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MLS W2W4: Timbers, Sporting face must-win matchup in Portland

Diego Valeri's vicious strike 16 minutes in is all Portland need to beat Real Salt Lake. To watch MLS sign up to ESPN+.
Sporting KC have now won three straight as they continue their late surge towards the playoffs. To watch more MLS, sign up to ESPN+.

With or without Carlos Vela, LAFC will look to bounce back from a rare defeat when they face Orlando City SC, while the Seattle Sounders are once again finding their late summer groove as they head to the Colorado Rapids, plus it's a crucial clash between the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City in the Pacific Northwest.

Must-win time in Portland

It's a topic that has been discussed before on these pages, but it has to be said once again that the Portland Timbers face another must-win contest, this time with Sporting Kansas City coming to town on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, stream on ESPN+).

Despite a 1-0 win at home over Real Salt Lake, last season's runners-up are still on the outside of the MLS Cup playoffs looking in, as they sit two points behind the Galaxy for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The home-friendly run-in favors the Timbers and it was certainly a good sign that Diego Valeri found the back of the net against RSL.

On the outside looking in, Portland and Sporting need a win this weekend to get back into the MLS Cup playoff race.

Also aiding Portland's task is that the international break will hardly make a dent. Renzo Zambrano is the lone call-up, but he would have missed out anyway due to his late red card against Salt Lake. Such is the luxury of having an Argentine-heavy squad in MLS, a league that has only supplied one player to the Albiceleste in its history: Atlanta United's Pity Martinez last spring.

Sporting KC also come in off a home win, 1-0 against the Houston Dynamo, but coach Peter Vermes will be missing six players due to the FIFA window. Five points back of the Galaxy, Sporting will need one of the best performances of the season to get a result to stay in the playoff chase.

LAFC's Vela quandary

In last weekend's home date with Minnesota United, LAFC head coach Bob Bradley made the decision to rest star striker Carlos Vela after the Mexican winger suffered a hamstring injury a week prior in the 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy. It was a smart move for the long term, especially with the hefty cushion that LAFC have in the Western Conference, but nevertheless, it likely has to feel disconcerting for LAFC supporters to see how the team limped to a 2-0 defeat.

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Accepting that LAFC is a weaker team without Vela is logical, but Sunday night provided a glimpse as to how things might go if any future injury issues arise for Vela. Brian Rodriguez looked plenty dangerous after replacing Vela against the Galaxy, but the newly arrived Uruguayan was a non-factor against Minnesota and was hauled off at halftime.

Hamstring injuries are not ones to mess with, especially when dealing with a cross-country road trip to humid Central Florida to take on Orlando City on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, stream on ESPN+), so another DNP for Vela would not come as a shock. At the same time, that could be just the thing that helps LAFC shake off last week's defeat.

They still dominated possession, but lacked the cutting edge. With another week of training to fine tune a potentially Vela-less attack, LAFC stand to be sharper.

Familiar refrain in Seattle

Just when you think that the Seattle Sounders won't pull off their summer Houdini act because of a defense that looked like Swiss cheese during the bulk of July and August, here they come yet again with a late-season charge that suddenly has them second in the Western Conference. But is it a false dawn?

They are still letting in goals -- four in those two wins -- so maybe it is a bit premature to begin conjuring memories of 2016 when they catapulted up the table in the final three months to eventually win MLS Cup.

The best indication of whether it is déjà vu all over again in Seattle will come with Saturday's visit to Colorado to face the Rapids (9 p.m. ET, stream on ESPN+). Under new boss Robin Fraser, Colorado did what few teams have done and that's walk out of Red Bull Arena with a clean sheet victory, a 2-0 final that raised plenty of eyebrows.

Of the two sides, Seattle is likely to suffer more from the international break, with Cristian Roldan, Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris and Xavier Arreaga all with their respective national teams, while Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio will be absent for Colorado. With key pieces missing, Seattle's defense must show up.

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