Buckle your seat belts, everybody, it’s time once again for Rivalry Week in Major League Soccer. (Yes, branding “rivalry week” is still somewhat annoying, but do you remember how great the actual games were last time around? We’ll all take that 10 times out of 10.)
There’s an added bonus this time around, too: so much jockeying for playoff position.
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 three:
San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (Friday, 11 pm ET, UniMas)
Clear-cut favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield as well as the hottest team in the league right now (Galaxy — four straight wins), versus the other hottest team in the league currently blitzing the Western Conference’s six playoff teams at present (Earthquakes — three straight wins).
Everything is clicking for the Galaxy after the additions of Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, though the ‘Quakes’ mid-season acquisitions, Anibal Godoy and Quincy Amarikwa, are having just as much of an impact on their new side, at a fraction of the price. The ‘Quakes went on the road last week and beat Sporting Kansas City (3rd, West) and D.C. United (1st, East) on Wednesday and Saturday by a combined score of 7-0.
Prediction: Quakes 2-2 Galaxy
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers (Sunday, 4:30 pm ET, ESPN)
Neither the Sounders or Timbers come into MLS’s marquee rivalry in dazzling form (six losses in seven for the Sounders; just two wins in seven for the Timbers), which means both sides are sliding toward the bottom of the West’s playoff places as those above mentioned ‘Quakes catch fire. A Sounders loss and any positive result by the ‘Quakes puts the Rave Green on the wrong side of the playoff cut line.
Diego Chara is suspended for this one, and that’s likely to hurt the visitors a great deal. Whether Will Johnson drops deeper in midfield to shield the backline or George Fochive starts in Chara’s place, it’s a huge drop in athleticism at the defensive midfield spot against a side that relies on Obafemi Martins to make driving runs and combinations through that very area of the field. I’m expecting another big day from Oba, which is just enough to put the Sounders over the top.
Prediction: Sounders 2-1 Timbers
New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)
The top two teams in the Eastern Conference renew unpleasantries for the final time this season (United won the first meeting, 2-0, and drew the second, 2-2) with so much more than three points and pride on the line this time. United currently hold a five-point advantage over the Red Bulls, but the latter have three games in hand with less than two months to the end of the regular season.
Thus, this sets up as a massive, massive, massive swing game in the race for home-field advantage in the East. A win puts the Red Bulls two points back with three games in hand, whereas a loss necessitates winning all three games in hand to make up an eight-point deficit. I feel pretty confident in saying that the winner of this weekend’s finale will finish top of the East at season’s end.
Prediction: Red Bulls 2-1 United
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 4 pm ET, MLS Live)
Didier Drogba made his Impact debut last weekend in a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and in doing so picked up an injury that sounds all but certain to keep the Ivorian striker out of Saturday’s 401 Derby. An even bigger loss for the Impact than Drogba’s absence? That of Ignacio Piatti.
Without the Argentine playmaker, the Impact are a dire attacking team, capable only of hitting on the counter. Against TFC, they’ll find the center third of the field squeezed into about a 20-yard section where Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou will corral them and cut off the circulation of passing, turning them over again and again, thus springing Sebastian Giovinco into counter-attacking with very little ground to cover. TFC takes this one in a rout.
Prediction: TFC 3-0 Impact