So who’s got the easiest run in then? Possibly table-topping San Jose, who have a home game heavy schedule, with an emphasis on teams with not a great deal to play for in their conference. This weekend they’ll be facing a Colorado Rapids side who’ve had a truly underwhelming attempt to transform themselves this season. Behind San Jose, Sporting KC and New York Red Bulls start the first of three games of mutually assured destruction this weekend, at Livestrong Park. We’ll be covering that one live, as it’s a sequence that may have a big say on not just the destiny of the East, but that of the Supporters Shield too.
Also in the mix – Real Salt Lake, though they’ve lost two straight MLS games. They’ll try to regroup at Philadelphia on Friday night, trying to at least enjoy a day’s space from the teams on their shoulder in the West. Of those teams Vancouver go to Portland for another Cascadia derby, while the other regional rivals Seattle face a trip to Chivas on Saturday night. Busy weekend at the Home Depot Center, as the other tenants, Los Angeles Galaxy, face FC Dallas on Sunday evening – in what suddenly looks like an intriguing tie between two resurgent sides.
Meanwhile in the East, Montreal Impact put their four-game winning streak on the line against a DC United side who dismantled Chicago in eye-catching fashion in midweek. In the other midweek game, Columbus Crew completed their rescheduled fixture with Toronto FC with a victory, and now host a New England Revolution side whose season has come off the rails. Toronto meanwhile, have to lick their wounds and head to Houston, where they actually gave Houston an almighty scare earlier this season. Can they repeat or surpass that feat?
Not daring to go anywhere such thorny questions unassisted, the Guardian has rounded up some of our gang of fan reps, bloggers, podcasters and beat writers to get their reaction to how the local sides have been doing and what they expect from this weekend’s games.
See what they have to say, leave your comments below, and join us for Sporting KC vs New York Red Bulls on Sunday at 9pm. And then join Joe Prince-Wright and myself on Monday morning for Five things we learned this weekend.
Philadelphia Union vs Real Salt Lake, Fri 7.30 pm (NBCSN)
Dan Walsh, editor, Philly Soccer Page:
Philadelphia Union stole a draw Sunday at RFK Stadium, and they can thank referee Mark Geiger for that. Geiger waved off two D.C. United goals, one correctly, one dubiously. The Union simply couldn’t handle the numbers United threw at them once Andy Najar shifted to right back in the second half and United sacrificed defense for offense. D.C. effectively contained playmaker Michael Farfan and cut off the runs that strikers Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot have made a living off in recent weeks. This was the third time in two months the teams had played, and D.C. clearly learned a thing or two.
On Friday, the Union host Real Salt Lake. They’ll be without right back Sheanon Williams, who was sent off Sunday with two very disputable yellow cards. Rookie Raymon Gaddis will deputize, but all eyes will be on Zac MacMath. The rookie goalkeeper remains a talented shot-stopper but has looked shaky since suffering a concussion in the spring. If not for a Freddy Adu goalline clearance and Geiger’s aforementioned calls, MacMath could have surrendered four goals Sunday. Speaking of Adu, the Union need him and newly acquired Danny Cruz to offer more options on the wings, because teams are keying on Farfan and McInerney. RSL deploys a much better back line than United, so it could be a struggle for the young Union, even at home.
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Soapbox:
For Real Salt Lake playing a fairly solid match on Saturday only to fall victim to a couple of counter attacks by FC Dallas that results in a 2-1 loss at home was painful, but bouncing back on Tuesday and picking up a 2-0 win in Champions League action over Tauro FC may have been just the medicine the team needed as they quickly packed up and headed east to take on the Philadelphia Union on Friday night. This will mark the first RSL match that will be on National TV this year as NBC Sports will broadcast the match, and for RSL they hope that keep their momentum from Tuesday alive. RSL will be looking to capitalize on the Union’s struggles at home where they are just 5-5-1, RSL will most likely still be without Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler but will get Nat Borchers who was suspended on Tuesday in CCL back. Be on the lookout for Paulo Jr. who has been mighty good the last couple of matches and could play a major role for RSL again. Hard to pick a win on the road but I have to go with my gut and that is a 2-1 RSL win.
