MLS: Battling for playoff seeding or a berth, it’s desperation season

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With five weeks to go, the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs field is beginning to take shape. Realistically, there are just two spots — one in each conference — still up for grabs…

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Playoff positioning

New York City FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET

For NYCFC, home-field advantage through the Eastern Conference final is on the line. Domenec Torrent’s side sits three points clear of second-place Philadelphia and six up on Atlanta, who have a game in hand. Unbeaten in their last six games (five wins), NYCFC appear to be peaking at precisely the right point in the season. San Jose’s up-and-down season has led them to this point: two points above the playoff cut line with precious little security given the Western Conference’s general volatility.

Portland Timbers v. D.C. United — Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Portland’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Sporting KC last weekend put Gio Savarese’s side on the right side of the playoff cut line, but only be a point. Riding back-to-back victories against fellow playoff hopefuls, the Timbers could end the weekend anywhere from second place to eighth place. DCU, on the other hand, desperately need to break out of their worst run of results all season. Ben Olsen’s side has won just two of their last eight games (five losses) and is in real danger of finishing fifth or lower, meaning no home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota United v. Real Salt Lake — Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET

Speaking of desperate needs, Minnesota must bounce back from a disastrous 2-0 defeat in Houston on Wednesday, otherwise they could be the team that finds itself suddenly in eighth come weekend’s end. Adrian Heath’s side has just one win from its last four games and has shown signs of running out of gas in recent weeks. Losing the U.S. Open Cup in heartbreaking fashion won’t have helped their psyche one bit, and now they have to right the ship against second-place RSL, who could fall as far as seventh if everything goes against them this weekend.

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Playoff places

LA Galaxy v. Sporting Kansas City — Sunday, 10 p.m. ET

The weekend’s final game pits perhaps the league’s two most desperate teams against one another. The Galaxy sit just a point outside the West’s seventh and final playoff place, but Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side has been anything but convincing in recent weeks with just one win from their last eight games (five losses). To miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the roster, would be one of the biggest failures in recent memory. And then there’s Sporting KC, who are six points out of seventh and have to run the table in their final five games just to have a chance of reaching the playoffs for the ninth straight year (second-longest active streak, behind Seattle).