Philly faces Atlanta in crunch East match; Portland needing playoff push

Philadelphia hosts cup winners Atlanta in a big Eastern Conference clash, while Minnesota United will try to get over its U.S. Open Cup final loss with a visit to LAFC, plus Portland seeks a rebound from its rivalry loss to Seattle.

Walk-the-walk time for Philly against Atlanta

One could say that these are uncharted waters for the Philadelphia Union. Being in the mix for a conference crown on Labor Day weekend is a rarity for the Union, yet here they are and now they get the chance to show the rest of the East that they can be top dog when they host Atlanta United on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+).

Philly has had a few stumbles throughout the summer, including bad 4-0 losses at Real Salt Lake and Montreal, but last week’s 3-1 victory over D.C. United lays the groundwork for a crunch stretch against the reigning league and new U.S. Open Cup champions, followed by league leaders LAFC.

Philly is a tough town, so over the course of the next two weeks, Union fans will see if their team has the punch to rise up the heavyweight rankings.

Atlanta continue to amaze with its late-summer surge, collecting cups in midweek and then beating teams away from home over the weekend. Josef Martinez is scoring every game, “Pity” Martinez is looking like the River Plate “Pity” Martinez and the defense is locking down opponents. At this moment, it takes a top performance to beat Atlanta, and that’s just what Jim Curtin will be expecting his team to deliver.

Redemption calling for Minnesota in visit to L.A.

Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final had quite the stirring finish, with Minnesota United desperately lurching forward in hopes of an equalizer that never came in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta. It was all there on a silver platter for Michael Boxall, only for his effort to sail over the crossbar. The look of disbelief on the faces of the Minnesota players was hard to miss, and losing the chance at a first trophy will sting, but luckily for coach Adrian Heath, there is no time to sit around and feel sorry for themselves with a visit to Los Angeles FC on Sunday night (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+).

If anything, it’s the perfect match to remedy any type of hangover Minnesota might be feeling from Tuesday’s near miss. Going into the house of the league’s best team and taking three points would make the loss in Atlanta fade into the background. It would also send a message to LAFC that playoff-bound Minnesota could be quite the formidable foe should the two meet in the postseason.

That’s the big question in the Western Conference: Who can take down LAFC? It’s hard seeing anyone do it at present, but with two cracks at Bob Bradley’s men in the final two months of the regular season, the opportunity is there for Minnesota to send a message.

As for LAFC, another wild El Trafico ended without a victory, but long term the focus is making sure star striker Carlos Vela will be healthy after coming off with a minor injury against the Galaxy. With the team holding such a large cushion in the West, it would be no surprise to see Vela getting the week off.

Time ticking for Portland with RSL coming to town

With seven of their past eight matches at home, there is still time for the Portland Timbers to turn things around in the West, but sitting three points below the playoff line going into September is probably not what fans expected when remodeled Providence Park reopened back on June 1.

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Two consecutive home losses, including a particularly painful 2-1 defeat to rival Seattle that earned the Sounders the 2019 Cascadia Cup, have contributed to the angst. Not helping matters is that after enjoying a scorching start to his MLS career, striker Brian Fernandez has suddenly gone cold, failing to deliver a goal in the past two matches. It’s no coincidence that both ended in defeat.

It does not get any easier Saturday as rejuvenated Real Salt Lake comes to town (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+). Under interim boss Freddy Juarez, Real Salt Lake has ripped off an impressive run of four wins in five matches during the month of August, with the lone loss being a 2-0 defeat at LAFC. No shame there.

This has the potential to kick-start a title charge for RSL, while leaving Portland in a heap of worry about the playoffs.

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