This weekend marks the beginning of the second half of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, and the Week 18 slate features rivalries, reunions and familiar faces in new places.
LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid will renew acquaintances as the two most successful coaches in MLS history square off in a battle of Western Conference underachievers. FC Dallas looks to maintain its hold on first place in the Western Conference with a win against a San Jose Earthquakes side that has yet to lose a match at home this season.
In the East, Kei Kamara's first match against the Columbus Crew since being traded will grab plenty of headlines, while former New York Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam is expected to make his D.C. United debut this weekend, as DCU takes on the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium.
The post-Adrian Heath era begins at Orlando City, with the Lions playing their first match since the club parted ways with the popular coach. Perhaps it is fitting that Orlando City's first match without Heath will come against the other team in MLS to undergo a coaching change this year, the Houston Dynamo.
Here is Goal's guide to the major stories to watch for in MLS Week 18...
IT'S A BIG WEEKEND FOR ... REUNIONS
Kei Kamara's departure from the Columbus Crew was one of the must surprising developments of the season, and this weekend Kamara will get his first chance to exact revenge against the team that traded him just months after they were in the MLS Cup final. Kamara's trade to New England hasn't really worked out for either team so far, as the Revs and Crew are both currently outside the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.
Chris Pontius will also have a chance to face his former team this weekend, as the Philadelphia Union winger faces off against D.C. United in a battle of Eastern Conference rivals. Pontius has enjoyed a career renaissance with the Union, who have enjoyed a surprisingly strong first half of the season. He already faced D.C. United once this season, in a 1-0 Union victory in May, but will look to have more of an impact on the result this time around.
DON'T MISS ... LA GALAXY vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders have traditionally squared off as Western Conference leaders, but this time around they will face off as underachieving teams in desperate need of points.
The Sounders are tied for last place in the West, with just one win in seven matches. With Clint Dempsey back from international duty and the club expected to add reinforcements in the now-open MLS transfer window, a reversal of fortunes is expected. That turnaround can start at home on Saturday against a Galaxy side mired in its own slump.
The Galaxy enjoyed a 2-0 win against Vancouver last Monday, snapping a seven-match winless slide. With Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes back from international duty, a Galaxy surge could very well be in the cards. Saturday's trip to Seattle should show us just how close the Galaxy are to hitting their stride.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
If you're a fan of seeing top center backs taking on the best forwards in MLS, then this weekend's slate of individual battles is for you. Here are the top 10 individual matchups to watch this weekend in MLS:
1. Matt Besler vs. David Villa. NYCFC is on a roll right now, and Villa is the key to the club's attack. Sporting KC has the central defenders to contain Villa, led by Besler, who should be ready to make his first post-Copa America start.
2. Michael Parkhurst vs. Kei Kamara. The former Crew teammates face off for the first time since Kamara was traded, and you can rest assured Kamara will be desperate to score a goal or two.
3. Osvaldo Alonso vs. Steven Gerrard. If the Sounders are going to stop the Galaxy attack, then Alonso needs to keep Gerrard under wraps. The English midfielder is coming off a two-assist game against Vancouver.
4. Dax McCarty vs. Darlington Nagbe. This matchup should be fun to watch, as the Red Bulls and Timbers face off in a battle of two of the league's best midfields.
5. Chad Marshall vs. Robbie Keane. Containing the ever-dangerous Keane is never really a one-man job, so look for the Sounders to give Marshall some help to try and stop the Irish star.
6. Matias Laba vs. Jermaine Jones. The Rapids failed to score in their last match, and they will need Jones to shake free of the tenacious Laba if they're going to find goals in Vancouver.
7. Matt Hedges vs. Chris Wondolowski. Whether it's Hedges or the in-form Walker Zimmerman, FC Dallas must contain Wondolowski to have any chance of pulling off a road win in San Jose.
8. DaMarcus Beasley vs. Kevin Molino. Beasley has quietly put together a stellar season, and the Dynamo will need him at his best to slow down the dangerous Molino.
9. Marcelo Sarvas vs. Roland Alberg. Sarvas has been one of the keys to keeping D.C. United in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and he will need to lock down the red-hot Alberg if D.C. is going to win in Chester on Saturday.
10. Sacha Kljestan vs. Diego Chara. If the Timbers are going to grab a road win at Red Bull Arena, Chara will need to keep Kljestan from having too much room to operate.