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 By Arch Bell

MLS predictions: Can David Villa's return get slumping NYCFC back on track?

MLS is nearing the homestretch and points are at a premium as the postseasons looms. ESPN FC's MLS writers offer up their picks of five of the weekend's key matches in Week 29.

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo: Two teams keen to get back in the win column square off on Saturday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. New York City FC are winless in their past two, including a rare home loss two weeks ago to Portland, 1-0, and then a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Western Conference bottom-feeder Colorado. Luckily for NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira, David Villa should be set to make his first start since the international break.

Houston's road woes show no signs of letting up, but a result on Saturday would be a massive boost ahead of three straight home games. The Honduran duo of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis have gone scoreless in the team's past three games, however those two should still get a few looks against NYCFC's defense.

Arch Bell: New York City FC
Jeff Carlisle: Draw
Matt Pentz: New York City FC
Graham Parker: New York City FC

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire: Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake was spectacular in last Sunday's 0-0 draw with the Red Bulls, and he'll need to be on-song again against a Chicago Fire side that has recently gotten its groove back. Bastian Schweinsteiger is questionable, but on the plus side Nemanja Nikolic has scored in each of the past two games. The Fire will need to be careful though. This has "trap game" written all over it, and at this stage of the season there are no gimmes, especially going against a goalkeeper like Blake.

Andre Blake stole the Union a point against New York Red Bulls. Can he do it once against vs. Chicago?

Arch Bell: Philadelphia
Jeff Carlisle: Draw
Matt Pentz: Draw
Graham Parker: Chicago

Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls: New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch has his work cut out for him to try to rally his troops for Saturday's visit to Columbus after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup final. There are sure to be some tired legs, but the sixth-place Red Bulls (42 points) cannot afford a letdown, especially with suddenly resurgent seventh-place Montreal just three points back.

Columbus had one of their best road performances of the season last week in a 2-2 draw in Vancouver. If Kekuta Manneh can continue his stellar play from last week, all of the sudden he and Ola Kamara form a dynamite connection for Columbus. The Red Bulls will have their hands full dealing with Columbus' speed.

Arch Bell: Red Bulls
Jeff Carlisle: Draw
Matt Pentz: Columbus
Graham Parker: Draw

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders: Out west, the RSL attack is rolling, with 12 goals in their past four games, and Mike Petke's men have lost just twice since June 30. Back in preseason, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who had RSL picked for the playoffs, yet here they are in the mix for a postseason berth and playing some of the most entertaining soccer this side of Ontario.

On the surface, Seattle's 13-match unbeaten streak is nothing to scoff at, but upon further review, the past four of those have all been draws, with just three goals scored. The good news for the reigning champs is that Brian Schmetzer's defense is in good shape, but the attack seems to be lacking a cutting edge. A playoff-hungry RSL will put Seattle's streak to the test.

Clint Dempsey
Despite a 13-game unbeaten streak, Clint Dempsey and Seattle's attack has gone cold.

Arch Bell: Real Salt Lake
Jeff Carlisle: Real Salt Lake
Matt Pentz: Real Salt Lake
Graham Parker: Draw

Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact: Gerardo "Tata" Martino has his team playing lights-out soccer with 17 (17!) goals in their past four games -- eight of them belonging to Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez -- and after Wednesday's 4-0 hammering of the LA Galaxy, the next visitor to the 404 is Montreal.

Seemingly left for dead, the playoff hopes of the Impact have been resuscitated thanks to an unexpected 5-3 win in Toronto on Wednesday. Like Atlanta, Montreal have their fair share of playmakers led by Ignacio Piatti, who'd like nothing more than to upstage fellow CONMEBOL attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron of Paraguay. With so much South American talent on the field, this one almost has a Copa Libertadores feel to it. Last Saturday Orlando earned a point in Atlanta, and the fact that this is Atlanta's fifth match since Sept.10 could well favor the French Canadians.

Arch Bell: Draw
Jeff Carlisle Atlanta
Matt Pentz Draw
Graham Parker Atlanta

Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .


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