MLS preview: Top-5 showdowns in East, West make for important weekend

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer this weekend…

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New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

The Red Bulls are currently the walking wounded with the majority of their defensive unit unavailable through injuries, and set to be so for quite some time: MF Dax McCarty (broken leg), CB Damien Perrinelle (ankle, knee), CB Gideon Baah (broken leg) and RB Connor Lade (torn ACL), as well as Bradley Wright-Phillips (undisclosed injury).

Suffice it to say, this is hardly the time Jesse Marsch would want to come up against a peaking and in-form Impact side, with whom the Red Bulls are currently level on points (33) while having played two more games than the bunch from Quebec. On top of the ill-timed meeting of Eastern Conference powers, there’s also the ill-time return of Didier Drogba (from the dumbest red card of 2016), who’s contributed 13 goals (8 goals, 5 assists) in 13 appearances this season (following 12 — 11 goals, 1 assist — in 11 games in 2015). Also featured: a pair of MVP candidates — Ignacio Piatti (12 goals, 5 assists in 20 games0 and Sacha Kljestan (5 goals, 13 assists in 23 games).

We’ll officially call it an eight-team race for the playoffs in the East…

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
NYCFC 24 10 7 7 40 40 0 4-5-3 6-2-4 37
Toronto FC 23 10 6 7 33 24 9 7-3-1 3-3-6 36
RBNY 24 9 6 9 40 32 8 8-1-2 1-5-7 33
Montreal 22 8 9 5 37 31 6 6-3-2 2-6-3 33
Philadelphia 23 8 7 8 38 37 1 7-3-2 1-4-6 31
New England 23 6 8 9 29 40 -11 5-4-2 1-4-7 26
Orlando City SC 22 5 11 6 36 39 -3 4-7-1 1-4-5 26
D.C. United 22 5 9 8 22 28 -6 4-3-4 1-6-4 24

[ MORE: “This guy’s crazy, but he can play” — Jermaine Jones in his own words ]

FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City — Saturday, 9 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

Speaking of ill-timed showdowns of magnitude, an FCD side selected at close to full-strength, which needed 120 minutes to come back and beat the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday, has 72 hours to prepare for a full-rested (but suspension-riddled) Sporting KC side Saturday night in Frisco, Tex., where it’ll be close to 100 degrees (and a possibility of thunderstorms) at kickoff.

FCD have lost just one of their last seven and remain unbeaten at home this season, while SKC have dropped three of their last seven and have won just two games away from home all season (none since April 9). SKC will be without midfielders Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar (suspensions) for this one, meaning a serious overhaul of the midfield is in order for Peter Vermes. Expect a center back — either Nuno Coelho or Lawrence Olum — to slot into the defensive midfield spot with just one regular midfield contributor, Benny Feilhaber, eligible for action.

A look at the Supporters’ Shield and home-field advantage races in the West…

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
FC Dallas 24 13 5 6 37 31 6 9-3-0 4-2-6 44
Colorado 22 11 8 3 26 19 7 9-3-0 2-5-3 41
Real Salt Lake 24 10 7 7 35 34 1 6-5-0 4-2-7 37
LA Galaxy 22 9 10 3 37 22 15 6-5-0 3-5-3 37
Sporting KC 25 10 4 11 28 28 0 8-1-4 2-3-7 34
Portland 24 8 8 8 36 34 2 8-2-3 0-6-5 32
Vancouver 24 8 6 10 33 39 -6 5-5-2 3-1-8 30
San Jose 22 6 10 6 23 24 -1 6-4-1 0-6-5 28
Seattle 22 7 3 12 24 29 -5 5-1-5 2-2-7 24

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LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

The quick turnaround from Open Cup to league play won’t be any easier for the Galaxy, who’ll welcome the second-place Rapids to StubHub Center on Saturday. Since losing at Toronto FC on June 18, the Galaxy are unbeaten in eight league games (four wins), climbing their way back into the Supporters’ Shield conversation in the process. After losing 5-1 to New York City FC two weeks ago, snapping their 15-game unbeaten run from mid-April to late-July, the Rapids bounced back with a systematic dismantling of the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend.

Jermaine Jones (quad) remains unlikely to feature for the Rapids, while Gyasi Zardes (chest muscle strain) returned to the field Wednesday night and should make his way into the starting lineup on the weekend. Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were left out of the Open Cup squad, while Zardes, Giovani dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget only saw minutes off the bench.