MLS preview: FC Dallas vs. Sounders, Whitecaps vs. Timbers headline Week 4

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Week 4 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us — without the new Friday night game of which so many have quickly grown fond, unfortunately — so we must wait until Saturday afternoon for the 10-game weekend to begin. Though once it does begin, Week 4 is a doozy jam-packed with a number of playoffs-type matchup, both past and future.

Predictions record through Week 3: 9-7

If you’re to watch just five games this weekend — not that you’re limited to five, of course — might I recommend the following five:

FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

The absences of Clint Dempsey and Blas Perez (international duty/injury) are equally important losses in terms of the way each team plays, but FCD and the Sounders are far from one-man bands and will still put on a show of the highest quality in their absence.

Tesho Akindele will be asked to step up to fill Perez’s scoring role (3 goals in 3 games), while Obafemi Martins will look to carry the Sounders attack on his own without Dempsey (3 goals in 2 games). Advantage: FCD, due to their stability in midfield and continuity across the backline, two things the Sounders lack at the moment.

Prediction: FCD 2-1 Sounders

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 8 pm ET, MLS Live)

The 2015 Cascadia Cup gets underway Saturday night, as the combined winners of the last three seasons (Timbers 2012, Whitecaps 2013 and 2014) face off at BC Place.

With Diego Valeri and Will Johnson still sidelined with injuries, it’s been a much more pragmatic approach from Caleb Porter to start the 2015 season, while Carl Robinson’s ‘Caps create the fourth-most chances per game (13.7) in MLS, though they’ve struggled to put them away at times. In a rivalry game, all of that goes out the window. This could be a wild one, as they often are in the Pacific Northwest.

Prediction: Whitecaps 3-2 Timbers

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Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

Jesse Marsch’s tenure in New Jersey is off to a solid start, as the Red Bulls top the Eastern Conference after three games on the back of an impressive thumping of D.C. United last week. The midfield trio of Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins is as strong as any unit in MLS, and they’ll surely look to dominate once again with Wil Trapp (calf) questionable for Crew SC.

19.5 shots per game is an insane number, and that’s what the Red Bulls are up against in a Crew team that also holds 59.8 percent of possession per game and an 84.1-percent passing percentage (both tops in MLS).

Prediction: Crew SC 1-1 Red Bulls

D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy (Saturday, 7 pm ET, MLS Live)

Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes (international duty) are unavailable for the defending champions, but that often matters little for Bruce Arena’s teams, who seemingly every year unearth a gem — or three — who goes from obscurity to valued contributor. Alan Gordon will draw the start, perhaps on his own with Jose Villarreal tucking inside from the left wing.

It’s been a slog for United without last year’s joint-leading scorers Fabian Espindola (suspension) and Luis Silva (hamstring) and Eddie Johnson (heart condition) to start the season. Already down a few men of their own, it’s the perfect time for United to get their yearly matchup with the Galaxy out of the way.

Prediction: D.C. United 1-1 Galaxy

Real Salt Lake vs. Toronto FC (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Sure, the big stars — Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio — won’t be available due to international duty — and that’s a farce all of its own — but there’s still plenty to gleaned from this matchup of expected playoff teams. The stars typically show up week in and week out, but who is prepared to step up in their absence — and alongside them come playoff time?

Prediction: RSL 2-1 TFC