In the USA, the end-of-season play-offs are already upon us, with the Mexican top flight soon to follow suit. Following a more traditional league format are Korea Republic and Brazil, whose championship races are nearing the finish line, as well as the Chinese Super League, where the crown has already been claimed.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the best of the action this weekend in the biggest leagues outside Europe.
Major League Soccer: Favourites in the spotlight
After 30 rounds of regular-season encounters, the eight-team MLS Cup play-offs are underway, with Western Conference pace-setters Los Angeles Galaxy and Eastern counterparts the New York Red Bulls hoping to confirm their favourites’ tags. Neither team faces an easy start to their opening two-legged tie, with David Beckham’s Galaxy visiting US Open Cup champions Seattle Sounders, and the Red Bulls away to wildcards San Jose Earthquakes. The latter clash will pit two of the season’s most influential performers against each other, in the shape of New York’s Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere and San Jose’s American forward Chris Wondolowski.
High stakes: Boasting the best defensive record in either conference, reigning champions Real Salt Lake are preparing to put their 14-game unbeaten streak on the line against a dangerous FC Dallas outfit. Having finished the regular season on a high, the holders are thus determined to repeat last year’s feats and go all the way to the final, when they beat Galaxy to take the 2009 title.
Players to watch: Edson Buddle, David Ferreira and Wondolowski are the three finalists for the 2010 Major League Soccer MVP award, and will do their individual causes no harm with strong play-off displays.
Brasileirao: Challengers playing catch-up
Fluminense have moved three points clear at the top of the standings after Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Gremio, courtesy of a double from Argentinian attacking midfielder Dario Conca. Third-placed Cruzeiro, however, have a game in hand on Muricy Ramalho’s charges and can move level on points with an away win at bottom side Gremio Prudente on Saturday. Six points further back in fourth and fifth respectively are Santos and Internacional, who meet on Saturday at Inter’s Beira-Rio stadium in a game vital to both sides’ rapidly diminishing title hopes.
High stakes: After storming into top spot on Matchday 30, Cruzeiro subsequently suffered narrow defeats against Gremio and Atletico Mineiro. They will be determined to get back to winning ways against Gremio Prudente, although the stragglers proved they have a sting in their tail in turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win at Santos last weekend.
Player to watch: As they continue to battle against the drop, Atletico Mineiro will be very thankful for the return to form and fitness of striker Obina – scorer of six goals in his last four games. Next in his sights are Botafogo, themselves chasing a Copa Libertadores berth.
Korea Republic K-League: Three-horse race nearing finish
The K-League is entering the finishing straight and Jeju United lead the way on 55 points, two clear of FC Seoul and nine clear of outsiders Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. However, Jeju have just two games left to play while their two closest pursuers both have three.
High stakes: Given their rivals’ game in hand, Jeju cannot afford to slip up on Sunday’s trip to second-bottom Daegu FC. FC Seoul, for their part, take on eighth-placed Busan I’Park.
Player to watch: Seongnam’s Dzenan Radoncic grabbed a double in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Chunnam Dragons to keep the AFC Champions League finalists mathematically in the title race. Set to miss out on the continental title decider through suspension, the Montenegrin can focus all his energies on gunning down K-League bottom side Gwangju Sangmu Bulsajo on Saturday.
Mexican Apertura: Cruz Azul taking charge
The final three matchdays of the regular season are set to throw up thrills and spills aplenty, with leadership of the overall standings and play-off berths still up for grabs. On top overall after an emphatic 4-2 away victory over previously unbeaten Monterrey, Cruz Azul take on struggling Puebla determined to underline their status as the championship’s form team. Will Monterrey, in second place overall but four points clear in Group 1, be able to bounce back away to a Monarcas Morelia side still chasing qualification from Group 3?
High stakes: After a slow start to the regular season, a run of good results have sent Real San Luis storming to the summit of Group 2. Up next is an away trip to section rivals Toluca, currently a point behind having played a game more, with the hosts making a habit of failing to click into gear on home soil. However, a win for Toluca would set them up ideally for their two subsequent clashes: against Group 2 bottom sides Estudiantes and Atlante.
Player to watch: Still dreaming of clinching a berth in the Liguilla are Club America, who lie three points behind section rivals Toluca with a game in hand. Needing a win at all costs, Las Águilas will look to on-form Uruguayan attacker Vicente Sanchez to power them to three points against Estudiantes on Sunday.
The identity of the Chinese Super League champions was sealed on Wednesday, when Shandong Luneng’s 1-1 draw with Nanchang Bayi took them ten points clear of Shanghai Shenhua with just two matchdays remaining. There is still plenty to play for, however, with six teams still in the hunt for the three remaining berths in the AFC Champions League.
Finally, we turn to the Argentinian Apertura, whose 13th round of matches, set to be played this weekend, have been postponed due to a period of national mourning for ex-President Nestor Kirchner.