Sporting KC host the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening in a crucial West showdown. This is a statement game for both teams as they look to establish themselves as MLS Cup contenders.
This is the most exciting, intense part of the season. With around ten games remaining for most teams, the playoff race heats up, the battle for seedings and home-field advantage in the playoffs intensifies, and clubs begin to gear themselves towards the run-in and anticipated playoff contention.
Such is the congested nature of MLS, there are still many teams who believe that they can challenge for a playoff berth — and once they’re in the playoffs, why not go on to challenge for the MLS Cup. That is the beauty of it.
Alongside these late-surging teams like D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders, there are also the stalwarts that have waltzed their way through much of the season relatively unscathed and are now simply focusing on ensuring that they hit their best form when it matters most, in the playoffs.
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Two of those teams meet on Saturday, as the storied West rivals Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers battle it out for supremacy alongside high-flying FC Dallas and burgeoning expansion club, LAFC. It is a fascinating contest. The two teams are separated by only two points in the standings. Both LA clubs split them, but the Timbers games in hand on both that will lift them to second place behind FC Dallas if they were to win them all. This, then, is a real statement game.
The Timbers are coming off two consecutive losses. That’s the first time since the start of the season that they are doing so. Sporting KC, meanwhile, are coming out of their midseason slump, handing West rivals, LAFC, their first defeat at the Banc of California Stadium in an impressive 2-0 victory and now have two wins in succession of their own.
It will be interesting to see how the Timbers deal with their recent loss of form. They aren’t used to losing. Naturally, when you go almost three months without losing a league match. And against D.C. United in midweek, they were lapse and lackadaisical, unusually lacking in their commitment, energy and industry. D.C. carved them open with searing pace, dynamic movement in the attacking third and a brilliant, carving second-half display that the Timbers simply couldn’t live with.
If this is a tired team, then that is a concern for Gio Savarese. The whole point of the season is to peak at the right time. That is precisely what the Timbers are not doing. KC, though, could be. Win here and they suddenly establish a five-point gap to their West rivals and make themselves known as Dallas’ primary competition for the top spot. Whether they will catch Dallas or not is another question, but the ears of the nation will prick up if Peter Vermes can get his team working well once more.
This is a tantalising fixture, one that could very easily swing either way. But if either team can put together a performance, they will be sure to make a statement. And just at the right time because this is when it matters most.