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MLS Playoff Watch: Minnesota visits Portland; Union square off with Red Bulls

Five teams could clinch playoff berths this weekend.

Aug 4, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Minnesota United forward Ethan Finley (13) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second half against Portland Timbers goalie Steve Clark (12) at Allianz Field. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
Aug 4, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Minnesota United forward Ethan Finley (13) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second half against Portland Timbers goalie Steve Clark (12) at Allianz Field. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

With three weeks left in the 2019 Major League Soccer regular season, four playoff positions have been secured, and three of those four squads are still fighting for seeding.

The Western Conference picture is fuzzy with second through eighth place separated by seven points. 

The biggest clash in the West this weekend involves Minnesota United and the Portland Timbers. The Loons are in the fight for a home playoff spot, and the Timbers need a result to get back above the red line. 

In the East, Sunday’s matchup at Red Bull Arena between the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls could go a long way toward determining playoff seeding.

Below is a look at the weekend matches that will have the biggest impact on the playoff race. 

San Jose Earthquakes at Atlanta United (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Univision) 

Sep 18, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Atlanta United FC forward Josef Martinez (7) controls the ball against FC Cincinnati in the second half at Nippert Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

San Jose has one of the most difficult finishes to the 2019 campaign. 

After falling to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium last weekend, the Quakes are back on the East Coast to face Atlanta United

Five defeats in the past seven games have dropped Matías Almeyda’s side down to sixth in the Western Conference, and a loss combined with other results could dip it below the red line this weekend.

The Five Stripes have clinched a playoff berth, but that is the only thing settled about their postseason fate. As long as they avoid another home loss, they should be safe to host a playoff game and head into their Wednesday clash against NYCFC with an outside chance to steal the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

San Jose is 3-9-3 on its travels, and it has lost its last five road games. Atlanta is 10-2-3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Josef Martínez is looking to score in his 16th straight league contest. 

Real Salt Lake at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Sep 14, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil (22) runs down field against the Orlando City during the second half at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake has floated between the red line and home-game positions recently. The Claret-and-Cobalt head into Gillette Stadium with a three-point buffer above eighth-place Portland. 

New England is the front-runner for the No. 7 seed in the East. It possesses a three-point advantage and game in hand over the Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire

But there could be cause for some concern around Bruce Arena’s side, which has one win in its past six games. The Revs finish with Portland, Atlanta and NYCFC. In order to avoid a drop below the red line in those three games, they must win on Saturday. 

RSL has alternated wins and losses since Aug. 14 and is 3-9-3 away from Rio Tinto Stadium. 

Toronto FC at Los Angeles FC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Sep 15, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley (4) acknowledges the fans after a win over Colorado Rapids at BMO Field. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto FC has quietly moved into fourth place in the East. The Reds will not catch NYCFC, Atlanta or the Union, but they are in the driver’s seat for the final hosting gig entering Week 29. 

Greg Vanney’s side is unbeaten in its past seven, and it heads to Banc of California Stadium to face an LAFC side that has not won since Aug. 21. 

Toronto finishes with Chicago and the Columbus Crew, two games that could produce six points. A win or draw in Los Angeles would go a long way toward securing the No. 4 seed. 

A win in California would clinch a postseason berth for the Reds, as would a tie combined with a Chicago and Montreal loss or draw. Toronto would clinch with a loss if the Fire, Impact and Orlando City all fail to pick up three points. 

LAFC can clinch the Supporters’ Shield with a victory and a loss or tie by NYCFC to FC Dallas

Minnesota United at Portland Timbers (Sunday, 3:55 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Sep 18, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse (17) reacts after missing a shot on goal during the second half against the New York Red Bulls at Providence Park. The New York Red Bulls beat the Portland Timbers 2-0. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

When the 2019 schedule was released, many thought Portland would take full advantage of its slew of matches at Providence Park in the second half of the season.

Fast forward to Game 31, and the Timbers have a two-game losing streak, sit one point out of seventh place and welcome a Minnesota United squad hungry for a home postseason game. 

The Loons’ 5-9-1 road mark is the second-best among teams in the Western Conference’s top seven, and their last road triumph came at LAFC. 

A victory combined with an FC Dallas loss or tie or a San Jose defeat in Atlanta would lock up a playoff spot for Adrian Heath’s team. 

New York City FC at FC Dallas (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Sep 14, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC defender Ronald Matarrita (22) plays the ball past San Jose Earthquakes forward Cristian Espinoza (10) during the second half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

We are getting closer to the potential of an Eastern Conference final at Yankee Stadium. 

NYCFC holds a five-point advantage on Philadelphia and plays the two sides directly beneath it — the Union and Atlanta — before the regular season ends. 

In reality, Sunday’s trip to Toyota Stadium is the least important of the Pigeons’ final four games. 

FC Dallas could make a surge up from seventh to the top four with its home stretch that concludes with the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City

Luchi Gonzalez’s side is 9-1-5 at home with its only loss coming to the New York Red Bulls in May. 

Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Sep 18, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; New York Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer (77) celebrate with teammates after scoring a goal off a penalty kick during the second half against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. The New York Red Bulls beat the Portland Timbers 2-0. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

There could be a shuffle in the Eastern Conference depending on the result at Red Bull Arena. 

Philadelphia is still in the hunt for the top spot, and at minimum, it is hoping to keep Atlanta away from the No. 2 seed. 

The Red Bulls still have a shot at hosting in the playoffs, but they need to overcome Toronto FC and D.C. United to do so. 

A win would put Chris Armas’ side in the postseason. It also can get in with a tie combined with a loss or tie from both Chicago and Montreal. 

If the Red Bulls lose, they need a Montreal loss and a loss or tie from both Chicago and Orlando to clinch. 

Seattle Sounders at D.C. United (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Sep 18, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz (9) dribbles against FC Dallas during the second half at CenturyLink Field. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

If D.C. United can get to decision day in fourth place, they will likely claim the final home playoff game over Toronto and the Red Bulls since they face FC Cincinnati to close out the regular season. 

Pulling nine points from its final three games is possible, but Ben Olsen’s team must focus on the task at hand against the Seattle Sounders

D.C. clinches a playoff spot with a victory, or through a combination of results. The first is a tie at Audi Field paired with a loss or tie from both Chicago and Montreal. With a defeat, United would need a loss or tie by all of Chicago, Montreal and Orlando City.

The Sounders can secure their playoff position with a victory and a FC Dallas loss or tie or a Portland defeat. A win combined with a Portland tie and a San Jose loss or tie also gets Seattle in, as does a victory paired with RSL and LA Galaxy losses. 

If Seattle drops points, it still could clinch a playoff berth. A draw would do the job if paired with an FC Dallas loss or losses from both Portland and San Jose. 

In the worst-case scenario for the weekend, the Sounders would drop to third if they drop points and the Loons win in Portland. This is one of the few weeks when Seattle would not mind a result for their Cascadia rivals. 

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