MLS preview: Galaxy vs. Earthquakes, Timbers vs. Whitecaps headline Week 20

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Week 20 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, which means we’re now well past the halfway point and ready to start counting down the weeks until the MLS Cup Playoffs kick off (it’s 15, by the way). Yes, the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup is still going on, but as we’re all well aware by now, there’s no stopping this MLS train.

Predictions record through Week 19: 31-40

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:

LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Friday, 10 pm ET, UniMas)

Steven Gerrard’s MLS debut — need we say more? No matter what you think of his arrival to MLS, hate him or love him, you know you’re tuning in to see how Stevie G fares in his first league game (he played 45 minutes each in a friendly vs. Club America last Saturday and a US Open Cup quarterfinal vs. Real Salt Lake on Tuesday).

As for his Galaxy teammates, the acclimation and integration process begins now, as the surging defending champions begin their second-half push up the standings and chase their fourth MLS Cup in five years. How quickly Gerrard — and Giovani dos Santos — find their place within the team will likely go a long way toward deciding Bruce Arena’s side’s fate in 2015.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-1 Earthquakes

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

Cascadia Cup, round 6 (of 9, which is a lot, isn’t it?). The Seattle Sounders currently hold the Cascadia Cup lead (6 points from 4 game), with the Timbers (4 points from 4 games) and Whitecaps (4 points from 3 games) closely behind. In short, a loss in this one means the Timbers will experience no Cascadia glory for a third year running.

In regular league play, the Whitecaps and Timbers currently find themselves second and fourth in the Western Conference, respectively, with either side capable of taking over the top spot with three points. Vancouver won the first meeting of the season, 2-1 in March, before the two sides played to a scoreless in May.

Prediction: Timbers 2-1 Whitecaps

[ MORE: Giovinco dominating MLS in first 6 months, but is that a good thing? | Cubo in Houston ]

FC Dallas vs. D.C. United (Saturday, 9 pm ET, MLS Live)

Two teams couldn’t be anymore different than one another if they tried. FCD — lightning quick, flashy and often times porous at the back; DCU — slow, methodical, yawn-inducing and the definition of “organized.”

It’s easy to say “whichever team better dictates the tempo of this one will come out on top,” but it’s true. FCD have won three in a row without conceding a single goal (eight goals scored), while United haven’t scored in nearly 200 minutes. Thursday’s trade which netter the latter side striker Alvaro Saborio won’t come into effect in this one (international duty), but he’s the kind of game-changing forward the Black and Red have been crying out for.

Prediction: FCD 1-1 DCU

[ GOLD CUP: Quarterfinals set | MEX 4-4 T&T — the craziest GC game ever? CUB 1-0 GUA

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

Last weekend’s results — OCSC 0-2 FCD; RBNY 4-1 NE — couldn’t have been any more opposite of one another. That would suggest momentum favors the visitors from Harrison, NJ, right? Wrong.

Kaka returns to the lineup for the Lions, while Aurelien Collin will be available from the start in this one and Darwin Ceren could make his triumphant return from the Gold Cup to anchor OCSC’s stout midfield once again. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls are still thin at the back due to the Gold Cup, which bodes well for a rest Kaka and a game to be played in the thick summer humidity of Central Florida.

Prediction: OCSC 2-1 RBNY