Montreal Impact vs D.C. United, Sat 4pm (TSN 2, RDS)
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Did anyone predict 3 red cards, 2 penalty kicks and another Goal of the Week nominee before the Montreal Impact faced the San Jose Earthquakes? Not me. But no one is surprised by the quality of soccer that was displayed against the MLS leaders. Camara’s and Lenhart’s sendoff leveled the playing field but the Impact was still down 1-0 from a Wondolowski PK goal.
This is where the character and determination of the team mixed with Jesse Marsch’s (and his staff) full confidence in his squad came through. As much as Marsch is a rookie head coach, there is nothing rookie about his MLS experience and feel for his players. With 4 wins in a row, the Montreal Impact will now host D.C United at Stade Saputo, in another 3-6-9-12 point game.
No help from the midweek games in the East as both the Columbus Crew and D.C. United won their midweek games. Still, D.C United is still coming off a shaky stretch even after beating the Chicago Fire. A depleted Impact defense (injuries and suspensions) will look to step it up against what used to be a potent attack. I don’t expect any ties at Stade Saputo and will take the biased route with a 1-0 win for Montreal. With a hot Marco Di Vaio, I don’t see how a D.C. United defense could stop him for 90 minutes.
Martin Shatzer, Black and Red United, DC:
D.C. United is in the middle of its most important stretch of the season. After hardly playing at all in June and July, the team suddenly faces a run of five matches in just 14 days. Two of those matches are in the books now already, as United was able to capture four points at home earlier this week with an infuriating draw against the Philadelphia Union and an impressive win over the Chicago Fire. The Union match featured a heaping portion of questionable calls from the referee that resulted in two potential winning goals for D.C. being taken off the board. United didn’t dwell on the lost points though. They came back just four days later and extinguished the previously red hot Fire with a 4-2 result.
United can now boast that they haven’t lost a game at home since March 10th. Unfortunately the team hasn’t fared as well on the road though. United is in prime position to make the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2007, but in order to go deep in the playoffs, they’ll need to learn to win outside of RFK Stadium. They’ll get the chance to do just that on Saturday night against a Montreal Impact side that is also far better on their home grounds than when traveling.
Columbus Crew vs New England Revolution, Sat 7.30pm
Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
The Crew are in the middle of a tough stretch of seven games in twenty-one days. It is a great test of fitness and team depth. At Houston on Sunday the Massive Canaries blew a lead late in the game to sneak out of Houston with a draw. On Wednesday they went up two goals early only to let in another easy goal late and spent the final 20 minutes on their heels absorbing pressure from a less than stellar Toronto attack. Luckily, the Crew held on for all three points this time. On paper one would think the talk around Columbus would be a defense susceptible to giving up goals late in games, but it’s not. All the talk is about Federico Higuain (Real Mardid’s Gonzalo Huguain’s brother).
The Crew’s newest Designated Player and highest paid player in club history already seems well worth the investment. He made his debut as a substitute on Sunday and started Wednesday amassing two assists and a goal in just 120 minutes of play. He has already established a fantastic on field rapport with the Crew’s other Summer signing, Jairo Arrieta. And just like that, the Crew’s attack seems formidable. There is a buzz and excitement not seen in this city in a couple years. The Crew are fun to watch again.
This weekend New England comes to town. In their last seven games the Revs have lost five and drawn two. They are struggling to say the least. The Crew’s new look offense gets another easy game to gel some more, but a few new faces may be in the line-up to keep legs fresh. Crew roll to an easy 3-1 victory as the Argentine talisman, Higuain, continues to impress.
