The search for Federico Higuain's replacement is the story to watch in MLS Week 27, but an additional four storylines will complete your weekend preview.
Only five of the nine matches scheduled for this week will be covered in the coming slides. Each match will be dissected from a unique angle to intensify your viewing pleasure.
So, what exactly warrants your attention in Week 27?
Read on to find out.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to the official MLS Press Box Stats and Standings.
Which match will you, the fan, be watching this weekend?
Before we delve into the featured storylines for this weekend's action, here is the complete schedule and guide for Week 27.
FC Dallas are idle
Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution, 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers, 10 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo, 3 p.m. ET, UniMas
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Chivas USA 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live
The Crew will be without their most creative player when the Sounders visit Saturday night.
As pointed out by WhoScored, Federico Higuain averages a league-best 4.3 key passes per match. Thanks to yellow-card accumulation and a red-card suspension, the Argentine will be forced to miss the next two matches.
The question for Columbus becomes: Who can replace such a creative force?
The answer is nobody.
No one person can come in and immediately produce Higuain's league-best average. The other 400-plus players have had almost an entire season; they still haven't been able to do so entering Week 27.
But that won't stop head coach Robert Warzycha from giving one of his rookies a look this Saturday.
According to the club's official website, Ryan Finley's time might be now:
We haven't made that decision yet. Today we had the reserve game, and Ryan scoring three goals helps a lot. I think if you ask the player, they're all ready to start. It doesn't matter what the outcome could be, they always want to start. I think Ryan probably deserves a look, and probably deserves more time on the field.
The hat-trick Finley scored in the Crew's 3-1 victory over FC Dallas in a reserve match will be the tipping point of his career.
The first MLS appearance of his career is on the horizon.
Obviously, Finley is no Higuain. No one is. The statistics have already proved that. But with Seattle coming into town, Columbus will need Finley's current run of form to avoid defeat. The Sounders enter the weekend winning four of their previous five matches.
Columbus must avoid being the fifth out of six.
Especially if the club hopes to remain in the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference.
The names on the back of the jersey may change, but the rivalry is still there.
This week's number won't directly impact this inter-conference showdown, but Colorado and Sporting Kansas City have met in nine elimination matches since 1996.
Kansas City has won three of the four ties in the MLS Cup playoffs. The Rapids have won three of the five clashes in the U.S. Open Cup. That's enough familiarity to constitute a rivalry. But thanks to MLS' unbalanced schedule, the two have been reduced to meeting just once every season.
This Saturday will be that one meeting.
Elimination won't be at stake this weekend, but plenty else will.
SKC enters the weekend two points behind the leading place in the Eastern Conference. The Rapids are just two points clear of the dreaded red line in the Western Conference. Neither club can afford a defeat this Saturday.
If you look at the season series, Kansas City owns the advantage with a 20-17-13 record.
The sporting-blue club will look to make it 21 before a home crowd in Week 27.
Diego Valeri's journey to MLS has been well-documented at this point. Director Loch Phillips highlighted the excursion of the 27-year-old Argentine in the latest episode of MLS Insider. To his credit, Phillips cinematically portrays the influence Valeri has on his club to perfection.
The statisticians at WhoScored authenticate those claims.
According to the website, Valeri leads the Timbers with 2.2 key passes per match. That's enough to rank the Argentine with the eighth-best total in MLS. Even in a loss to the Sounders in Week 26, those creative skills remained on display.
The MLS Opta Chalkboard recorded three key passes for Valeri in that 1-0 defeat to Seattle.
No pass was worthy of more praise than his through ball in the 16th minute.
After a nifty cutback to shake off midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, Valeri sprung Johnson behind the Sounders defense. Now, the Jamaican forward failed to capitalize on his opportunity. But credit is due to Valeri for creating the clear-cut chance.
He'll need to continue that stellar form in Week 27.
For the third time in August, Portland and Real Salt Lake will do battle. The Timbers have recorded just one win in their last six matches (1-3-2). Valeri has one goal and five assists in that time span.
Clearly, the Argentine hasn't been the problem during this humbling stretch for Portland.
But he can be the solution with another immaculate performance against the Claret and Cobalt this Friday.
The Union can't afford to take more abuse in Week 27.
After conceding a barrage of goals in New England last Saturday, the Union must rebound in Week 27.
Staying above the dreaded red line hangs in the balance.
Philadelphia enters the weekend two points clear of sixth place in the Eastern Conference. A loss to Montreal this weekend, coupled with a Dynamo victory, will drop the Union out of the playoff picture and extend their winless streak to three matches.
According to the club's official website, captain Brian Carroll understands a resilient performance is of the utmost importance this Saturday.
Especially after a demoralizing 5-1 loss:
We have to stay together and get a good game plan together. Sometimes, results like this are a big wakeup call and you can react one of two ways: you can let it get you down or you can stay strong and stay together and fight harder and do well for the rest of the season. We have to find a way to do the latter part.
The Union will have to do "the latter part" without the services of defender Amobi Okugo. The 22-year-old will miss the next two matches due to yellow-card accumulation and a red-card ejection in last Saturday's defeat. Thanks to the knowledge dropped by Dave Zeitlin on MLS' official website, we understand that this will be the first time the American doesn't start in the John Hackworth era.
That doesn't bode well for Coach Hackworth. Okugo's 2,339 minutes is the second-best total for Philadelphia this season.
The club will be down a consistent defender.
To make matters worse, the Union must rebound from more than the five goals they conceded in Week 26. They also conceded five goals to the Impact in Week 13.
The Union can ill-afford to be nickeled in Week 27...again.
Remember what happened the last time San Jose and Los Angeles crossed paths?
It was the rebirth of "Stanford magic" in the previous chapter of the California Clasico. Stoppage-time stunners from Shea Salinas and Alan Gordon helped propel the Earthquakes to an improbable 3-2 victory. A capacity crowd of 50,000-plus were on hand to witness another stunning comeback.
Since then, both clubs have embarked on similar paths.
The Quakes are 4-3-1 in their last eight matches. The Galaxy are one better with a 5-2-1 record.
But off the pitch, no one has matched the intensity of Los Angeles in recent weeks.
Off the strength of a current three-game unbeaten streak, former captain Landon Donovan exuded confidence on the Galaxy's official website:
That's the type of game that champions win...We had a really, really good performance against [Real] Salt Lake last week at home, a real good performance midweek [against Cartagines in the CONCACAF] Champions League. This is a massive win for our team...I think we're confident. Offensively, we're really starting to click. Defensively, now it's two shutouts in a row. I think we're building towards really good things.
Head coach Bruce Arena upped the ante in his praise of Gyasi Zardes' performance on the left flank. His comments were posted on MLS' official website:
He gets better every game. I think he's been good in the position -- he's got a lot to learn, but there's so many good signs there that demonstrate that he can potentially be outstanding in that position.
Donovan kept the ball rolling by announcing a contract extension on Wednesday to retain his services in Los Angeles.
As a club, the Galaxy have been "outstanding" at home.
Los Angeles enters the weekend with a staggering 8-1-2 record at the StubHub Center this season.
Couple that record with a boastful confidence—plus a revenge factor—and the recipe is there for another Galaxy victory.
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