What to watch for in MLS Week 15: A snapshot of each match as the playoff pressure ratchets up

What to watch for - MLS Week 15

After the early Orlando-RBNY match there are a total of 11 matches left on the Week 15 slate as the pressure builds with the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs only weeks away. 

Here’s a rundown of what to expect from the rest of the 10 Saturday matches and the lone Sunday match between RSL and LAFC:

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United

7 pm ET | TV & streaming info

It’s the Julian Gressel Derby! The D.C. midfielder faces his former club for the first time since his January trade, but it hasn’t really been smooth sailing for anyone involved since then. Injury-plagued DCU sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with Gressel having a goal and an assist to his name over 14 appearances (13 starts). The capital club’s recent struggles have led to reports that long-time head coach Ben Olsen is on a "scalding-hot seat," though promising showings from teenage homegrowns Griffin Yow and Moses Nyeman mean it isn’t all doom and gloom in Washington — keep an eye on those two on Saturday.

Over in Atlanta, things aren’t much better in what has turned into an unhappy season for the Five Stripes. They have struggled to put together a consistent attack throughout 2020, a mission that hasn’t been helped by the injury-enforced absence of Ezequiel Barco over the last three games, and they sit one point under the playoff line in the East. Whether Barco returns or not, keep an eye on how Atlanta put together chances against a team that traditionally likes to gum things up.

Montreal Impact vs. Chicago Fire

7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

These two teams are separated by one point in the table, but they are trending in different directions. The travel-weary Impact, who have had little time to train, have lost four straight, including the first three games of play on U.S. soil. Chicago, who are actually one point behind Montreal at the moment, are very much on the up, with a string of good performances finally turning into impressive wins over Houston and Atlanta in their last two games.

This one could figure to be a possession (Chicago) vs. counterattacking (Montreal) classic as the Fire look to leapfrog Montreal and really cement themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race. In addition to stopping their losing skid, the Impact will also be looking to pump the brakes on an unsavory run that has seen them pick up a red card in four of their last five games, costing them minutes from some valuable players in the process.

New England Revolution vs. Nashville SC

7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

Both the Revs and Nashville have been quietly going about their business over the last couple of weeks, and both find themselves above the playoff line. It's not surprising to see New England comfortably in the Eastern Conference mix — even without star playmaker Carles Gil, Bruce Arena has delivered as he often does, getting the most out of MLS vets like Lee Nguyen and Tommy McNamara. It’s the Revs' performance against weaker teams that has them in fourth place — their five 2020 wins, in order, have been against: Montreal, D.C., Chicago, Montreal, D.C. — and hosting an expansion team that has struggled to score, they will feel it is within their power to get win No. 6.

It is a little more surprising to see Nashville in the mix out East, especially given their aforementioned offensive struggles that have seen them score more than one goal in exactly one game this year. However, another Best XI-caliber season from defender Walker Zimmerman to lead a strong 2020 showing from the backline means they can stay competitive in any contest.

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union

7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

The Columbus Crew may still be top of the Supporters’ Shield standings for now, but both Toronto and Philadelphia are hot on their tails and may just be the best two teams in the East right now. Both have strength all over the field, but there is one battle that fans and neutral alike should be keeping a close eye on.

For Toronto, Alejandro Pozuelo has emerged one of the favorites, maybe even the favorite, in this year’s MVP race. After an impressive first season in MLS, the Spanish playmaker has gone up another level in 2020 and has five goals and eight assists in just 13 regular-season appearances.

On the Union side, the creative reins belong to Brenden Aaronson, a 19-year-old who seems to improve and mature with every game. The homegrown midfielder has four goals and three assists in what looks set to be his last year in MLS before a reported move to join ex-New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch at Red Ball Salzburg.

Saturday is your chance to watch two of the league’s best creators at work.

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City

8 pm ET | TV & streaming info

For a summary of how these two teams’ seasons have gone so far, look no further than their previous matchups in 2020. In the first, all the way back in March, Sporting KC ran out emphatic 4-0 winners and, with new signings Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda sparkling, looked ready to put the disappointments of 2019 behind them and be a serious contender this time around.

Then the teams’ second meeting came around in August, also at Children’s Mercy Park, and there was another dominant win, this time 5-2 and this time in favor of the Houston Dynamo. At that point, the Dynamo, then in the midst of a three-game winning run (including a 2-1 win over SKC), looked ready to emerge as a thrilling attacking force under Tab Ramos, while Sporting showed worrying fragility. Since then Houston have not won in five games, while Sporting have just one win in six.

