Orlando faces Columbus in six-pointer; Toronto can pile on Chicago woe
Jason Davis highlights three matches worth keeping an eye on across Major League Soccer this weekend.
Orlando and Columbus' crucial showdown
In the parlance of MLS, this one is what's called a "playoff six-pointer."
Columbus Crew SC currently has a tenuous grasp on a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The men in yellow occupy fifth place but are just two points up on Montreal Impact, in seventh, and have played two more games. With less than 10 games to go, Gregg Berhalter's team needs every point it can get and there's no pass given for road games.
Even so, Orlando is more desperate and, because they're the home side, there's buckets of pressure on Jason Kreis' team. In his first full year in charge of the Lions, Kreis has overseen a transition that hasn't delivered much in the way of regular-season success. It seems like forever ago that Orlando won six out of seven games to start the year.
The task of saving the season is made harder due to the absence of Kaka, who is suspended after being red carded for his playful hands-to-the-face moment with New York's Aurelien Collin last Saturday. The club pointedly chose not to appeal the decision, in light of the possible punishments should they lose.
Columbus will be counting on Justin Meram, the club's best player this season, to lead the way on the attacking end. Kekuta Manneh will be in the spotlight again as well; both wingers scored in last week's impressive win over the Chicago Fire.
Chicago hosts high-flying Toronto
The league's best team arrives in Chicago at a difficult time for the Fire. A recent dip in form, including the midweek reverse at Montreal, has pushed the club into third place in the east and, though it still has a shot at first and the Supporters' Shield, confidence is not high.
Chicago's home-field advantage is the best in the league, something that might work as a counter to flagging belief. The Fire has dropped just two points all season at Toyota Park and a big crowd will be on hand to see them take on the conference leaders.
TFC rolls into the Windy City on a six-game unbeaten run. Last time out, they put Portland to the sword in a 4-1 win at BMO Field. For all of the danger Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore present up top, Toronto is also dangerous up the wings via players such as Raheem Edwards, Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow and the newly-signed Nicolas Hasler.
The Fire are being forced to integrate recently-added Christian Dean, thanks to an injury to Joao Meira, and the transition bears watching. On Wednesday night in Montreal, Dean struggled after coming on early.
Goals at a premium as Kansas City hosts Dallas
The best defensive team in the league meets a sputtering attack in what would usually be a marquee matchup in the Western Conference.
Because of FC Dallas' recent inability to score goals, though, the home side will expect to secure three points toward a top seed in a very competitive West. Dallas, meanwhile, will have on their minds a return to the form that had them tipped as clear MLS Cup contenders earlier in the season.
Dallas is capable of turning things around quickly, though several players are carrying poor form deep into the summer. Mauro Diaz's return to the team after his long-term injury layoff hasn't gone as well as hoped, while Kellyn Acosta's summer with the USMNT hasn't done the young midfielder any favors and Walker Zimmerman is working back to full fitness after an injury of his own.
Sporting are on their own quest for goals, though the defensive strength of the team covers some of the cracks. SKC came up empty last week in Seattle in a 1-0 loss and again needs someone to step up into the lead scoring role.
We know what Sporting will do: Dominate the ball, take the air out of the game and look for a few gilt-edge chances on the attacking end out of their 4-3-3 formation. There's more question around Dallas. Will Oscar Pareja go for it on the road against a top defense?
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.