Julie Kumor, Midnight Riders:
I don’t even know where to start anymore, different week same frustration. Jay Heaps decided to change things up this week with his starting line-up, and shock is the word I would describe as how most of us felt when we heard Benny Feilhaber wasn’t starting. Sure he hadn’t been electric this season, but last couple games he had actually played decent. So was the benching for the new line-up or sending him a message about his attitude? Also, if he knew Lee Nguyen was injured pre-game why start him and risk further injury? This game started bad, 4 minutes in and a penalty was called, relieved it didn’t come with a suspension. Most of us gathered at the bar in Cambridge for the viewing, agreed the PK was a fair call. There was a brief moment we were back in the game when it was tied up on a goal that I described as all the fluster of the game winning goal against Mexico earlier in the week and none of the class. When Chicago scored the second goal off a thrown in, I think most of us gave up on the game, and continued on with our beers.
Against Columbus away, no shot: 3-0 Columbus. Then Wednesday the Revs welcome back Shalrie Joseph for a home game against Chivas. Mid-week game means even lower attendance so Shalrie will not get the proper send-off he earned with his many years in New England. Sorry Shalrie, hey you could be Steve Ralston or Taylor Twellman, they got less from the organization, and by less, I mean nothing. Chivas: 1- 0
Houston Dynamo vs Toronto FC, Sat 8.30pm (TSN 2)
Zach Woosley, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
Meh. I mean, the Dynamo didn’t lose but a 2-2 draw against the Crew left me unfulfilled. I think the annoyance comes from the fact that the Crew really did outplay the Dynamo. Even though Columbus is vastly improved thanks to their summer signings, I expected the Dynamo to come out stronger after the loss to NY. Still it’s a point and I’ll take it.
Considering the Dynamo had a mid-week CCL match in El Salvador, my expectations were low. Then Houston won that without having to play several key starters and my hopes are now buoyed. Toronto played in the midweek as well using their normal lineup, so this actually might end up being a bit of an advantage for Houston. Let’s be honest though, despite winning in Toronto a few weeks ago, we will owe TFC some payback from almost embarrassing us at home in June. Look for the Dynamo to get back to their winning ways on Saturday.
Boris Aguilar, Executive, Red Patch Boys:
Toronto FC has been struggling as of late. Over the weekend they fell 1-0 at homy to Sporting Kansas. Toronto played again on Wednesday night in Columbus and battled hard, but fell short and lost 2-1. Sadly, Toronto (5-15-5, 20 points) has fallen to 0-4-1 in the past five games. Lack of depth and an increased number of games has added to our struggles as of late. There are a number of injuries that are still keeping the bench thin. Our defense has been stretched thin and our strikers cannot find the back of the net. All of these variables together create a formula for disaster (which has been the theme for the season).
Toronto is back on the road on Saturday travelling to Houston. In our last meeting at home Toronto fell short. The meeting before that, Toronto and Houston battled to a draw. One can hope that the team can find their winning way but with the recent amount of injuries and overall mount of games that they played, I don’t see Toronto coming out on top. I see the side putting an a heck of an effort, and playing for the badge but I don’t see a result. I predict a 2-1 Houston win.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Colorado Rapids, Sat 10.30pm
“Nerdy Gales”, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
Stade Saputo has been the cauldron for the Montreal Impact’s hot streak of home victories, the latest of which came last week against the San Jose Earthquakes. For the Quakes, it was more of a house of cards: a 21st-minute altercation between San Jose’s Steven Lenhart and Montreal’s Hassoun Camara saw both players red carded; the resulting spot kick was converted by Chris Wondolowski for his league-leading 18th goal of the season. The Quakes lead lasted a fleeting two minutes before Di Vaio’s equalizer, and Neagle’s go ahead goal for the Impact, forced San Jose to push forward. The inevitable break away – Di Vaio’s dash for goal – could only be nixed by last defender Jason Hernandez; a second red card and another Goonie was a goner. Bernier scored from the resulting penalty, sealing the game 3-1 in favor of the French-Canadian team.
