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Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook

MLS Playoff Picture: It’s now or never with 2 games to go

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By 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, the 12-team field for the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs could be set, with only seeding — home-field advantage and knockout-round byes — left to be determined on the final day of the regular season, next Sunday, when all 10 games will be played at the same time.

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All of this Sunday’s games in the Eastern Conference are schedule to kick off at 3 p.m. ET, with all games in the Western Conference kicking off immediately thereafter, at 5 p.m. ET.

Eastern Conference

Already clinched

New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, Toronto FC

Can clinch this weekend

Montreal Impact — With a win over Toronto, would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw or loss against Toronto, and a New England Revolution draw or loss against Chicago Fire.

D.C. United — With a win over NYCFC, would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw or loss against NYCFC, and a New England draw or loss against Chicago.

Philadelphia Union — With a win over Orlando City SC, and a New England draw or loss against Chicago, would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw against Orlando, and a New England loss against Chicago.

Western Conference

Already clinched

Colorado Rapids — With a win over Portland Timbers, and an FC Dallas loss to Seattle Sounders, would clinch the Supporters’ Shield.

FC Dallas, LA Galaxy

Can clinch this weekend

Seattle Sounders — With a win over FC Dallas, would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw or loss against Dallas, and the same result (or worse) by Portland against Colorado Rapids.

Real Salt Lake — With a win over Sporting Kansas City, would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw or loss against Sporting KC, and the same result (or worse) by Portland against Colorado.

Sporting Kansas City — With a win over Real Salt Lake, and a Portland draw or loss against Colorado, would clinch a playoff place.

MLS weekend preview: Contenders missing key pieces during international break

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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The Major League Soccer weekend actually begins Thursday, with DC United and New York City FC squaring off in the first of six match-ups set to play into the wee hours of Sunday.

That means that DC will have to stare down Andrea Pirlo, Stiven Mendoza, Frank Lampard, and David Villa without center back Steven Birnbaum on Thursday. Who’s missing stars this weekend?

[ MORE: USMNT preview | Lineup projection ]

— The Red Bulls won’t have talisman Sacha Kljestan when they traverse the continent for a match with desperate Vancouver.

— Philly won’t have Alejandro Bedoya when it visits Chicago.

— Portland is without Darlington Nagbe for its trip to Dallas, who will be missing Kellyn Acosta.

Speaking of the Timbers, Saturday presents a huge chance for the inconsistent side to stake its claim to a playoff spot. Portland is three points ahead of San Jose for the final spot in the West and has played one more game than the Quakes. With KC idle, Portland could catch them on points.

The bottom three teams in the East — Chicago, Columbus, and New England — simply have to start “stacking wins”. Not one has an easy task this weekend.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20 star signs for Schalke ]

DC United at NYCFC — 7 p.m. EDT Thursday
New York Red Bulls at Vancouver — 7 p.m. EDT Saturday
Colorado at New England — 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday
Philadelphia at Chicago — 8:30 p.m. EDT Saturday
Portland at FC Dallas — 9 p.m. EDT Saturday
Columbus at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.


Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT

MLS preview: Galaxy, Sounders, Toronto FC hit the road midweek

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer on Wednesday…

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Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

Quick quiz: Which is the hottest team in MLS right now? Answer: It’s TFC, who are unbeaten in their last six games, a stretch which includes five wins and an aggregate score of 16-4. OK, so how are they doing it? Don’t ask silly questions. In those six games, Sebastian Giovinco, who’s again running away in the MVP race and will become the first back-to-back winner in league history (only Preki has ever been a two-time winner), has scored eight goals and notched four assists. He’s been even better this year than he was in 2015. His 2016 season tally currently stands at 16 and 11. He’ll likely be the first player in MLS history to notch multiple 20-goal seasons, if Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has 15 this season, doesn’t get there first.

It’s not only Giovinco, though, but the return Jozy Altidore which has allowed the Italian superstar the freedom, the space, and the hold-up play to thrive as he’s done. Giovinco has been given a free role by head coach Greg Vanney, and Altidore’s ability to occupy two center backs at once, along with his ability to hold the ball up and draw the opposing defense toward him, has resulted in Giovinco scoring a number of easy chances no player of his quality should ever be allowed to see. It’s amazing what happens when you build a team and system around your best player, rather than try to make that player fit into something predetermined. Three points on Wednesday would vault the Reds into first place in the Eastern Conference having finally pulled level on games played with New York City FC.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Jack Harrison on meteoric rise — “It can only get better” ]

Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy — 8:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

After rattling off four straight wins over the majority of July, the Galaxy are suddenly winless winless in their last four, though they’ve managed to salvage three points during that period. During the current four-game stretch, the attacking trio of Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes have combined to contribute just one goal and three assists, all but one assist of which have come from GdS.

