LOS ANGELES - It’s Week 15 of the MLS season, where teams now have single-digit games remaining to play before it all comes to a head on Decision Day (November 8th live on FS1), ahead of the final sprint toward MLS Cup 2020, December 12th live on FOX Sports. While a few teams have pulled away enough to feel comfortable about making the playoffs, the key now will be the jockeying for home field advantage, which last year saw eight of the ten games played in the first two rounds won by the home team. And, this weekend, a special spotlight shines on Central Florida, live on FOX.
Orlando City vs New York Red Bulls (Sat, 4pm ET, FOX)
Orlando remain maybe the best story in MLS this year: featuring European superstar Nani, packed with young Americans trying to catch the eye of the national team, and led by presumptive Coach of the Year Oscar Pareja, the Lions have changed their focus from a first-ever playoff appearance to winning the Supporters Shield as regular season champs. Their club-record eight game unbeaten streak has propelled them just four points behind the league-leading Columbus Crew, who will visit Orlando October 11th.
The Red Bulls know plenty about the Supporters Shield, with three title wins in the last seven years, but they’ve fallen on harder times in 2020: roster turnover in the winter saw some key pillars of those title teams depart, and now a coaching change last month sees assistant Bradley Carnell in charge the rest of the season. But last week the Red Bulls rattled off back-to-back blowout wins, and their high-tempo, chaos-creating playing style means they’ll always be in games; it also means we rarely get a snoozer when the Red Bulls are involved!
Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union (Sat, 7:30pm ET)
How easily we all forget about TFC: winners of three of the last four Eastern Conference Championships, led by Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore– two of the most important American players of their generation–and once again challenging at the top of the standings. It’s a high degree of difficulty right now though, with Canadian Government restrictions preventing them from hosting games in Ontario, The Reds are based in Hartford, CT the rest of the regular season.
The Union are tied with Toronto for second in the league, two points back of Columbus, and are continuing to use their core of homegrown stars—including Brendan Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, both of whom could be in Europe next season—to challenge for the club’s first ever trophy. This one has all the makings of a playoff preview, and this result might go a long way towards determining who would host such a postseason showdown.
Inter Miami vs New York City FC (Sat, 8pm ET)
Newly crowned as the league’s highest paid player, Gonzalo Higuain made his debut for Inter Miami last weekend…and suffice to say it didn’t go quite as planned: his missed penalty kick, and subsequent taunting by multiple Philadelphia players who charged up into his face, not only made for great social media fodder, but also was perhaps a preview of the kind of treatment the league’s newest megastar will endure as he’s “welcomed” to MLS.
New York City have been quietly excellent since the season re-started in August, only losing to Toronto in their last eight games, and keeping five shutouts during that time. They’re tied for sixth in the East with their cross-Hudson rival Red Bulls, and that’s significant: the expanded format of this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs means the top six advance straight to the first round, while the next four have to go through a play-in game. So there might be some extra pressure on The Pigeons to keep up if the Red Bulls win in Orlando earlier Saturday.
Real Salt Lake vs Los Angeles FC (Sun, 9:30pm ET)
Sunday’s lone game features the two teams representing the final two playoff spots in the West entering the weekend, and while RSL might have been expected to be in the middle of the pack by this point in the season, LAFC certainly would not. Bob Bradley’s men have been a textbook Jekyll/Hyde team in September: wins of 5-1, 4-2, and 6-0 interspersed with 3-0 losses, and their first ever defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend. And this isn’t exactly a great bounce-back opponent for LAFC either: one of those 3-0 losses was in Utah three weeks ago, and reigning MVP Carlos Vela remains out injured.