San Jose remains five points clear in the West as they return home to face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. Quakes defender Victor Bernardez fell afoul of the MLS Disciplinary Committee on Tuesday and the absence of Bernardez, Hernandez and Lenhart might be compounded by the tweaked hamstring of speedy midfielder Shea Salinas. Defenders Ramiro Corrales and Ike Opara are likely to return to the back four with regulars Beitashour and Morrow. Up front, Alan Gordon (himself coming off of a two-game suspension) is likely to replace Lenhart as the target man up front with Wondo. This will be the week that Quakes fans find out whether our roster is as deep as we hope. Our own home streak remains unbroken this season, and even with the Rapids struggling in 8th place, they might prove the Quakes toughest home test to date.
Richard Bamber, COO, Bulldog Supporters Group, Colorado Rapids:
It’s a familiar story in Rapidsland with the team taking the lead through a Brian Mullan goal against Chivas USA in a game that both sides desperately wanted to win. However we then let the 3 points slip through our fingers when a defensive mistake allowed Juan Pablo Angel to equalize in the 83rd minute.
It’s not all bad as the capture of Honduran defensive midfielder national captain Hendry Thomas has genuinely excited the faithful. Thomas comes from Wigan Athletic, where he spent 3 years playing Premier League football against world class players week in, week out. Naturally a debate has arisen over whether his signing shuts the door on a potential return for Pablo Mastroeni, who is still out with concussion related symptoms, and even the future of fellow deep lying midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. Hendry, by his own admission is only about 70% match fit the Rapids have yet to receive the necessary transfer paperwork at time of writing, so we’ll wait with interest to see his debut in the next couple of weeks.
As for this weekend it’s pretty simple really:
We are playing the league leaders.
At their place.
And we have lost our last 6 matches on the road.
We’ll pray for an upset but saying we’d be happy with a draw really is an understatement…
Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps, Sat 10.30pm
Michael Pearson, Timbers Army, Portland:
30 minutes of entertaining, exciting and visually appealing soccer wasn’t enough to secure another road point in New York and stretched Portland’s winless streak to 8 games. Once again, the Timbers abandoned their more defensively resolute shape, playing a free-wheeling 4-3-3 – the gamble worked; for a time. The team found acres of space in the middle Zizzo’s two assists and complete dominance led to Hans Backe pulling abused leftback Roy Miller in just the 36th minute, and replacing him with former Timber Kenny Cooper.
From there, the match tightened up. The second half featured several 1v1 chances that the Timbers blew, which led to the seemingly inevitable New York winner at the death. So much of the Timbers season rolled up into one single match. There are positives to take away. Allowing the young guys to focus on getting forward and contributing offensively has seemed to spark the offense, and Zizzo, Songo’o and Nagbe all seem to be much more involved. But changes will have to be made, either to force the team to maintain its shape, or for major upgrades across the backline, for this new style to flourish in MLS in the coming years.
Up next is playoff bound Vancouver in another Cascadia Cup show-down. This one is so hard to read, given the uneven play out of the Timbers recently – and the frankly stronger backline and forward corps of Vancouver gives me pause. Us losing Diego Chara hurts more than Vancouver missing Koffie (both to suspension), and the addition of Robson seems to weight the midfield towards the Whitecaps. Regardless, Jeld-Wen will be rocking, and if Timbers can keep up their new found goal scoring verve, a classic may be in store for those watching.
Brenton Walters, Communications Director, Vancouver Southsiders:
The Whitecaps are coming off two tough losses: a horrible defeat at home to a resurgent Dallas, then a toothless effort against play-off and Cascadia rivals Seattle. In both games we had slightly disjointed line-ups, and in the second were missing both our starting CBs. The loss to Seattle leaves us at the bottom of the Cascadia Cup race and just 5 points up on Dallas for the fifth and final play-off spot. No one played well against Dallas, a truly disappointing game to watch. At least against Seattle we played well for a portion of the game, though playing well didn’t translate into creating chances, and not for the first time this season we went an entire game without registering a shot on net.
On Saturday we face an improving Portland side that is finally finding its scoring touch, though their defence can’t seem to get it together to match their attack. They’ve maintained a decent home form, while our away form is merely middling. The return from suspension of Barry Robson and Jay DeMerit from injury should give us hope, though we’ll be missing midfielder Gershon Koffie, a young player who has shown very high quality and potential this season.