No team in the Western Conference has won more points away from home (14) than the Galaxy this season, while no team in MLS has won fewer home points (17 — or points, period, 22) than the Fire. All signs point toward a Galaxy victory, but this is a Fire side that has steadily improved bit by bit in recent weeks, culminating in their first road victory in 25 months last weekend. The Vancouver Whitecaps await the Galaxy on the weekend — can you say, “trap game?”

[ MORE: U.S. teen skipping college, heading to La Liga ]

Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

If TFC are the hottest team in MLS, the Sounders are the second-hottest and without a doubt the hottest team in the West. Since firing Sigi Schmid four weeks ago, the bunch in Rave Green are unbeaten in four games, now having won three straight. The signing of Nicolas Lodeiro has been the spark that breathed life into a dying season, but one could reasonably argue that Cristian Roldan’s emergence deep in midfield has meant just as much to a Sounders side that, for the first time all season, has found a strong base between the attack and defense.

Osvaldo Alonso is no longer being ask to play the box-to-box role in which he thrived for a half-decade, instead acting as the organizer and director in front of the backline, with Roldan, the 21-year-old with many miles left in his legs, covering large swaths of space in midfield. The biggest difference between Roldan and your typical defensive midfield in MLS? He can see a pass in the final third, and he can hit it when it’s on. Lodeiro creates plenty of space for Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey with his unbelievable range of passing, and that’s been a huge part of the eight goals the Sounders have scored in those three wins, but Roldan’s presence alongside Alonso has been just as important in allowing just four goals in four games.

MLS preview: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-Galaxy headline Week 24

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 13:  Clint Dempsey #2 of the Seattle Sounders reacts after scoring a goal in the second half against the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field on July 13, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer this weekend…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New York City FC vs. LA Galaxy — Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

More than $30 million worth of Designated Player stardom will be on the field at Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon, assuming Robbie Keane returns to action following an orbital fracture suffered in the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago. Keane said this week he expects to be available and will wear a protective mask. Frank Lampard has scored nine goals in his last 10 appearances, clearing himself of the Worst DP in League History title bestowed upon him earlier this year.

The two sides enter Sunday’s star-studded clash on identical 38-point tallies, with the Galaxy having played two fewer games thus far. NYCFC, however, lead the Eastern Conference by a single point, while the Galaxy trail the Supporters’ Shield- and Western Conference-leading FC Dallas by seven points. The last only time these sides met, the Galaxy throttled the then-expansion side, 5-1 last August. The Galaxy are unbeaten in their last nine league games, which include three straight draws right on the heels of a four-game winning streak (a period in which Keane scored his only three post-EURO 2016 goals).

Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

TFC were supposed to be here — fighting for the top spot in the East, that is. The Union, however, were not. Yet, here we are, with the two sides separated by just three points ahead of Saturday’s massive top-four battle. The Union (4th in the East) bounced back from a four-game winless skid with a 4-0 thrashing of the New England Revolution last weekend, in which Alejandro Bedoya made his MLS debut and one of the league’s deepest squads was realized.

The Reds (2nd in the East), on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last five, including four straight wins before last weekend’s weather-postponed 1-1 draw with the lowly Houston Dynamo. Surprise: Sebastian Giovinco is back to his best, notching seven goals and four assists in his last five games. That’s certainly one way to snap out of an eight-game goalless skid.

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

With just one win in their last seven games, United’s season is on the line every time they take the field. With just over two months of the regular season remaining, they’re tied with Orlando City SC for the sixth spot in the East, edged into the lead on tiebreakers.

It’s hardly an ideal time to face a side that’s unbeaten in seven, somehow overcoming the loss of an entire defensive unit in the process. Gideon Baah and Dax McCarty have been out for weeks; Damien Perrinelle and Connor Lade, too; Aurelien Collin became the latest defensive standout to wind up on the injury list in a win over the Montreal Impact last weekend. Fortunately for Jesse Marsch and Co., only the Chicago Fire (22) have scored fewer goals this season than the Red Bulls’ Atlantic Cup rivals.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

Not only is Seattle versus Portland the grandest rivalry in MLS, but Sunday’s meeting is suddenly a hugely important fixture in the playoff race. Left for dead just three weeks ago, the Sounders have won seven points from their last three games, halving their 10-point deficit to the sixth-place side in the West in the process. They also have two games in hand, as well Nicolas Lodeiro, who has established himself as one of the league’s elite playmakers in just three games (1 goal, 3 assists).

Five points is hardly an insurmountable gap with 11 games still to play, none of them more important than Sunday’s. The team they currently trail by five points for that sixth and final playoff place? Portland. That, my friends, is the purest form of poetic coincidence.