Looking to spoil the party
Seattle's run to the Supporters Shield hit a speed bump last Monday in the form of a 3-0 hammering at the hands of a rampant LA Galaxy side. The Sounders still have the inside track towards claiming the best regular-season record, but a loss to a desperate San Jose team that is currently dead last in the Western Conference will bring back haunting memories of last year's late-season collapse.
San Jose, meanwhile, is putting the notion of home-field advantage to the test. Last weekend, the Earthquakes closed out venerable -- and much loathed -- Candlestick Park in a friendly against Atletico Madrid. This weekend, San Jose will get the honor of christening the brand-new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where a sellout crowd of 44,000 is expected, although in a downsized configuration. It will mark the fifth home venue that San Jose has played at this season, a list that includes Buck Shaw Stadium, San Francisco's Kezar Stadium and Stanford Stadium.
Over the years, the Quakes and the Sounders have had some notoriously physical battles both in league and U.S. Open Cup play, but that could change this weekend. Granted, any game with Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will feature a fair amount of bite, yet the age of the "Bash Brothers" seems to be reaching its end.
Steven Lenhart is injured, and Alan Gordon has been a substitute for most of the season, leading San Jose manager Mark Watson to opt for a craftier and speedier front line featuring Chris Wondolowski and Yannick Djalo. It's also possible that new signing Matias Perez Garcia, another undersized attacker, could see the field as well.
While the possible return of central defender Chad Marshall from back spasms would be welcomed by the Sounders, San Jose's revamped approach could pose problems for Seattle.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Galaxy's Northwest excursion
Coming off their most complete performance of the season, a 3-0 throttling of the league-leading Sounders in Seattle, the LA Galaxy move on to a clash with the Sounders' Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers.
If LA's victory at CenturyLink Field is going to be more than a one-off, they'll need to back it up with a win over the desperate Timbers. Three weeks ago, LA and Portland played to a 2-2 draw that seemed to sum up each side's frustrations to that point in the season. The Galaxy needed a Rauwshan McKenzie own goal just to earn a home draw against a team that was ripe for the picking.
Flashing forward to Saturday, both teams are in very different places. Portland has won two straight and still harbors dreams of the playoffs. LA's domination of the first-place Sounders, which included a fantastic performance by Landon Donovan, displayed just how good Bruce Arena's team can be.
On defense, the return of the Omar Gonzalez-A.J. DeLaGarza pairing in central defense is once again paying dividends, but Arena has a tendency to rotate his lineups. If he can resist that urge, and Gonzalez and DeLaGarza can replicate their old success, the Galaxy are suddenly among the league's best in that area.
Is Monday's version the real Galaxy, a team that can contend for a title in 2014? Are we finally seeing Landon Donovan find his rhythm, something that is crucial to answering that initial question?
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
It's always a grudge match when Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact meet, but Saturday's contest between these Canadian rivals arrives at a pivotal moment for both sputtering clubs.
TFC, despite spending lavishly on designated players Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe last winter in an effort to end its run as MLS' least-successful franchise, has won just one of its last eight league games and just suffered its biggest defeat of the season -- 3-0 at DC United on Wednesday -- putting its playoff chances in doubt.
Meanwhile, Montreal -- which made the postseason in 2013 in its second top-flight campaign, something the Reds haven't accomplished in their seven seasons -- is riding a five-game losing streak that's left them with the league's worst record and led to sporting director Nick De Santis' firing earlier this week.
Still, the Reds have all the pressure. Toronto have looked as hapless as ever lately following a promising start and, after its embarrassing capital city capitulation, coach Ryan Nelsen called Saturday's game at Stade Saputo a "must win."
But beating a team with nothing to lose isn't always easy. A playoff return is unrealistic for the 2014 Impact, and owner Joey Saputo says coach Frank Klopas' job is safe whatever the results the rest of the way. That should make the hosts more relaxed. Besides, Toronto couldn't beat Les Bleus in two tries this spring as Montreal took the Canadian title, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League in the process.
If history repeats itself this weekend, it's Nelsen who ought to worry.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)