Portland look dangerous on the counter lately, something Seattle used very well against us. Our fullbacks will need to be cautious and alert, especially if our CBs aren’t fully in sync. Look for Mattocks and Richard to trouble the shaky Portland backline with their speed, especially if Portland press for the opening goal. With Robson, Thorrington and Davidson in the centre of our 4-3-3, we should dominate a weakened Portland midfield, and if Miller can find his scoring touch we could come away with 3 points. More likely is a hard-fought (and ultimately disappointing) draw.
Chivas USA vs Seattle Sounders, Sat 10.30pm
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
Last week, Chivas USA traveled to the Rocky Mountains to take on the Colorado Rapids, and try and jumpstart their push for the postseason. The ultimate result was mixed, however, as Chivas tied the Rapids 1-1. While Chivas desperately needed a win and three points against the inconsistent Rapids, they started the game very badly, and it appeared they would lose outright. Colorado midfielder Brian Mullan easily stripped the ball from new Goat Shalrie Joseph at the edge of Chivas’ box, and put Colorado up 1-0 in the 19th minute. From there, it appeared that Chivas had no chance, but two second half subs, forwards Tristan Bowen and Juan Pablo Angel, linked up for an equalizer in the 83rd minute, and Chivas salvaged a point, somehow.
This week, Chivas host the Seattle Sounders at the Home Depot Center. While the Sounders have had some ups and downs this season, they have been playing well lately in the league and will be a very dangerous opponent. For their part, Chivas must find a way to play good two-way soccer for 90 minutes, or else their hopes of moving up the standings will increasingly recede in 2012. Really, at this point, the Goats need to be picking up as many wins as possible, and fans are certainly hoping they can get the job done Saturday.
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
Its hard to ask for much more than a 2-0 shutout against the Whitecaps. Seattle controlled the flow of the game, played lock down defense by not allowing a single shot on target, and both forwards Fredy Montero Eddie Johnson each connected with the back of the net. It moved the Sounders back into the Supporters Shield race after former Sounder Lamar Neagle did us a solid and helped Montreal defeat league leading San Jose.
This week the rave green face another familiar face in James Riley, as they travel to Carson to battle Chivas USA. Riley may no longer play for us, but his impact on the community is still felt to this day, as he’s holding a 7 on 7 tournament this Sunday to benefit the local Boys Girls club in a city that he no longer lives in. We still love you, James – once a Sounder, always a Sounder. On to this matchup, I will say Chivas has made some interesting changes, and while its been difficult to gauge how new acquisition Shalrie Joseph is acclimating himself with their team, its hard to deny the improvements this franchise has made throughout the year. The only question is which Chivas will show up? Either way, it would be a bit of a let down if the Sounders didn’t take 3 points on the road from this team, but it will be difficult getting balls past their keeper Kennedy, as I believe him to be one of the best keepers in MLS. I predict a 1-0 victory, and our keeper Gspurning to continue the dominant display between the sticks.
LA Galaxy vs FC Dallas, Sun 7pm (NBCSN, RDS2)
Josh Guesman, founder, The Section 108 blog, co-host of Corner of the Galaxy podcast, LA:
In a short week that saw the Galaxy trounce Chivas USA 4-0 on a Sunday, and then make a long trip to Columbus for a midweek clash with the Crew on a Wednesday, the 1-1 draw was both deserved and disappointing. A Goal by Robbie Keane in the second half of play leveled the score, but it was the constant pressure inside the Columbus half that should have resulted in a game-winner. But without Landon Donovan (US Men’s National Team Duty) and David Beckham (Olympics) a 1 point result is palatable, especially against an emotional Columbus team playing their first game since the sudden passing of Kirk Urso.
With the short break in league play, the Galaxy will now be able to set their focus on the start of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) on Thursday night against Isidro Metapan, before facing off in a Sunday matinee against a resurgent FC Dallas. Dallas has won their last two game on the road defeating both Vancouver and Real Salt Lake. And while FC Dallas looks to move into a playoff position it will be up to the Galaxy, currently in 4th place, to solidify their hold on their playoff hopes and put some distance between those scuffling to get into the picture.
