Shields, wooden spoons, playoff spots, permanent jobs and rivalry cups.
Whether your team is in the thick of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs hunt, confidently positioning itself for a top seed, trying to trip up others or merely seeking to avoid finishing in last place, there's plenty on the line in Week 30 as the season's final month arrives.
Here's a rundown.
Saturday, Oct. 1
New York Red Bulls (2nd in East, 48pts) vs. Philadelphia Union (4th in East, 42pts)
7 pm ET on MLS LIVE
Qualifying for the postseason is great. But veterans will tell you that the path for the bracket's four lower seeds (No. 3 - No. 6) is markedly tougher than for the top two, who get to rest and prepare while the midweek Knockout Round games unfold just a few days after the regular season ends. The Red Bulls and Union would both very much like a Knockout Round bye, but face stiff competition with TFC and NYCFC for the top two seeds in the East. Failure to grab all three points on Saturday would be a huge setback for either.
Columbus Crew SC (9th in East, 32pts) vs. Chicago Fire (10th in East, 27pts)
7:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE
Alas, playoff soccer is almost certainly not coming to C-bus or the Windy City this fall. But finishing dead-last in the conference standings would add further insult to that injury, as Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic explicitly pointed out this week. If his team (27pts), the current East cellar dweller, is to run down Crew SC (32pts) in the race away from the proverbial wooden spoon, they really need to dig out just their second road win of the year this weekend.
New England Revolution (7th in East, 36pts) vs. Sporting Kansas City (5th in West, 43pts)
7:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE
The New England Revolution didn't play on Wednesday night, but they were still one of the night's biggest losers. Results elsewhere led ESPN's Soccer Power Index to reckon that the Revs' shot at making the playoffs shrank from 41 percent to 30 percent. So if Sporting KC's visit to Gillette Stadium wasn't already a “must-win,” it is now. New England must make up a four-point gap on sixth-place D.C. United with just three games left. For their part, KC need points as they try not to get passed by Seattle or Portland in the West.
Toronto FC (No. 1 in East, 49pts) vs. D.C. United (No. 6 in East, 40pts)
7:30 pm ET on TSN2, RDS in Canada and MLS LIVE in USA
Toronto are chasing the Shield, and a high playoff seed, and make no secret of having MLS Cup in their crosshairs. D.C. need to keep themselves above the red line, and could certainly climb past Montreal or Philadelphia if they can build on their four-game unbeaten run (2-0-2).
There's also the basic but powerful urge to avoid getting hammered at BMO Field again. Last time DC visited The Six, Sebastian Giovinco bagged a hat trick as TFC romped to a 4-1 win on July 23. The Italian could make his eagerly-awaited return from injury on Saturday.
Colorado Rapids (No. 2 in West, 48pts) vs. Portland Timbers (No. 7 in West, 41pts)
9 pm ET on MLS LIVE
It's looking like a jittery run-in for the defending MLS Cup champion Timbers. They have to climb a steep hill just to make the playoffs – and also have a must-win CONCACAF Champions League decider coming up (Oct. 19). They really, really need points from Saturday's trip to Colorado. Yet the Rapids are undefeated at their Dick's Sporting Goods Park home (9-0-5), and can gain ground on league leaders FC Dallas in the Shield race with a win.
FC Dallas (No. 1 in West, 53pts) vs. LA Galaxy (No. 3 in West, 48pts)
9 pm ET on MLS LIVE
This is a big one. FC Dallas want a home win, not only to keep on course for the second piece of hardware in their “treble” mission, but also to strike a blow against a Galaxy team who are perennially dangerous at this time of year. LA claim they're simply concerned with solving their injury woes and finding some consistency, so we'll have to see who takes the initiative at Toyota Stadium.
A Dallas win will eliminate the Galaxy from contention for the Shield. A Galaxy win, however, could transform the regular season finale between these two clubs at StubHub Center on Oct. 23 into a Supporters' Shield decider.
San Jose Earthquakes (No. 9 in West, 34pts) vs. Real Salt Lake (No. 4 in West, 45pts)
10:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE
The Earthquakes are winless in seven games dating back to Aug. 12 (0-4-3, three points from 21 available), a skid that has dug a shallow grave for their postseason ambitions (though they're not statistically dead just yet). Conversely, Real Salt Lake need some momentum after a winless September (0-2-2) – they're in the playoff places but have precious little margin for error just the same. The desperation should hang thick in the air at Avaya Stadium.
Sunday, Oct. 2
Orlando City SC (No. 8 in East, 35pts) vs. Montreal Impact (No. 5 in East, 41pts)
1 pm ET on ESPN in USA, MLS LIVE in Canada
We hear a lot about “must-win” games at this time of year, and Sunday is certainly that for Orlando City's long-shot hopes of scrambling back into the postseason picture. But it's also a “can't-lose” for the Impact, who remain arguably the most mysterious team in MLS with their wildly inconsistent ways. The Quebecois could use a tight, sturdy defensive display...easier said than done vs. Kaka and Cyle Larin.
Vancouver Whitecaps (No. 8 in West, 35pts) vs. Seattle Sounders (No. 6 in West, 41pts)
8 pm ET on FS1 in USA, TSN2 in Canada
The Sounders finally hauled themselves above the red line last week for the first time all season, and given their recent performances, probably see no reason to stop climbing now. Their cross-border rivals from Vancouver are in spoiler mode when it comes to the playoffs, though they can still get their hands on the Cascadia Cup with a couple of good results against Seattle and Portland. But it's not as if either side really need to dig for motivation in a backyard brawl like this one.