With the flipping of the calendar from July to August comes a larger sense of urgency for the Major League Soccer clubs involved in the playoff hunt.
The only thing we know for certain regarding the 14 playoff positions, seven in each conference, is that Los Angeles FC appears to be first in line to host MLS Cup by winning the Supporters’ Shield.
Unless Bob Bradley’s team suffers a massive setback over a month-long span, it will be the top seed in the Western Conference, but after that, everything is up for grabs.
There will be an intensified focus to Week 22, and every week of play that follows, and there are some key clashes on Saturday and Sunday that could give us some clarity, while others are East-versus-West matchups that could serve as litmus tests for certain clubs.
Week 22 Schedule
Saturday, August 3
LA Galaxy at Atlanta United (5 p.m. ET, Fox)
Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls (6 p.m. ET, TSN4, ESPN+)
Los Angeles FC at New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
FC Dallas at Orlando City (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Vancouver Whitecaps at FC Cincinnati (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Montreal Impact at Colorado Rapids (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Chicago Fire at Houston Dynamo (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
New York City FC at Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sunday, August 4
Portland Timbers at Minnesota United (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Philadelphia Union at D.C. United (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
Sporting Kansas City at Seattle Sounders (10 p.m. ET, FS1)
Things to Watch
How Will Galaxy Deal With Zlatan’s Absence?
The Galaxy have to prove they can put in positive performance without the Swedish forward, who has 13 more goals than his next teammate on the scoring chart.
Since Ibrahimović made his debut last year, the Galaxy have been outscored 14-9 in regular-season games in which he does not play a single minute. If you take away the 5-0 loss to Seattle from last year, the goal mark is even.
In fact, the Galaxy are 4-4 in those games, so losing Ibrahimovic does not mean certain defeat for Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side, but it means its defense and midfield will have to work harder to halt Atlanta United and create chances in the final third.
Look for Jonathan dos Santos, who played well in the win over LAFC, to be one of the key figures for the Galaxy if they come away from Atlanta with a positive result.
Can Martínez Keep Scoring?
Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez has a chance to tie his own record scoring streak in Saturday’s meeting with the Galaxy.
The Venezuelan has scored in eight consecutive league games, and with one tally versus the Galaxy, he will tie the mark he set on August 24, 2018.
Even if he doesn’t score on Saturday, Martínez will be in possession of two of the three longest scoring runs in MLS history.
The third is held by Diego Valeri, who scored in nine straight matches from July 29 to September 24, 2017.
Will the Revs Make A Statement Against LAFC?
An argument can be made that Saturday’s clash at Gillette Stadium is the Game of the Week.
The New England Revolution, who most of us left for dead in May, possess the best form in MLS with an 11-game unbeaten run.
The toughest task of Bruce Arena’s Revs tenure comes against the best team in the league in the rare clash of former United States men’s national team managers in MLS against Bob Bradley.
While the forwards on both sides have garnered plenty of attention this season, the key to the game sits in the battle between two of the most underrated players in the league.
New England’s Carles Gil is the engine that makes the Revs attack tick, while Eduard Atuesta has been a massive force in front of the back four for LAFC.
If Atuesta is able to jam up the channels in midfield where Gil likes to produce, the Black-and-Gold could end the Revs’ run while reasserting their dominance.
Can the Union Re-Assert Their Spot Atop East?
Philadelphia has two 4-0 road losses in its past three games serving as the black eye on its credentials to earn the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
On Sunday, the Union have a golden opportunity to put those results behind them while knocking off a conference rival on a national stage.
Jim Curtin’s side will have left back Kai Wagner back in the squad, and it appears likely that Jamiro Monteiro will return in some capacity from his ankle injury.
The Union have had success in league play in Washington, D.C., of late with a road win in each of the past two seasons, and they hold a four-game winning streak in MLS play over Ben Olsen’s side.
Of course, the Black and Red can turn it on at any moment through Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, and with one win since June 29, they need this game even more than the Union to revive their form.
A win by the Union would extend their advantage over D.C. to six points and keep their East lead at three points, while a D.C. victory would open the door for Atlanta to take first and throw more chaos into the race for the No. 1 spot.
Minnesota-Portland, Part 1 of 2
Before the Western Conference sides battle for a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final, they must contest a crucial game that will affect the playoff picture.
The Loons are coming off a disappointing home draw against Vancouver in what can only be viewed as a game in which they dropped points.
The surge everyone expected out of Portland is happening, and it is ready to move further up from seventh with a game in hand on most of its competition.
After Sunday, the Timbers have 10 straight games at Providence Park in league play, so picking up any extra points would be a plus.
We all know about the midfield difference-makers in each squad, but the true advantage on Sunday could be found at fullback. Jorge Moreira and Romain Métanire both can impact the game by surging forward on the flanks, and if one of them is a constant force in the final third, their team could come away with three points.