Jozy Altidore - Toronto FC - Victor Cabrera - Montreal Impact
USA Today Sports

Heineken Rivalry Week: Even neutrals have reasons to watch

If your favorite team or player isn't involved in one of Sunday's MLS Heineken Rivalry Week clashes, you might think there's no compelling reason for you to watch the action. 

But it's not so! With the 2017 MLS playoff race shaping up to be tight as spandex, the latest edition of HRW will have myriad repercussions across the league. Here's a few angles you should be following as the week comes to a close:

Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (Sunday | 4:30 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN1/4/5, TVAS in Canada)

If you’re unfamiliar with the centuries-old enmity between Montreal and Toronto, we urge you to Google “Two Solitudes” and dive into this fascinating Canadian tableau. Their soccer teams have settled right in alongside long-running rivalries of hockey, language, and culture, highlighted by last year’s truly epic Eastern Conference Championship series.

But outsiders can also take interest in Montreal’s late-breaking dash for a playoff spot, which could make or break on their whopping three meetings with TFC down the stretch, starting on Sunday. Powered by the effervescent Nacho Piatti-Blerim Dzemaili duo, the Impact are a team that few will want to face in the postseason – if they can make it. Doing so would likely come at the expense of Atlanta and/or Columbus.

For their part, Toronto are chasing history. As our own Armchair Analyst detailed last Saturday, the Reds are within striking distance of not only their first Supporters’ Shield, but also a bevy of MLS records including most points, most points per game, most goals, biggest goal differential, and more. Any neutral can appreciate a hunt like that.

LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Sunday | 7 pm ET, FS1, FOX Deportes in US, MLS LIVE in Canada)

Look, history shows that you just don’t want to miss the California Clasico, the setting for some of the wildest moments in this league’s two-decade history. But supporters of other teams have plenty on the line here too, especially if Sunday’s result has a knock-on effect in either direction.

The Quakes currently find themselves on the edge of the playoff bubble and a loss in SoCal might be a crushing blow. But they are 7-1-5 at their Avaya Stadium home, where Houston, Chicago, and Portland must all visit down the stretch.

It’s not too hard to imagine Chris Leitch’s group – who usually play wide-open, attacking soccer – building some momentum, given those “six-pointer” situations. San Jose also visit fellow playoff chasers Vancouver in October.

Meanwhile the Galaxy have Seattle, TFC, Atlanta, SKC, the Dynamo, RSL, and FCD on their calendar. If one of your teams is on that list, tune in to learn whether the five-time champs are looking like a broken bunch, or a spiky spoiler crew.

Also, Toronto fans: Your team faces both California sides later, and might need positive results in the chase for all those “best ever” MLS achievements.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers (Sunday | 9:30 pm ET, FS1, FOX Deportes in US, MLS LIVE in Canada)

Do you really need a reason to watch the mother of all MLS rivalry games? This Cascadia Cup fixture routinely draws the league’s biggest crowd of the year and the banter is usually entertaining, both on the field and in the stands.

Both sides are riding high at present, with Western Conference leading Seattle holding a one point advantage on the second-place Timbers – though the Sounders, pivotally, have one game in hand. Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver, and Houston are hot on the heels of both, but their fans should welcome a Seattle win, as it would leave the Timbers looking quite vulnerable heading into their tough stretch-run schedule.

Then again, does anyone out West want the Sounders to build more of that late-season momentum that powered them to last year’s MLS Cup title?

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