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Putting the playoff picture in focus

A big week of MLS action could shape the landscape of the MLS Cup playoffs.

Sunday night’s feature matchup on ESPN highlights the top two teams in MLS squaring off in front of what will be the largest crowd in the league when Sounders FC hosts the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field.

However, it is far from the only impactful match in a busy weekend of MLS action that could potentially have a dramatic effect on the standings entering the final month of the regular season.

Here is a look at four matches of particular importance to Seattle.

Philadelphia Union @ Sporting Kansas City (Friday, 5 pm PT, NBC Sports)
Sporting Kansas City is just two points behind Seattle in the Supporters’ Shield standings at 14-9-6. KC is 8-4-3 at home, where it holds a 2-0-1 all-time edge over Philadelphia. Once consigned to a loan to Orlando City SC in the USL, CJ Sapong has come alive of late, with three goals in the last two matches as he has filled the role left by the departed Kei Kamara. Meanwhile, the Union hasn’t scored a goal since August 10, going 310 minutes since last getting on the scoreboard. Philadelphia is fighting for a berth in the postseason at 10-10-9, in seventh place but just one point behind the New England Revolution for the fifth and final playoff spot in the East.

Real Salt Lake @ Vancouver Whitecaps FC (Saturday, 4 pm PT, TSN2, MLS Live)
Two weeks ago, RSL was riding high as the leaders in MLS. Now it has suffered consecutive defeats to Seattle and the San Jose Earthquakes to drop to third in the league behind New York and Seattle. The highest-scoring team in MLS has been buoyed by Javier Morales, who netted his eighth goal of the season in a 2-1 loss to San Jose last week and has three goals and three assists in the last six matches. For Vancouver, Camilo Sanvezzo ended his five-game scoreless drought in a big way against the Montreal Impact last week, scoring a brace to reach 16 goals on the season in a 3-0 win for the Whitecaps. Vancouver is four points out of playoff position in sixth place in the West.

Montreal Impact @ Chicago Fire (Saturday, 5:30 pm PT, MLS Live)
If ever there was a threat to Seattle’s chances at the Supporters’ Shield, it is the Montreal Impact. Although it is five points back of Sounders FC with a 13-9-6 record (45 points), Montreal is on equal footing with six games remaining on the schedule and is the only team in the league that Seattle doesn’t hold at least one game in hand on. The Impact has lost two straight, though, and face a Fire team that is undefeated in its last five matches at home. Chicago is also fighting for playoff contention. Just one point behind fifth place New England, the Fire has five games left to state its case for a postseason berth.

LA Galaxy @ Portland Timbers (Sunday, 12:30 pm PT, NBC)
For those looking for some afternoon MLS viewing before the showdown with the Red Bulls, it doesn’t get much better than the Galaxy-Timbers matchup on NBC. LA is looking to get Landon Donovan back on the field after the league’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer missed last week’s match against Seattle with an ankle injury. Winless in its last three matches, the Galaxy will look to turn their luck around against the Timbers in a meeting of the No. 3 team against the No. 4 team in the West. Diego Valeri has three goals and one assist in the last three matches to pull Portland out of a two-match losing streak and now has eight goals and 12 assists on the season.