What to watch for Tuesday: Can Nashville SC, Vancouver Whitecaps keep climbing?

Randall Leal - Nashville SC - hugging goal celebration

Week 21 gets underway Tuesday night with two games that could greatly impact the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs race. Here's what to expect as an expansion side looks to keep rising and the reigning MLS Cup champions seek a return to their winning ways, among other storylines:

Montreal Impact vs. Nashville SC

Tues., 7 pm ET | TSN 1/3/4/5, TVA Sports in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

The term six-pointer often gets tossed around, and it certainly applies here. Only two points separate Montreal and Nashville, and they’d meet in an Eastern Conference play-in game if the playoffs got underway today.

Montreal, currently in ninth place, will look to recover from a 3-1 loss at New York City FC last weekend that head coach Thierry Henry took the blame for. They’ve won just twice in their last 10 games, so three points would prove massive in staving off other contenders and potentially taking eighth place from Nashville.

As for Nashville, they’re unbeaten in three (2W-0L-1D) and still have a game in hand on surrounding teams in the Eastern Conference standings. A win would send them past the New York Red Bulls into seventh place, and then perhaps they’d climb as high as sixth down the stretch.

That all goes to say: the playoff implications will be profound at Red Bull Arena, especially as Nashville hope to avoid a play-in game and Montreal try to keep pace during Henry’s first year at the helm.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC

Tues., 10 pm ET | TSN 1/3/4/5 in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

As the playoff picture currently stands, Vancouver and Seattle would meet during a Western Conference first-round matchup. So this third meeting of 2020 between Cascadia foes could serve as a preview of sorts, and it’s entirely tilted in Seattle’s favor thus far.

The Sounders have won the two previous meetings by a combined 6-1 scoreline, including a 3-0 win at the MLS is Back Tournament and a 3-1 victory Oct. 3 at CenturyLink Field. Raul Ruidiaz scored in both matches, and the Peruvian striker could make his return after recovering from COVID-19 and being with Peru on international duty.

But Vancouver won’t make it easy, especially after winning three of their past four games. Currently holding the No. 7 seed out West, they could climb as high as fifth place after Tuesday’s match, owning a tiebreaker (wins) over a Minnesota United FC side that'll have played three fewer games. Vancouver can also create distance above the West’s playoff line, with San Jose nipping tight on their heels.

There are playoff implications for Seattle, who are winless in three (0W-1L-2D), since they can overtake Sporting Kansas City for the West’s No. 1 seed, providing yet another layer of intrigue.