MLS preview: Timbers vs. Earthquakes, Galaxy vs. Toronto FC headline Week 18

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Week 18 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and though it’s unlikely to live up to the sheer awesomeness and excitement that “Rivalry Week” provided in Week 17, there’s still plenty of quality games this weekend as the league schedule rolls right through three weeks of the Gold Cup as if nothing is happening anywhere else.

Predictions record through Week 17: 28-35

So, if you’re to watch just four MLS games this weekend — who am I to tell you to watch only four games? — might I suggest the following four:

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Sunday, 11 pm ET, ESPN2)

Along with the New York Red Bulls, nobody was a bigger winner during Rivalry Week. The Timbers smashed the Seattle Sounders, 4-1, while the Earthquakes came from behind to knock off the LA Galaxy, 3-1. Darlington Nagbe was the star of the week for Portland, while Matias Perez Garcia continued his fine run of form with a two-assist performance.

On Sunday, they’ll face one another with tons of momentum and a familiarity with that scoring feeling in tow. The ‘Quakes will be without Chris Wondolowski and Cordell Cato, while Alvas Powell will be away for the Timbers.

Prediction: Timbers 1-1 ‘Quakes

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LA Galaxy vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

No Michael Bradley, no Jozy Altidore, no Jonathan Orsorio and no Ashtone Morgan for Toronto FC for the next couple weeks, at least. But here’s the thing, Sebastian Giovinco is still around, as is Benoit Cheyrou and, though I never thought I’d say this, Luke Moore, so TFC should still get by semi-OK.

The Galaxy’s Gold Cup casualties are as follows: Omar Gonzalez, Gyasi Zardes and Jaime Penedo. It goes without saying, but MLS playing through international dates and/or tournaments is a huge bummer and the on-field product takes a huge hit, which means no one suffers more than the fans. Luckily for Galaxy fans, Robbie Keane, Jose Villarreal and Sebastian Lletget are still around and in fine form of late.

Prediction: Galaxy 1-1 TFC

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FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution (Saturday, 9 pm ET, MLS Live)

Forget about the whooping FC Dallas took Wednesday night in US Open Cup action — that was neither Fabian Castillo or Mauro Diaz even on the 18-man gameday roster. Surprisingly enough, FCD is a very different team without those attacking magicians on the field. They’ll be back this weekend against a Jermaine Jones-less (hernia surgery) Revolution side, which is, similarly, vastly different without their best player on the field.

Perhaps no team is hit harder by call-ups, though, than FCD, who will be without Blas Perez, Tesho Akindele, Moises Hernandez, Je-Vaughn Watson and Kyle Bekker for as long as their respective national teams survive in the Gold Cup.

Prediction: FCD 2-1 Revs

[ WATCH: Freddy Adu scores free kick for FOURTH-DIVISION reserve team in Finland ]

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

Are there two more up and down teams in MLS than Crew SC and the Red Bulls? The two sides ended six- and five-game winless streaks last Wednesday night. Then on the weekend, Crew SC picked up a solid draw at Rio Tinto Stadium (they’re still searching for their first road win of the year), while the Red Bulls hammered New York City FC at Yankee Stadium, 3-1.

Ahead of Saturday night’s meeting, the Red Bulls’ backline is decimated by Gold Cup call-ups, as Kemar Lawrence, Karl Ouimette and Roy Miller are all away, while just midfielder Kevan George is gone for the Black and Gold.

Prediction: Crew SC 3-1 Red Bulls