Marquee Matchups: Fifth Spot Struggle

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

A nice looking Friday evening game kicks off our MLS weekend with style.

Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City // Friday 7:30 p.m. CDT, Toyota Park, NBC Sports Network

There were all sorts of interesting little things to say about this game, and then the Chicago Fire Communications Director wrote a lovely editorial. All of a sudden, nobody cares what tactics will be used, who will start, or what is going to happen with all the money Chicago saved by getting rid of resident scarecrow, Sherjill Macdonald. The editorial and its effects on the fans trumps all. (more on that later)

Editorial aside though, there's this niggling little issue of Sporting KC being not quite as hot as previously thought. As up and down as Sporting have been this year, there's always some legitimate reason for their disappointing performances. While most of them can be chalked up to depth (it's not just an FCD issue, see) and the lack of it caused by injuries and international callups, that doesn't mean those reasons are an excuse. "Champions find a way to win" and all that.

Eventually Sporting will need to show a period of sustained dominance to justify the expectations heaped upon them. While KC is still the top team in the east, they haven't been the undisputed best for a while now. Beating Chicago away would help cement their place atop the standings and pull away from New York.

Montreal Impact vs. Houston Dynamo // Saturday 6:00 p.m. CDT, Stade Saputo, MLS Live

Despite their FCD-esque disastrous summer spell, Montreal is STILL leading the east in points per game (PPG). It's a testament to both their ridiculous early form and also their ability to limit the damage brought on by their slump. While as a team they're struggling with injuries and knocks (not surprising considering they're rolling out an AARP eligible starting XI), they're still dangerous and capable of smacking any team around. Provided they remember how to score, that is. They've been pretty crap at that sort of thing lately.

The Houston Dynamo are coming off their much ballyhooed spanking of Seattle and Clint Dempsey, and it's hard to say they didn't deserve the accolades. They controlled almost the entire game and managed to handle the Sounders with a kind of ease and comfort rarely seen. If Seattle are as good as they are believed them to be, it's all the more impressive that Houston ran circles around them. It's not a wild assumption to expect a good match between the Impact and the Dynamo.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy // Saturday 8:00 p.m. CDT, BC Place, MLS Live

It might look like LA is struggling to stay in the playoff hunt, but they're closer than people realize. Other than that, expect to see Bruce Arena making comments about the turf at BC place, or Donovan making more vague hints about his future.

Vancouver's hot streak was stopped by LA almost a month ago, and they haven't really recovered from it. Their only win came against the San Jose Earthquakes, and they immediately dropped another result to Colorado. They didn't look particularly good in that loss either. While the Galaxy have not been at their world-smashing best, they're still a more talented side than Vancouver and have the right approach to most games. Their form has been improving, and Robbie Keane continues making every team wishing they had him.

There is a bit of a revenge factor as well, as LA lost to Vancouver earlier in the year at BC. I'm picking the Galaxy to win this one.

Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders // Sunday 9:00 p.m. CDT, Century Link Field, ESPN2

This is the biggest match of the week, by far. There's hype and hate surrounding it, and lots of trash talk on twitter and MLS' click-baiting website.

You will be hard pressed to find two teams in MLS who are more desirous of tearing out each others' larynxes than these two. Especially after the Clint Dempsey deal overshadowed so much of Portland's work in getting noticed after a good season's work.

Did we mention Clint Dempsey will be involved? Defeating Seattle with their newfound weapon on the field would be a massive moment of validation for the Timbers, but they'll have to do it on the road. For all of Seattle's struggles against Houston last week (and there were many), Portland has also suffered from a pronounced inability to put games away when they have the lead. Whether they're playing down to an opponent, or passing the ball wit no clear aim, something always seems to stop the Timbers from really shoving teams aside on their way to three points.

You better believe the coverage on ESPN will be up to the task. If you're going to watch it, make sure to remember that just a few years ago, moments like this didn't really exist.

It's a shame this game, a game that deserves major marquee billing, is being relegated to a time when most average east coast folks will be in bed by the end of the first half.

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