I've been writing weekend previews and matchups for six months now, and it's a good bet that 1) if you're reading this one, you've read a couple of the previous ones, and 2) that you have a pretty decent idea of what these teams are, tactics-wise.
So instead of doing my usual X, Y and Z about how D.C. United play through Wayne Rooney, or how the Galaxy hit too many long-balls, or how Atlanta like to win the ball further from goal in 2018 than they did in 2017, let's simplify. Let's not examine how they play – because we've done that so many times already. Let's, instead, examine what's at stake in each and every game.
And here... we... go...
Colorado Rapids vs. Atlanta United
3:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
There's nothing on the line here for the Rapids in 2018, who aren't officially eliminated from the playoffs just yet but c'mon. You could be clever and say "2019 identity" is somewhat on the line, as their good first half of August pretty much disappeared over the last three games as they've lost 2-0, 6-0 and 2-0.
If they go with the diamond again, and put together a strong performance against what's probably the league's best team, it's another data point to suggest they're on the right track and August wasn't a blip.
For Atlanta: The Supporters' Shield is on the line in this game and every other one they'll play between now and the end of October. Unless the Red Bulls fall on their collective face, it looks like it'll go down to the wire.
Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact
7:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
Philly have gone 6-2-1 over the last two months and are virtually assured of earning a playoff berth, but the work's not quite done yet. And if you start dropping home points to teams behind you in the standings, it won't get done.
Can't be just about making the playoffs for Philly, though, because if they keep winning they could potentially sneak by Columbus or even NYCFC to get up to fourth (or even third?) place in the East. That means they'd play the Knockout Round at home instead of having to leave the cozy confines of Chester.
So this is a big one for the Union, but is even bigger for Montreal. The Impact got a reprieve from their tailspin two weeks ago with their most complete win of the year, 3-0 over the visiting Red Bulls. We have our doubts that it'll last, and Quincy Amarikwa's got thoughts on that:
.@MLS 's experts (https://t.co/5iol6K9QfN) are predicting that @dcunited will make the playoffs over the Impact.— J'ai pris note de ceux qui ont douté de S. Taïder (@sofianebenzaza) September 12, 2018
Quincy : " ... " ** watch video **
TVA Sports#IMFC #DCU #MLS #mlsplayoffs #ThugLife pic.twitter.com/YaSqkpwfBh
Montreal have to figure out how to stay ahead of D.C., who are playing better, have an easier schedule, a game in hand and are just two points back. A win here makes that seem much more plausible, and maybe even puts Philly on notice.
Even a point would be a great result.
Toronto FC vs. LA Galaxy
7:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
Both teams are officially longshots to make the playoffs. I personally think that TFC's hopes died for good last week, though you could argue that this team – which is still talented, and is now healthy – is good enough to run the table in their last seven games and ruin somebody's year. It's tougher to make the same case for LA, as this group has never shown the ability to defend at even an adequate level, but you could talk me into an "and then they won every game 4-3 for the rest of the season" type of world.
But probably not. I think they're both cooked already, but just to plant a flag: Whoever loses this one is D-E-D dead and a draw would kill both teams.
FC Dallas vs. Columbus Crew SC
8 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
FC Dallas play four of their last six on the road, three of them against Western Conference teams. They have been one of the league's best road teams, but still: That's a very difficult way to finish up a season. And while they're still atop the Western Conference, they've been coming back to the pack hard over the last two months, going just 4-4-2 over their last 10 games.
If they want first place in the West, they've got to win this one. And honestly, if they want a Knockout Round bye, they've probably got to win this one. And while it's still a relatively remote possibility, there's a chance they could end up dropping all the way down to fifth and spend the Knockout Round o the road if the second half of September and all of October are as bad as August was.
This is the start of a very unpleasant week for Columbus, who go to Portland on Wednesday and then return home on Saturday against Colorado. A single point from the two road games would probably be fine, though it would put their home game in the Knockout Round in doubt if Philly continues their current form.
Houston Dynamo vs. Portland Timbers
8:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
Houston's regular season is done, but unlike the Rapids it's not time for 2019 yet, because the Dynamo still have the U.S. Open Cup final coming in two weeks at home. At this point the best way to use these regular-season games is to prep for that chance to win a trophy.
As for what that means... I'm honestly not sure. Portland play nothing like Philly (Houston's foe in the final), so it's not like you can replicate one team's attack with another. But perhaps just getting some meaningful minutes for certain partnerships – central defense, which has been a revolving door of subpar play, would be one – makes sense.
Portland are only five points back of Dallas, so they could conceivably win the West. They're only four points back of Sporting KC, so they could finish top two and get a Knockout Round bye. Right now they're fifth in the standings, but fourth in PPG, so a win would solidify them as favorites to at least host a Knockout Round game. And while a draw wouldn't be disastrous... the Dynamo have taken just one of the last 24 points on offer. If the Timbers want to be regarded as one of the West's best, they've got to get this done.
Since I can't resist a bit of a tactical take: When Houston have sat deep, absorbed and countered, they've been able to beat even the best teams in this league. When they've tried to play a higher line and build chances via possession, they've been able to lose to even the worst teams in this league.
Portland love when teams try to possess against them, because they sit deep, turn you over and then go out on the break. If the Dynamo try to be Barcelona in this one, they will lose by at least two goals.
Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota United FC
9:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
RSL are in fourth in the West right now, but I think if you took a poll of neutral observers and forced them to pick a team above the playoff line they feel is most likely to drop, it's probably them (the other options being Portland and Seattle). Vancouver are charging hard and while LA are mostly dead, they're not all dead. They just need to visit Miracle Max:
I don't think that'll happen. RSL are 10-5-4 in the last four months after an awful start to the season, and curb-stomped the Galaxy in a must-win game two weeks ago. Win this one and we're not talking about the playoff line anymore, we're talking about maaaaaybe making a run at a top two seed and avoiding the Knockout Round entirely. Have fun storming the castle.
Minnesota United are playing for next year, and playing for jobs – players, coaches, front office alike.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Seattle Sounders
10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
Have you been paying attention to the 'Caps? They were awful from April til mid-July, but have crept back into the West playoff race since then, going 4-0-2 (including a very credible draw at Yankee Stadium, followed by a very impressive win at Portland). They're not scorching hot – three of their four wins during this stretch were by a single goal, and the last two against lowly San Jose. But they're finding a way, they're making it interesting, and if they win this home game this weekend, they will be above the Sounders and thus above the playoff line.
Even with all of that, this isn't an existential thing for the Sounders. Vancouver's schedule down the stretch is brutal – it's hard to see them keeping up this run of form. Seattle, on the other hand, have a much friendlier schedule and a game in hand, so a loss here doesn't do much to ding their playoff hopes, and a draw would be a very, very good result for that reason (and because it would just about clinch their first Cascadia Cup since 2015).
The Sounders have already set the single-season, post-shootout era record for consecutive wins, with eight. The non-single-season record is nine, set by Sporting in 2011 (last two games of the year) and 2012 (first seven). So I guess that's on the line as well.
This really is a really, really big game. It's just substantially bigger for the 'Caps – who definitely need all three – than it is for Seattle.
LAFC vs. New England Revolution
10:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
My credibility is on the line here, maybe? Back in April I Baerantee'd that LAFC would finish first in the West:
They struggled through July and the first half of August, but are 3-0-1 in their last four and have the friendliest remaining schedule of just about anyone out there. If they play like they have been they should make me look like a genius, and even if they only play at about 80 percent of capacity, that should be good enough for a top two spot – which would mean they avoid the Knockout Round entirely.
Truth is they could probably drop points here and compete for that anyway. But if you want homefield advantage in the playoffs, you probably shouldn't drop home points to a Revs team that's won once in the past two-and-a-half months.
Of course that win did come last week at NYCFC in a bend-don't-break defensive performance. New England probably need to do the same exact thing here, and if they manage to take a point, they keep their playoff hopes still flickering. Even a loss wouldn't extinguish them entirely to be honest, as that math just doesn't quite add up yet (and is really dependent upon what Montreal and D.C. do this weekend, anyway).
A win, in any context, would obviously be huge. They have a game in hand on the Impact, and this would bring the teams even on 36 points through 28 games played.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Sporting KC
10:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
#WondoWatch is realistically the only thing that matters from a Quakes point of view, though you could make an argument that the continued development of Luis Felipe at d-mid is worth keeping an eye on, as well as the continued integration of Guram Kashia at CB.
Everybody else is playing for jobs (or should be), and coaching for jobs, and front office-ing for jobs.
Sporting KC, who've won five of six, are in that scrum near the top of the West and currently sit just one point behind FCD, so a win on the road keeps the pressure on and keeps them in a good spot to get a home game in the Knockout Round for the first time since 2013 (or maybe avoid the Knockout Round entirely). As SKC are 0-4 in the playoffs since then, it's a pretty big deal to stay top four at the very least.
An individual note: Tim Melia has 12 shutouts this year, and the single-season record is 16. He could get there.
D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls
1 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
D.C. are 6-2-2 in their last 10, and have climbed from dead last in MLS to seventh place in that run. They won 3-1 vs. Atlanta two weeks ago, got a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium last weekend, and then avoided a trap game with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at home over Minnesota United on Wednesday. Russell Canouse was, once again, awesome:
They're two points back of Montreal for the sixth spot, and this is their game in hand. It's also their second of seven straight at home, and yes, the next in that stretch is on September 29 against that very same Impact team in a game that will go a long, long way toward deciding the sixth spot in the East.
Given that D.C.'s schedule is quite a bit easier than Montreal's or New England's, a point here is not catastrophic. But it's a home game, in a playoff race, against a rival, so anything short of a win would be disappointing.
The Red Bulls are leading the Shield race on points, but are behind Atlanta on PPG. They're also coming off their first multi-goal loss in almost a year (though, to be fair, 1) they never win in Montreal, and 2) it was their fifth game in 15 days). A loss or draw won't kill their hopes of a third Shield in six seasons, but it sure will harm them.
There seems little chance that RBNY could drop below No. 2 in the East, for what it's worth. NYCFC's swoon has given them a lot of breathing room.
Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC
5 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info
This is all about 2019 – getting guys like Djordje Mihailovic and Josue Colman more minutes and a clearer identity, and SuperDraft positioning. It's also worth noting that Dom Dwyer has been, when healthy, probably the best American center forward in the league this year. I'm sure he'd like to bag a few more goals (he has 12 in 1700 minutes) and play his way into October's USMNT camp.
And yeah, as with all the other bottom-dwelling teams: Jobs are on the line here, especially for Chicago.
One More Thing to Ponder
This whole video is an amazing use of the studio to illustrate just how devastating a storm surge can be, and is worth watching. But I've set the embed to start at the particularly impressive/scary part.
To all my readers in the Carolinas (and everywhere, really): Stay safe this weekend.