Who exactly are these teams and what can they achieve this season? Who knows, but Saturday’s game should at least go some way toward revealing the answers.

Inter Miami vs. NYCFC

8 pm ET | TV & streaming info

After an eventful introduction to MLS that featured a missed penalty and subsequent ruckus with multiple Philadelphia Union players, Gonzalo Higuain will make his home debut for Inter Miami on Saturday.

Things are unlikely to get too much easier for the former Juventus striker, as he goes against an NYCFC defense that has the second-best goals-against record in all of MLS and has conceded just two goals in their last six games.

But as he has shown throughout a career that has taken him to some of the world’s top clubs, and as he so nearly demonstrated with a brilliant overhead kick that hit the post last week, you’d be foolish to bet against Higuain opening his MLS account.

Minnesota United vs. FC Cincinnati

8 pm ET | TV & streaming info

This would be a great time for Kei Kamara to get his first goal for his new club as far as Minnesota United and their four-game winless streak are concerned. After a 0-0 home draw to RSL and after trading their young forward prospect to Montreal, the pressure will be on Kamara and the Loons to find the back of the net at home against a Cincinnati side that prides itself on making it tough on teams to do just that.

Head coach Jaap Stam has typically set up his FC Cincy side in a defensive posture and that has resulted in five shutouts in their last nine games, including four 0-0 draws. But it’s also meant just two goals scored by his team during those nine games. With Cincy only two points from a playoff spot, playing for a tight match on the road would seem to be the prudent strategy until forwards Jurgen Locadia, Yuya Kubo and the rest of the attack can come to life.

FC Dallas vs. Columbus Crew SC

8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

This has all the ingredients to be the best match of the weekend: two strong teams with attractive, dynamic styles and big ambitions for 2020.

FC Dallas can make a statement of intent with a home win over the league leaders. Luchi Gonzalez’s men find themselves just four points out of first place in the West and they’ve generally played good soccer with new acquisitions Franco Jara and Andres Ricaurte coming up big.

And they might be catching Columbus at the right time after the Crew were admittedly humbled by Toronto FC in a 3-1 loss last time out. Although they’ve been at the top of the league for most of the season, anything but a win could see the Crew drop out of the top spot in the East and the Shield race. It’s a big test in a big spot for Caleb Porter’s men.

Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

10 pm ET | TV & streaming info

The Seattle Sounders, in 1st place in the West and still within reach of the Supporters’ Shield, are the favorites against their Cascadia rivals going into this one, but the Whitecaps have enjoyed playing at CenturyLink during their time in MLS.

Vancouver are 4W-6L-1D in 11 regular season visits and they’ll like their chances on Saturday with ex-Sounder Fredy Montero on their side. Montero seems to be slowly warming up to new strike partner Lucas Cavallini and the two should test a Sounders backline which has arguably been the lone weak spot at times for the defending champs. The question is whether the 'Caps can keep Jordan Morris, Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz at bay long enough to get a first goal in this one. But even that might not be enough against the 2020 Sounders, who don't give any impression of letting up.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy

10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

These two teams played just three weeks ago and it ended in a 0-0 draw. It’s doubtful this one ends similarly.

The Quakes are coming off an emotional stoppage-time win over LAFC, a team that had trounced them in every previous game between the two. They’ll look to build off that — and not concede another 5+ goals as has been the case in three of the last six games — against a Galaxy squad that has struggled since Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez returned to the lineup. Cristian Pavon has just one assist in the last four games after three goals and three assists in the previous four games. Can Chicharito and Pavon co-exist?

Real Salt Lake vs. LAFC (Sunday)

9:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info

It is always eventful when RSL and LAFC come together, whether it's the regular season or the playoffs. They've scored 21 goals between them in six all-time matches across all competitions. So goals are guaranteed.

Real Salt Lake got the upper hand, 3-0, the last time they played in September, but RSL have only won once in their four games since. Freddy Juarez's squad still finds itself just above the playoff line, level on points with LAFC, who were one of the preseason contenders to win it all this year. But LAFC have experienced their share of ups and downs this year and they're coming off arguably their most heartbreaking loss of 2020: dropping a late lead to the bottom-feeding Quakes.

Carlos Vela won’t be out on the field at Rio Tinto just yet, but head coach Bob Bradley will still be looking for a bounce-back performance from the 2019 Supporters' Shield winners.