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Marquee Matchups: A Battle of Thirds

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The week starts off with a bang, as two western conference heavyweights square off on national television.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This week holds no FCD games for us to agonize over, but it does bring us a pretty great Friday night game between two good teams.

Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers // Friday 9:00 p.m. CDT, Rio Tinto Stadium, NBC Sports Network

While this big and important match starts late (again), it's thankfully on a Friday night.

Portland needs to win this game to be able to make up ground in the West. They're decently far away in terms of points (they're six points off from RSL) and they have also played two less games. A win would close the gap to the point where Portland catching up to RSL would become a reachable goal. The thing is that the Timbers just haven't been able to do the business for a little while now. The only team they have defeated in the past five games is FC Dallas at Jeld-Wen field, which isn't much of an accomplishment at all.

Looking good while losing is still losing, and the same goes for a draw. The Timbers are given the unenviable task of facing down RSL, who is coming off a shellacking of Columbus (who they drubbed 4-0). Columbus isn't a great team at all, but the fact that RSL put four goals past them should concern the Timbers. They shouldn't be too surprised by any tactical approach, as they played RSL as recently as two weeks ago (a 3-3 draw).

RSL really is improving after their little slump. In the past four games, they have scored one more goal than in the previous game. If things go to plan, they will score five against Portland.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids // Saturday 7:30 p.m. CDT, Sporting Park, MLS LIve

Standings wise, these two teams are completely equal, both standing at 1.5 PPG while having played the same number of games. They're both 3rd in their conference as well. The standings would be a bit misleading though, as Colorado has generally been better over this stretch of time than Sporting, who are stumbling around a bit.

Sporting are fresh off their away win against Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champion's League. It's a nice little morale boost before inviting the raging Rapids to determine who is King among third place teams in their conference. The sheen has come off their all star game and they will need to win at home to avoid dropping into the "mediocre form" category. At leasy they have secret soccer weapon Benny Feilhaber to destroy the Colorado outfit before they make it onto the pitch.

Colorado is the darling of many a blogger, and it's not hard to see why. They are somehow sitting in third place in the west despite the first third of their season being comprised more of a triage drills than a soccer drills. What's to say about Colorado that hasn't already been said? Oscar Pareja has gone a fine job so far in his tenure and his team has looked generally better week after week.

If only someone could teach Deshorn Brown how to finish...

Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo // Sunday 2:00 p.m. CDT, Toyota Park, UniMas

The Houston Dyanmo come into this game in an entirely unpredictable fashion. Their results over the past month have been so all over the place that it's impossible to determine which Dynamo team will show up.

Will the team that beat the Sounders handily 3-1 show up? Or will the rodeo clowns that get dismantled by Montreal 5-0 show up? The past month has looked like this for Houston D-W-L-W-L. Each loss and victory have been decisive. There isn't a lot of wiggle room to interpret it: Houston is completely wild and inconsistent.

I'd like to blame it on their terrible little field that is so narrow it can barely be called a funnel, but that wouldn't be fair to funnels. The truth of their cosine-esque points curve is a combination of poor individual performances, odd coaching decisions and a few injuries. Their sparks of life can equally be attributed to the exact opposite of the causes for their losses.

They're a mystery.

The Fire are just as inconsistent, but with one more loss than the Dynamo over the same stretch of time. They're good enough as a team to expect to beat the Dynamo at their home, but that's not always a certainty. The Fire's home form is decent, but not nearly as dominant as other MLS teams'. Hopefully Mike Magree, my new favorite guy, will be able to push Houston down the stairs when they win.