Two of MLS's best regional rivalries, as well as one more that's more about the teams' performances, take place this weekend. The Atlantic Cup features a resurgent Red Bulls team and a streaky United side, while the Cascadia Cup has two teams headed in opposite directions. Then there's Real Salt Lake-FC Dallas, a matchup that always seems to be entertaining. Should be a good week.
The turnaround that Peter Vermes has engineered is nothing short of remarkable. What was once a 10-game winless streak has morphed into a nine-match unbeaten run as Sporting has climbed back into playoff position. Through four matches at gorgeous Livestrong Sporting Park, they are undefeated (2-0-2). But Chivas USA hasn't been nearly as bad as we sometimes make them out to be, as they have managed to climb back into playoff position after a midweek win over the Earthquakes. Pick: Sporting 2-1.
The Atlantic Cup, by all rights, should be just about as big of a rivalry as the Cascadia Cup. It does, after all, date back to the beginning of MLS and features two teams in relatively big markets. But these teams never seem to be good at the same time. The last time they played, the Red Bulls gave United a 4-0 beat down. This time it's at Red Bull Arena. Pick: Red Bulls 2-1.
There have been some very bad teams in MLS history, but at their worst the Reds are among the worst. Thing is, they've managed to get a respectable number of results, especially against teams that aren't so great themselves. The Dynamo can hardly be considered great. But with this game at Robertson Stadium and TFC being winless on the road, it seems like the Dynamo are the obvious choice. Pick: Dynamo 1-0.
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas, 9 p.m., Saturday
While no trophy is at stake, this is quickly becoming one of the better rivalries in MLS. For the second straight year, these are two of the best teams in the league, and run by two of the best coaches. No team as playing as well as the Toros right now, who are led by midseason MVP Brek Shea. This would be the Match of the Week at almost any other point in the season. Pick: Tied 1-1.
Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 9 p.m., Saturday
Tom Soehn mostly picked this team, so maybe he deserves to also be coaching them. The Whitecaps have actually managed to get worse results with him at the helm than the man Soehn fired, Teitur Thordarson. This being MLS, though, it's almost never too late to turn it around. The Rapids have shown a penchant for playing down to opponents, but anything less than a victory here would be a serious sign of problems. Pick: Rapids 1-0.
The Fire have shown an uncanny ability to get results. Despite one of the lowest point totals in the league, they are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak that has featured four straight ties. Those results have come against some pretty decent teams, but this is probably their biggest test yet. It seems like whoever the Galaxy put in the net, they are capable of pitching a shutout. This week it should be Josh Saunders. Pick: Tied, 1-1.
Just when you think you're starting to figure out the Earthquakes, they go an turn in a performance like they did on Wednesday, a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA. The Union have not looked nearly as good as they did in that 6-2 victory over TFC six matches ago, but they have lost just once since then. Going on the road against a decent Earthquakes team should be a good test. Pick: Tied 1-1.
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, 1 p.m., Sunday (ESPN)
Since last time these teams met, their fortunes have gone in drastically different directions. The Sounders have gone 4-1-3 since that 1-1 tie, while the Timbers have gone 1-5-1. This is the kind of game that could make or break the Timbers' season, and they simply aren't as bad as they've looked in the past few weeks. This is a game the Sounders should win, but expect it to be very hard fought. Pick: Sounders 1-0.