1. The occasion matters a great deal …: MLS needs more occasions like the one poised to unfold in Seattle on Sunday night. The entire scene – a packed stadium watching two bitter rivals scrap for temporal supremacy on Clint Dempsey's probable full home debut – provides a glimpse into the growth of the league. Even if the affair flatters to deceive, the atmosphere and the attention surrounding the fixture constitutes an important moment for MLS as it attempts to entice more casual fans and state its case before the European season truly moves into top gear.
2. … and the outcome matters even more: There are always genuine stakes in play when these two sides meet, but the wider ramifications for this meeting are substantial. Portland needs a win to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference. Seattle needs a win to move back into the playoff places. Pile the usual hostility right on top and this game certainly carries a significant amount of weight.
3. In order to send the fans home happy, Seattle must dictate the terms in midfield: These derby encounters usually tend toward the scrappy side of the spectrum, but any match involving the Timbers these days requires special attention to the work in the middle third. Portland coach Caleb Porter must hope Will Johnson (shoulder) can recover in time to feature with Diego Chara ruled out through suspension. If Johnson isn't able to feature and obtain equal footing against Osvaldo Alonso and company, then the Timbers might lack the effective industry required to make their passing game thrive and temper the expected influence of Dempsey as he roves around the final third.
4. It may not seem like it, but there are eight other matches this weekend: Portland-Seattle casts a long, long shadow over the proceedings, but there are important meetings in the Eastern Conference (Chicago-Sporting Kansas City, Montréal-Houston and New England-Philadelphia) and Western Conference (Vancouver-Los Angeles) to contemplate as well. Those encounters will exert their own impact on the currently muddled playoff chase. They just won't attract a similar level of attention as they do it.
5. Watch the fallout from midweek: Portland and Real Salt Lake must somehow adjust and recover from a compelling 3-3 draw at JELD-WEN Field in order to navigate through their weekend fixtures. Houston and Montreal must compensate for their CONCACAF Champions League pursuits – though the team selection in both instances essentially did that for them – before they meet at Stade Saputo. Chivas USA and FC Dallas face similar concerns, but their plights probably fall a bit down the pecking order given their current status as playoff outsiders.
Last Forecast: 5/9 (56%)
This season: 88/200 (44%)
Chicago – Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m., NBCSN) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Graham Zusi's probable return after a three-match absence should provide some of the necessary creativity in the final third and ratchet up the pressure on a Fire back four stripped of Bakary Soumaré through suspension.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
D.C. United – Toronto FC (7 p.m., Sportsnet 360) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Expect a few goals in this meeting of Eastern Conference laggards: the previous eight meetings at RFK Stadium have yielded 39 of them.
Prediction: D.C. United win.
Montréal – Houston (7 p.m., TSN2/RDS) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Both coaches prepared for this critical battle by adjusting their CONCACAF Champions League lineups accordingly. Those efforts should yield some benefits at Stade Saputo, but the home side – even with one less day of rest – might just have the extra body or two (or the Marco Di Vaio intervention, for that matter) required to tip the scales here.
Prediction: Montréal win.
Vancouver – Los Angeles (9 p.m., TSN2/RDS) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The best way for the Whitecaps to continue their stellar home form: spread the field and use their pace to stretch out the Galaxy's generally decent – if occasionally flimsy in dead ball situations – shape.
Prediction: Vancouver win.
FC Dallas – San Jose (9 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Jackson's late dismissal in the 3-1 win at Chivas USA will hurt FCD significantly in this match of aspiring playoff contenders. In a team filled with inconsistent players, the Brazilian midfielder offers a necessary dose of stability in terms of his effort (if not his influence) from match to match.
Prediction: San Jose win.
Real Salt Lake – Columbus (9:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: RSL must guard against the fallout from the emotional and taxing draw against Portland on Wednesday night. Columbus hasn't had much success on the road recently (five straight road losses for the first time in 10 years), but the Crew remain capable of nicking a result if the Claret-and-Cobalt show any signs of uncertainty.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.
Chivas USA – New York (5 p.m., UniMas) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The continued absences of Tristan Bowen and Gabriel Farfan through suspension leave the Red-and-White shorthanded for this visit from the Red Bulls. New York must overcome its recent poor history in this fixture (zero wins from the past six trips), but a determined and dogged display – perhaps with the flourishes lacking in recent matches – should garner the three points.
Prediction: New York win.
New England – Philadelphia (7:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The home side cobbled together a good second half display to see off Chicago last weekend. If the Revs can choke off the supply to Conor Casey and Jack McInerney and prevent the Union from winning second balls in midfield, then they can pave the way for the work required in possession to collect a second straight victory.
Prediction: New England win.
Seattle – Portland (10 p.m., ESPN2) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Will the game live up to its hype? The neutrals can only hope.
Prediction: Seattle win.