FOLLOW LIVE: West contenders LAFC, SKC face off; POR vs. VAN

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As August begins to fly by and September pokes its head over the horizon, the realization that the playoff race has begun in MLS grows clearer and clearer.

[ MORE: Austin MLS stadium vote delayed until next week ]

Saturday’s two biggest games feature four sides from the Western Conference, where the jockeying for playoff position has already begun. Take, for instance, Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles FC, who after 22 games each find themselves level on 36 points in third and fourth place, respectively, tied with 10 wins and separated by just two in the goal-differential column. Peter Vermes’ and Bob Bradley‘s sides face off on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET) at Banc of California Stadium. The winner could apply real pressure, if not leapfrog, the team just one point ahead of them in second place. Krisztian Nemeth is expected to make his re-debut for Sporting KC, as a center forward, after he was re-acquired in a trade on Monday.

That team just so happens to be the Portland Timbers, who have one of their Cascadia rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, visiting Providence Park tonight. More so than the other three, Vancouver find themselves fighting for their playoff lives, as they’d be watching from home if the postseason began today. The gap between seventh-place Vancouver and sixth-place Real Salt Lake is currently four points. On the other side, the 11 p.m. ET kickoff represents a massive opportunity for the Timbers to make good on one of the two games in hand they currently possess over first-place FC Dallas. A win would cut the gap to just two points.

Full MLS schedule

Columbus Crew vs. Houston Dynamo — 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Montreal Impact — 10 p.m. ET
Los Angeles FC vs. Sporting Kansas City — 10:30 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Minnesota United — 10:30 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 11 p.m. ET