Minnesota United will try to halt hard-charging Portland on Sunday on ESPN, and the red-hot New England Revolution host Western Conference leader LAFC, plus a crucial contest between the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC. Here's what to watch for in MLS Week 22.
Red-hot Revs take crack at league leaders
Only in the zany world of MLS can a team be left for dead in early May yet find itself in a playoff spot just two-and-a-half months later. This year's zombie club appears to be the New England Revolution, who are reborn under new coach Bruce Arena and suddenly being talked about as dark horse contenders to reach MLS Cup.
Since former boss Brad Friedel got the pink slip on May 9, the Revs haven't lost in league play, a span of 11 matches consisting of seven wins and four losses. Attacking midfielder Carles Gil has quietly become one of the league's best players, and now he has the luxury of playing with Argentine goal machine Gustavo Bou.
The Revs have posted some impressive wins of late, but the real test comes Saturday against the league's top team, LAFC (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+). The biggest improvement in New England has come in the back -- only once have they conceded more than a goal in that 11-match span -- but 59-goal LAFC with MVP candidate Carlos Vela (22 goals) is a different challenge altogether.
There will also be an intriguing battle in the coaches' boxes. Arena knows LAFC boss Bob Bradley well, and the two make up 14 of the past 20 years on the United States national team sideline. What's more, Arena's son, Kenny, is an assistant to Bradley at LAFC, leaving father Bruce to quip: "I'm not sure I've ever coached against my son, actually. So this will be interesting. If a fight breaks out, I'm going to take him."
Measuring stick time for Minnesota against Portland
It is a refrain that is likely to be repeated a few more times before the end of the season, but for Minnesota United, Sunday's affair with the Portland Timbers (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be one of several measuring sticks until the end of the season. Such is life when you are in your third season in the league, have yet to reach the playoffs and gave up 141 goals in the first two campaigns.
Things are different in 2019, however. The porous back lines of 2017 and 2018 are no more, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better defensive right side in MLS than goalkeeper Vito Mannone, center-back Ike Opara and right-back Romain Metanire. The Madagascar international, in particular, has been a revelation.
That trio, along with the rest of the Minnesota squad, are in for a stiff test against the hard-charging Timbers. Having survived their road-heavy first half of the season, Portland is surging up the table in the Western Conference and has nine goals in its past four games after hanging four on the LA Galaxy last weekend. With Brian Fernandez, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco in good form, this is a prime opportunity for Minnesota to show that its defense has the goods to shut down of the of the league's best attacks.
Big one in the Big Apple between Red Bulls and TFC
Spare a thought for fans of both the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, as each group of supporters has had to live through a maddeningly inconsistent season.
After a strong start, May and June were dreadfully unkind to TFC, but there are signs that they are kicking into gear. The same could have been said two weeks ago after back-to-back wins, only for TFC to fall at home against Houston. Whether last week's rebound win against FC Cincinnati was a false dawn remains to be seen, but at least TFC can hang its hat on Jozy Altidore's scorching form. The U.S. international has scored in every game since the Gold Cup final.
Altidore will be called on again in Saturday's visit to Red Bull Arena (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+), where the home team has been plagued with the one-win, one-loss disease this summer. With LAFC, New England and D.C. United all on the docket in August, the Red Bulls need to find a consistent run of results.
Brian White and Daniel Royer -- both with eight goals each -- have come through for coach Chris Armas, but for the Red Bulls to entertain thoughts of a deep run, an impact from Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has just two goals this season, is still needed.