All three LA Galaxy designated players should be available for the upcoming matches, as well as the Championship back four of Dunivant, Gonzalez, DeLaGarza and Franklin. If Juninho can continue his improvements and the Galaxy find goals from Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, look for the Galaxy to make a statement in both the CCL and League matches this week. Anything short of 3 points from Dallas would be a setback for the Galaxy.
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
The last game went well – any time you get 3 points at Rio Tinto you can’t say many bad things. We scored a very late winner and the team just looked confident throughout – these two road wins are pretty huge given what’s happened this season so far. I read a practice report from training the other day that said for the first time this season that nobody’s rehabbing, so the team are getting their fitness back, but also their discipline too – the stupid cards have generally gone. I’ve been out of the country for a few weeks and when I left Brek Shea was in the doghouse – I get back and he’s starring against Mexico and committing for Dallas. What caused the general turnaround? I hate to pin it on one player, but I think it really helps that David Ferreira is back. He’s creating chances and making people around him raise their game.
This weekend we’re at LA – which is never an easy place to go. But we’re coming off a win at Rio Tinto – something I’ve never been able to say before. And historically we’ve got results in Carson. There’s no reason we can’t get a draw in a very big game, given its play-off implications.
Sporting KC vs New York Red Bulls, Sun 9pm (ESPN2, ESPND, GOL TV Canada, RDS2)
Guardian live game
Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:
Sporting KC is coming off a 1-0 road win against Toronto FC – a win that put the team at the top of the Eastern Conference and two points ahead of this week’s opponent, the New York Red Bulls. This is the first of three matches SKC and NYRB will play over the last three months of the season. The Eastern Conference is heating up, and no doubt, this match will be hard-fought for both teams.
Against Toronto, the lone goal came from SKC’s leading scorer, Kei Kamara. Expect Kamara to be a threat against NYRB as he and Teal Bunbury continue to work well with one another. That being said, an appearance by CJ Sapong as a substitute could very well produce the game winner. Last week, NYRB goal keeper Bill Gaudette came up strong for NYRB with some great saves in a 3-2 comeback at home against the Portland Timbers. Still, Gaudette will need help to shut down SKC’s attack. SKC’s strongest back line – Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic – will likely start and will work to stop NYRB Kenny Cooper’s hunt for goals. Cooper is four goals behind the MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski of San Jose.
Myers and Collin are each a yellow card away from a one-match suspension, but don’t count on these guys being shy. SKC will play aggressively, fueled by the Livestrong Sporting Park atmosphere created by the very passionate Cauldron – something it will be without in its upcoming bouts against NYRB, to be played at Red Bull Arena.
Ian Thomson, The Soccer Observer, New York:
New York Red Bulls visit Kansas City Sunday after collecting just two points from their past six away games – a stretch including blowout losses in Chicago, New England, Montreal and Houston. Nine home wins have kept Hans Backe’s extravagant $16 million squad in contention for the Supporters’ Shield, though it remains unclear whether the Swedish head coach knows his strongest line-up. Top scorer Kenny Cooper sat on the sidelines again last weekend, displaced by Sebastien Le Toux, as Portland Timbers raced into a 2-0 lead at Red Bull Arena. Fortunately Backe has shed his aversion to the substitutes’ bench this year. Cooper’s first-half introduction saw him haul New York back into the game before whistle-happy referee Jasen Anno aided the comeback.
Recent back-to-back clashes with Houston will have prepared New York for Sporting’s 4-3-3 system. Peter Vermes’ side has recovered from a mid-season slump, and Backe must find a way to combat Sporting’s numerical superiority in central midfield – an issue he failed to address in Texas on Aug. 3. Backe’s wide players must stay alert to the foraging runs of full-backs Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers. His defense, the fifth worst in the league, cannot be pulled out of shape by the criss-crossing runs of Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury and Graham Zusi.
Previous road performances suggest that this challenge could be beyond the Red Bulls.