There are just 16 more shopping days until MLS Decision Day.
And, these would be the playoff matchups if the season ended today:
Eastern Conference: As the top seed, the New England Revolution get a bye to the conference semifinals. Round 1 matchups: Orlando City SC (No. 4 seed) vs. Atlanta United (5), Philadelphia Union (3) vs. CF Montréal (6), Nashville SC (2) vs. DC United (7)
Western Conference: As the top seed, the Seattle Sounders get a bye to the conference semifinals. Round 1 matchups: Portland Timbers (No. 4 seed) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (5), Colorado Rapids (3) vs. Minnesota United (6), Sporting Kansas City (2) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (7).
Here is what you need to know for the weekend in MLS:
MLS game of the week
Seattle Sounders FC vs. Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, on Univision/TUDN, Twitter): The road gets tougher for the two clubs fighting for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Four of Sporting KC’s five remaining matches are against playoff contenders, and all four Sounders opponents can still punch their postseason ticket. For these reasons, Saturday’s match between the Sounders and SKC carries double the impact. The first-place Sounders have a six-point cushion over SKC, which has played one less game. SKC comes into the match hoping to recover from its 2-1 loss at the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday night. Seattle returns to the field on two days' rest after a road draw against the soon-to-be playoff-bound Colorado Rapids.
MLS player to watch
Luiz Araújo, Atlanta United: Since arriving at Atlanta United in August from LOSC Lille in France, the 25-year-old Brazilian has brought a resurge of dynamic attacking play along the wings, scoring two goals and added two assists to his name. It’s Araújo's playmaking ability that causes trouble for MLS backlines and will be one to watch as Atlanta looks to hold onto an Eastern Conference playoff spot with four matches remaining.
By the numbers: Revs closing in on history
3: The New England Revolution (which has 69 points) can tie the 2019 Los Angeles FC team for the MLS regular-season points record (72) with a win over Orlando City on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
Reports: Ricardo Pepi requests move away from FC Dallas
We weren’t kidding last week when we said Ricardo Pepi’s star was rising. Now, with FC Dallas soon to be officially eliminated from playoff contention, it seems Pepi could be on the move imminently. He’s been linked to a move to a big European club for weeks.
The latest development is a report that Pepi has requested Dallas to move him. That could get the ball rolling faster toward landing at a new club for the player, who’s scored 13 times for Dallas this season and also broke through in a huge way with manager Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. men’s national team.
Carlos Vela, Chicharito remain highest-paid MLS players
The Major League Soccer Players Association released salary figures for the league on Wednesday, revealing MLS's player compensation numbers. Los Angeles FC's Carlos Vela - with $6.3 million in total compensation, including $4.5 million in salary - and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Javier "Chicharito" Hernández - with $6 million in total compensation - are the two highest-paid players in the league. Inter Miami's Gonzalo Higuaín is third, with $5,793,750 compensation, including $5.1 million base salary.
Atlanta United's Luiz Araújo (total compensation of $3,941,667), Austin FC's Sebastián Driussi (total compensation of $2,688,420) and Nashville SC's Aké Loba (total compensation of $1,318,475) are the only MLS newcomers to fetch seven-figure salaries.
Real Madrid, France star Karim Benzema likes what he sees in MLS
You already know what to do if your bingo card of aging Europeans stars toying with a move to MLS includes Karim Benzema. The 33-year-old Benzema told ESPN in an interview: "I like the USA. Football is getting better and better there. But am I telling you I will sign there? Right now, I am in Madrid.”
So, there you have it. The trend of bringing in aged stars to close out their respective careers is becoming less interesting in MLS circles. More and more, league insiders, observers, fans and reporters want to see stories like that of a Ricardo Pepi at FC Dallas – an upwardly mobile, homegrown talent that’s set to carry the MLS banner with them as they progress overseas.
The trend of sprinkling aging stardust on an MLS roster remains a staple for most clubs to varying degrees, but stories like that of Benzema’s (the big name rumored for a move to MLS this past summer was David Luiz) don’t command attention like they used to.
CF Montreal exercise contract option on Ahmed Hamdi
In many ways, CF Montreal has been the story of MLS in 2021. The club was picked by many pundits to finish at or near the bottom of the MLS table and yet they’re still in line for an MLS Cup playoff spot with five matches to play. Montreal’s already taking steps to lock up the players that have helped them achieve what’s already been a memorable 2021 season, and part of that includes exercising a club option on on-loan midfielder Hamdi Ahmed. A member of Egyptian side El Gouna FC, Montreal announced Tuesday that Hamdi is now under contract through 2023 with a remaining club option for 2024. Hamdi, 23, has made 19 appearances (eight starts) in his debut MLS season and has two goals.
MLS rankings: Top 10 power poll
1. New England Revolution: The Revs are the only original MLS team to have never won MLS Cup or the Supporters' Shield. They'll capture the latter in short time.
2. Seattle Sounders: Seattle's stature in the Western Conference will be put to the test this week. Round 1 at Colorado ended in a draw. Round 2 is at home against Sporting KC.
3. Sporting Kansas City: Losing to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday was less than ideal for SKC, which is chasing the Seattle Sounders - its opponent on the road Saturday.
4. Nashville SC: Nashville collected its league-leading (by a mile) 16th tie of the season on Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew.
5. Colorado Rapids: A late goal allowed to Seattle on Wednesday night prevented Colorado from clinching a playoff berth for the second straight season.
6. Philadelphia Union: The Union had a six-game unbeaten streak end Wednesday night in Minnesota, but still sit comfortably in the playoff zone in the Eastern Conference.
7. Orlando City SC: Daryl Dike had a run of scoring goals in three consecutive games come to an end Wednesday, but will aim to get back into scoring form in Sunday's crucial clash against the Revolution.
8. Portland Timbers: Timbers Army ought to have a good time watching their team's late-season run toward the playoffs ... the Timbers' two remaining home games are against teams that are essentially playing out the string.
9. Real Salt Lake: RSL has won five of its last eight and has been powered by the goal-scoring prowess of Damir Kreilach, who currently sits tied for fifth in the Golden Boot race with 14 goals.
10. Atlanta United: Atlanta could have really done some damage to New York City FC's playoff hopes Wednesday night, but Gudmundur Thórarinsson's equalizer in the 90th prevented that from happening.
Moving in: Real Salt Lake, Atlanta United
Dropping out: New York City FC (previously: 9), DC United (10)
Others receiving votes: N/A
USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Drake Hills, The Tennessean; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch; Jim Reineking, USA TODAY.
MLS schedule: What are this weekend's games?
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, 3:30 p.m. ET (Univision/TUDN, Twitter)
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
New York City FC vs. DC United, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Philadelphia Union vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Toronto FC vs. CF Montréal, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Chicago Fire FC vs. Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Inter Miami CF vs. FC Cincinnati, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Colorado Rapids vs. Portland Timbers, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. FC Dallas, 10 p.m. ET (UniMás/TUDN, Twitter)
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Austin FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Orlando City SC vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS notebook: Playoff picture, Sporting KC-Sounders in crucial clash