The October international window is over, and the MLS regular season is back underway with the playoff races in full force. The standings are pretty tight other than the New England Revolution, who have a very comfortable lead atop the table. There will be a lot of battles up in the air for playoff seeding, including crowded races at the red line in both conferences.
Let’s take a look at some of the most consequential games this weekend.
D.C. United vs. Nashville SC (Saturday, 7:30pm ET)
The upturn in D.C.’s fortunes in September has put them in good position to make the playoffs. They’re one of three teams that sit on 40 points, with D.C. sitting ahead of the other two in fifth based on the tiebreaker, total wins. With Atlanta United one point behind in eighth and the New York Red Bulls two points behind, DCU are not yet in the clear.
They took a difficult loss to Orlando City before the international break, conceding a last-minute Daryl Dike winner. Nashville, for its part, has drawn three straight games and has managed to hold steady at second-place in the East. They’d like to keep the highest seed possible to maximize home games in the playoffs.
DCU has been good at home this year, but Nashville is a difficult opponent with a very solid defense.
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 9:30pm ET)
Under interim coach Pablo Mastroeni, RSL has managed to keep up enough results to sit fifth in the Western Conference playoff race. But they’re seven points back of fourth and only two points ahead of eighth-place Vancouver, and five points ahead of a lurking LAFC. They have shown some defensive weakness, most notably in a recent 6-1 blowout loss against Portland. They also are coming off an inexplicable 2-1 loss to last-place Austin FC.
Colorado is playing well. They played during the international break last weekend and in a matchup of something close to first-choice XIs defeated Minnesota United 3-1. That was despite going down to 10 men in the second half while the game was still 1-1. The Rapids are only one point behind second-place Sporting KC, who play the rising Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. It’s a good chance for Colorado to at least tie them on points.
Prediction: 2-1 Colorado
LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 10:30pm ET)
It’s been eight games since the Timbers last lost a game. They vaulted past the glut of mediocre West playoff teams (RSL, Galaxy, Minnesota) and now might challenge Colorado and SKC for better seeding. They’ve done it with the Chara brothers cooking, Sebastian Blanco back healthy and playing at a high level, and the backline gelling nicely. It also helps that Jaroslaw Niezgoda is returning from a long-term injury and already scoring goals again.
Portland looks like one of the league’s top contenders based on the stretch run. The Galaxy, on the other hand, haven’t won in nine games and simply do not look very good. This would be a classic unexpected MLS result, but I am not that bold.
Prediction: 3-1 Portland
Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Sunday, 10pm, ET)
Quietly, the Whitecaps have been playing well and scoring some goals of late. We’ll have to overlook last week’s 4-1 defeat against the juggernaut Seattle Sounders, but the Whitecaps have been on a nice stretch of results that has unexpectedly elevated them into playoff contention. They’re now in eighth, just one point out of seventh, and face more difficult teams in SKC and Portland coming up.
Sporting picked up two solid wins against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo in their past two games, and are generally in good form. Their defense is still exploitable, though, and we’ll see if this Vancouver team, with something to play for, can do it.
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