MLS preview: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-Galaxy headline Week 24

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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer this weekend…

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New York City FC vs. LA Galaxy — Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

More than $30 million worth of Designated Player stardom will be on the field at Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon, assuming Robbie Keane returns to action following an orbital fracture suffered in the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago. Keane said this week he expects to be available and will wear a protective mask. Frank Lampard has scored nine goals in his last 10 appearances, clearing himself of the Worst DP in League History title bestowed upon him earlier this year.

The two sides enter Sunday’s star-studded clash on identical 38-point tallies, with the Galaxy having played two fewer games thus far. NYCFC, however, lead the Eastern Conference by a single point, while the Galaxy trail the Supporters’ Shield- and Western Conference-leading FC Dallas by seven points. The last only time these sides met, the Galaxy throttled the then-expansion side, 5-1 last August. The Galaxy are unbeaten in their last nine league games, which include three straight draws right on the heels of a four-game winning streak (a period in which Keane scored his only three post-EURO 2016 goals).

Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

TFC were supposed to be here — fighting for the top spot in the East, that is. The Union, however, were not. Yet, here we are, with the two sides separated by just three points ahead of Saturday’s massive top-four battle. The Union (4th in the East) bounced back from a four-game winless skid with a 4-0 thrashing of the New England Revolution last weekend, in which Alejandro Bedoya made his MLS debut and one of the league’s deepest squads was realized.

The Reds (2nd in the East), on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last five, including four straight wins before last weekend’s weather-postponed 1-1 draw with the lowly Houston Dynamo. Surprise: Sebastian Giovinco is back to his best, notching seven goals and four assists in his last five games. That’s certainly one way to snap out of an eight-game goalless skid.

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

With just one win in their last seven games, United’s season is on the line every time they take the field. With just over two months of the regular season remaining, they’re tied with Orlando City SC for the sixth spot in the East, edged into the lead on tiebreakers.

It’s hardly an ideal time to face a side that’s unbeaten in seven, somehow overcoming the loss of an entire defensive unit in the process. Gideon Baah and Dax McCarty have been out for weeks; Damien Perrinelle and Connor Lade, too; Aurelien Collin became the latest defensive standout to wind up on the injury list in a win over the Montreal Impact last weekend. Fortunately for Jesse Marsch and Co., only the Chicago Fire (22) have scored fewer goals this season than the Red Bulls’ Atlantic Cup rivals.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

Not only is Seattle versus Portland the grandest rivalry in MLS, but Sunday’s meeting is suddenly a hugely important fixture in the playoff race. Left for dead just three weeks ago, the Sounders have won seven points from their last three games, halving their 10-point deficit to the sixth-place side in the West in the process. They also have two games in hand, as well Nicolas Lodeiro, who has established himself as one of the league’s elite playmakers in just three games (1 goal, 3 assists).

Five points is hardly an insurmountable gap with 11 games still to play, none of them more important than Sunday’s. The team they currently trail by five points for that sixth and final playoff place? Portland. That, my friends, is the purest form of poetic coincidence.