MLS preview: First v. Second in the East, a logjam in the West

Kyle Bonn
NBC Sports

A number of high-powered matchups dot the landscape as this weekend’s Major League Soccer action takes the field. Here’s all you need to know regarding the games to come on Saturday and Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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Philadelphia Union v. Atlanta United — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

A first vs. second matchup in late August? Yes please. Some have tabbed it as “the biggest regular season game in Union history.” An exaggeration? Probably not. Philly sits just level with Atlanta on points, behind only on goal differential, meaning the club could gain full control of the Eastern Conference standings with a victory at home, where they are unbeaten all season long. Meanwhile, Atlanta United comes in having won seven straight games across all competition, so what gives?

But don’t take our word for it. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s the same as any other week because it’s not. The stakes are higher.” That’s Philly head coach Jim Curtin. Yeah, it’s a big game.

New England Revolution v. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

A good ol’ playoff six-pointer. New England, with 38 points, sits uncomfortably in a playoff position, while Toronto FC sits just outside the cut line with 37 points, behind the Montreal Impact on goal differential. This game will reshape the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture should either side come away with all three points.

Both these teams struggled mightily in league play in the past, and both have enjoyed monumental turnarounds. New England has lost just once in its last 15 games, and captain Carles Gil has been a machine during that stretch, scoring five goals and assisting five more over their last eight. Meanwhile, Toronto has put its eight-match winless run in the rear-view mirror with four wins over its last eight, including five points over its last three games. Last time out saw Toronto top Montreal in comeback fashion, and now they search for just their third winning streak of the season. With two games in hand on the rest of the playoff race, can either side gain an advantage over the other?

Portland Timbers v. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake may be in second place in the West, but that position is far from safe. In fact, their playoff safety is far from guaranteed, with the gap between second and seventh just a stunning three points. Portland, meanwhile, remains one of the streakiest teams in MLS, and will be looking to turn around a two-game losing streak that followed a stretch of four wins in five. The most recent came to Seattle in a gut-punch Cascadia Cup loss, and dropped points at home are devastating no matter who they come against. This may be a second vs. eighth matchup, but with just six points of separation, there’s plenty on the line.

Seattle Sounders v. LA Galaxy — Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

Cristian Pavon got his first LA Galaxy assist, then picked up his first LA Galaxy goal, and heading into his fifth league match, he could be looking for his first LA Galaxy goal streak as they visit Seattle. Still, the goalscoring headlines have stuck with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has a three-match brace streak to give him 22 goals on the season, just five behind Carlos Vela on record pace. As mentioned before, the Western Conference is a total logjam, and the third-placed Sounders sit just a point above the fourth-placed Galaxy. Both teams are just one game above the cut line, and every point matters.

Full MLS schedule

Saturday

New York Red Bulls v. Colorado Rapids — 7:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET
Montreal Impact v. D.C. United — 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution v. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union v. Atlanta United — 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas v. FC Cincinnati — 8:00 p.m. ET
Sporting KC v. Houston Dynamo — 8:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps v. NYCFC — 10:00 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers v. Real Salt Lake — 10:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes v. Orlando City SC — 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Seattle Sounders v. LA Galaxy — 6:30 p.m. ET
LAFC v. Minnesota United —10:30 p.m. ET

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