MLS preview: Galaxy vs. FC Dallas, Crew vs. Timbers

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Week 30 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and believe it or not, we’re finally starting to figure this whole playoff picture out. By the end of the weekend, any of four teams could have their respective conference’s top seed all but sewn up, while it’s time to kick one of these Western Conference wannabes to the curb. Who’s with me?

Predictions record through Week 29: 41-54

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

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Something pretty interesting has been going on with the Galaxy, and it’s pretty much exactly what we predicted would happen months before the arrival of Steven Gerrard: they’ve got worse — much worse — and it’s all to do with the midfield balance. See, Gerrard isn’t 25 anymore. He’s not even 28, or 30, or 32. He’s 35, and an old 35 at that. To preserve his $6-million-per-year investment, Bruce Arena can’t play Gerrard in a role at all resembling a box-to-box midfielder, which is precisely what the Galaxy need.

Juninho is an elite defensive midfielder who sits in front of the back line, cleans up messes before they’re ever made, and sprays brilliant long balls into both channels and out to the wings. Problem is, that’s now Gerrard’s position, because, legs. So Juninho’s wandering further up the field, turning the ball over because he’s under a lot more pressure in the attacking half, and the Galaxy midfield and defense are suddenly under lots of pressure… with a 35-year-old attacking-midfielder-turned-d-mid charged with protecting an already frail defensive unit. Guess what. They’ve given up four goals in three games and haven’t scored a league goal since their five-goal dismantling of New York City more than a month ago. Oh, and maybe nobody in MLS attacks space and makes you pay on the counter like FCD and Fabian Castillo.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-2 FCD

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Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

Can someone confirm for me that Crew SC and the Timbers aren’t, in fact, the same team? Let’s run down the list really quickly: Great on set pieces — check; terrible at defending set pieces — check; midfield three that holds its own with any unit in the league — check; overlapping full backs like whoa — check; exciting, dynamic wingers — check; enigmatic center forwards who see plenty of chances each game — check.

OK, that settles it, Crew SC and the Timbers are the same group of guys who just fly across the country and place twice every weekend. A win could push Crew SC all the way into the Eastern Conference’s top spot, while the Timbers need to win and overcome nine goals’ worth of goal differential to leave behind the sixth spot in the West.

Prediction: Crew SC 4-2 Timbers

[ MORE: Week 29 Team of the Week | Player of the Week ]

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Can we agree to one thing, for the sake of my sanity? Whichever of these teams walks out of Avaya Stadium with zero points Sunday night, we make them go away until March. Can we agree to that? Because, man, I am so done with these two teams and their yoyo-ing “we’re alive,” “we’re dead,” “we’re alive,” “we’re dead” schtick of the last two months.

How’s anybody supposed to have a correct take on a team if every time you buy into them, they fall flat on their face; and every time you say they’re finally dead, they hammer one of the league’s best teams? Naturally, they’ll play to the most exciting draw of the season, leaving us once again scratching our heads, still unsure what to make of either side’s postseason chances. They’ve currently both out of the playoff places, and pretty likely to still be there come Oct. 25.

Prediction: Earthquakes 1-1 RSL