With less than a month remaining to make a last playoff push, Los Angeles FC will host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday with both chasing postseason eligibility.
With six games remaining for each over a tightly packed three-week stretch, LAFC (9-12-7, 34 points) is in ninth place and four points off the playoff line in the Western Conference. The Earthquakes (8-11-9, 33 points) are just behind in 10th place, with the top seven teams from each conference advancing to the playoffs.
LAFC will get some reinforcements back for its late-season run, with productive forward Carlos Vela (hamstring) possible to come off the bench Saturday. Key midfielder Eduard Atuesta could be back from a nagging quad injury after last playing Oct. 3. Both have returned to the practice field.
Vela, the 2019 MVP, has not played since Aug. 21 because of a hamstring injury. The club was 3-0-1 in the first four games Vela missed, but is 0-3-1 since and is coming off a 1-1 tie with the rival Los Angeles Galaxy before the international break began.
"It's great to have (Vela) back," LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. "He brings football, he brings his way of seeing certain plays, seeing certain passes and finishing great goals. The final part of being a little more dynamic, we're trying to work through that part. But it's very positive to see him back on the field."
Since a 2-0 victory over LAFC at home on Sept. 25, San Jose is 0-2-0 and was outscored 6-1 in games against the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Earthquakes midfielder Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez has been a force of late. On loan from Mexico's Chivas Guadalajara, Lopez scored three times in a Sept. 15 loss to Real Salt Lake and scored in three consecutive games from Sept. 15-25.
Lopez had six goals in September alone to give him 11 on the season, with three assists. He was named the MLS Player of the Month for September.
Lopez shouldn't be the only Earthquakes player feeling confident Saturday since San Jose is on a four-game winning streak against LAFC going back to last season.
"This team is always ready to play against great opponents and they're one of the best in the league so the motivation in the locker room is high in these games," Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill said. "We have to take each game one-by-one and they're all finals from here on out. We have points to catch up on and we can't let one play, one opportunity slip by."
--Field Level Media