesday, and thoroughly deserved their 4-1 win over rivals Atlanta. They will now be looking to make that momentum — and the hot form of rookie striker Daryl Dike — count, lest they slip out of a top four spot and miss the chance to host a playoff game at Exploria Stadium.

Despite winning only two of their last 11 games, Montreal sit ninth in the East and look to be a decent bet to make the postseason, and could even clinch if they win Sunday and the teams below them drop points. They have the individual quality with the likes of Bojan and a revitalized Romell Quioto at the No. 9, which could be enough to turn a game, but have rarely been able to put together a complete performance in this busy run of matches.

New England Revolution vs. D.C. United

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

MLS’s hottest team… D.C. United? OK, MLS’s hottest team is actually the current Shield-leading Philadelphia Union but next up is D.C. United. Imagine if you read that sentence two weeks ago when United were on a nine-game winless run, six of which were losses? You would have received some very strange looks. But here they are, with three consecutive wins to leave them in a three-way tie for the East’s final playoff place. Never say die attitude.

Playoffs are on the Revs’ mind, too. A quick dip in form has seen Bruce Arena’s side slip to eighth place and only the top six avoids a play-in game. Perhaps we’ll see Carles Gil’s first start back for New England since his injury?

Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United

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

There don’t appear to be any gentleman’s agreements between these two sides so all fit and healthy players should be available for selection.

Both clubs continue their march to the playoffs, looking to find the right combination of form, fresh legs and settling on a best XI. This match will be a good litmus test for each to kick off November. Can SKC’s midfield cope with Bebelo Reynoso? Can the Loons create enough quality chances while staying firm at the back against a strong attack?

Toronto FC vs. Inter Miami CF

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

If Inter Miami are serious about making the playoffs in their inaugural season, right about now would be a good time to stop dropping points. The expansion side have surrendered costly late goals in three of their last four matches and now they must visit one of the East’s top sides, albeit in their adopted US locale of East Hartford, Connecticut.

Miami are still in a three-way tie for the 10th and final postseason berth: They’re level with Chicago and D.C. on pointsand have more wins than both, though the Fire, currently having played on game fewer, are ahead on points per game, at least for now. Meanwhile, TFC’s pursuit of the Supporters’ Shield took a big hit with their sudden two-game losing skid, so the Reds will want to steady the ship in this potential preview of a playoff matchup.

Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders FC

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

This one features two sides in different circumstances, but a similar urgency for a full three points.

After their lengthy COVID-19-imposed layoff, the Rapids have lost two straight, and each setback of theirs carries more weight because it looks unlikely they’ll be able to complete as many games as their Western Conference competitors. When the standings are calculated on a points-per-game basis, Colorado are clinging to the West’s final playoff spot, but they need points to stave off the danger of a late climb by the likes of Vancouver or Real Salt Lake.

While Seattle occupy much higher ground, they too need positive results as they pursue first place in the West and retain hope of catching Philadelphia in the Supporters’ Shield race. Sunday marks one of their games in hand, and they need to stay on form.

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Sun., 10 pm ET | TSN in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

The Portland Timbers are on some roll heading into the postseason. Clinching a playoff berth midweek was nice, but these Timbers have designs on finishing as No. 1 seeds in the West in case their 5-2 win over the LA Galaxy wasn’t signal enough. With only one loss in their last 10 games, Timbers manager Gio Savarese has his squad humming with new players seemingly contributing every game. It’s the kind of squad depth that helped them win the MLS is Back Tournament in the summer and it makes them a surefire MLS Cup contender.

Meanwhile, the up-and-down Whitecaps are still scrapping to secure one of the final playoff spots out West after an unsettling season which has seen them call Portland home in recent weeks due to pandemic travel restrictions. It could help explain their middling 6W-7L-0D record since September. But with two matches left to play this season, they find themselves occupying the ninth spot in the West and with real hope of squeaking into the playoff field. They enter the Timbers match having rested several starters in midweek in the hope that a fresh attacking trident of Fredy Montero-Lucas Cavallini-Cristian Dajome can make the difference come Sunday.

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake

Sun., 10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

If the struggling Galaxy are to keep their playoff hopes alive, they need a home win at all costs against fellow West playoff hopefuls Real Salt Lake. The club bet on Thursday that could come without head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was relieved of his duties after a 5-2 midweek loss on national TV the left the storied club sitting in last place in the West with just one win in its last 10 games. A combination of porous team defending and an uninspired attack has proven to be their and Barros Schelotto's downfall, and it hasn’t helped that star forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has been out with a hamstring issue over the last two games.

Like the Galaxy, RSL are also on the wrong side of the playoff line in the West, but they’re no pushovers and they’re just as famished for a win to boost their chances. They’re stingier than the Galaxy on defense (10 fewer goals conceded), but their issues lie in attack, where the absence of a marquee scorer on the roster continues to hurt their ability to pose any consistent threat to opponents (just 8 goals scored in their last 10). Not even the return to the lineup of star playmaker Albert Rusnak has been able to jumpstart the team up top. So look for RSL to sit back and frustrate an already desperate Galaxy side in the hope they can nick a goal by surprise and then defend it to the death.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LAFC 

Sun., 10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

The Earthquakes' current late-season revival began with a shocking 2-1 win at LAFC on September 27 and Matias Almeyda’s side hasn’t looked back, going 4W-2L-1D since then to catapult themselves into the playoff places in the West. No one saw this San Jose turnaround coming from the depths of their eight-game winless streak that featured four traumatic routs. But the team spirit and belief that Almeyda has instilled in his group is paying dividends and the Quakes have been a tighter unit on the field, giving up few cheap goals.

San Jose will need to bring to bear every ounce of that teamwork against a restocked LAFC side that continues to see reigning MVP Carlos Vela add to his minutes load following his return from a knee injury. Bob Bradley and LAFC have already qualified for the postseason and with Vela’s help, they’ll be keen to claim a top-four spot in the West which guarantees they’d play their first playoff match at home. But more than just points, Bradley will also be eager to see whether LAFC can get back to their sharp, crisp, imposing selves in time for the playoffs. They’re not there yet.