Welcome to MLS week 17 - ushered in around the country by various seasoned internationals bouncing through locker doors with some variation on "THE BIG MAN IS BACK!" and namedropping furiously about "something really funny Jurgen said" that "you had to be there for..."
Yes, the international break is over for about 12 minutes before the Gold Cup starts and we have a pretty full MLS program this weekend (though Montreal, as has become their custom, have taken the weekend off after being forced to play two games in as many months — their 2013 season is currently scheduled to finish during the second half of the third place play off game in the Qatar World Cup).
So what do we have this weekend - Well we have a SuperClasico, as Chivas take on LA at home. LA stopped the rot a little by recording a shutout against Portland, but would like to get back to scoring (and winning) ways against their room mates at the StubHub Center, as we will now call it without giggling.
Chivas took the lead against Vancouver in midweek only to concede two quickfire goals just before half time — a phenomenon familiar to DC fans, who watched their side take a rare lead with a rare goal against Toronto last week, only to throw it away before the first 45 was up. They're trying not to make it 14 games without a win when they host San Jose this weekend, with the Earthquakes coming off a rare road win against Colorado last week. Meanwhile Portland will be trying to make it 15 games without defeat (but a gazillion draws) when they host that Rapids side, who have suddenly lost a little of their perkiness with a couple of quick losses.
The Rapids lost to Chicago and Mike "strictly Panenka" Magee on Wednesday. The Fire head into the always friendly environs of Columbus on Saturday. Expect that one to be feisty — as will the encounter between Philadelphia and New York, third and second in the East, on Sunday.
FC Dallas lost the Supporters Shield lead to Montreal on Wednesday, but could get the lead back with a win over Sporting KC — perhaps easier said than done against a Sporting team itching to get their season back on track after their shock Open Cup exit. The team they beat in last year's final, Seattle, are on the road this weekend to a side they've become familiar with in the past couple of MLS Cup playoff rounds. The Sounders have been shunted out of the playoff positions by the midweek games, but they have games in hand on the teams above them and would dearly love to put a dent in RSL's playoff run.
Houston were the architects of their own misfortune against Montreal - messing up a chance to level through a penalty then gifting their opponents a second. They're up against the master builders of their own misfortune, Toronto, whose game against DC last weekend was chiefly remarkable for their players playing right up to the final whistle and not knocking off five minutes early muttering something about "union rules".
Never knowingly five minutes early, our intrepid team of fan reps and writers for each of this weekend's competing teams have deadline-surfed into place to bring you the week's main stories for their team and to look ahead to the weekend. See what they have to say, add your comments and predictions below and we'll see you on Monday for Five things we learned.
All kick off times are listed as ET
DC United vs San Jose Earthquakes
Sat 7PM, RFK Stadium
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
Just when the team seems to start putting things together, it falls apart. Last week saw some progress away at New England, so a home match with a struggling (who are we to call another team struggling?) Toronto FC side would seem to be a good opportunity to build on the success. And after Nick DeLeon's inspired 45+ yard slicing run through nearly the entire TFC team drew a penalty kick that DeRosario converted that seemed to be the case...for like 10 minutes when Steven Caldwell beat Brandon McDonald (despite being something like a foot shorter than BMac) on a set piece. And if that wasn't bad enough United gave up another goal when another free kick went off of Daniel Woolard for an own goal.
All of this occurred in the first half and none of the second half adjustments seemed to matter. United played without Chris Pontius, Kyle Porter and Ethan White due to injuries, and Carlos Ruiz was playing for Guatemala in some pick up game or something. Would they have made a difference? At this point, likely, no. That said, all four players returned to practice this week, and hopefully they can make an impact against San Jose this week, and the US Open Cup against New England next Wednesday.
Lisa Erickson, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
It's a new era in San Jose soccer! Long live Mark Watson! Watson is this season's winningest coach in MLS with a perfect record! That is right, the Boys in Black and Blue got their first road win of the season in week 16 with a new coach at the helm. But that is not the only changes that were seen on the pitch in Colorado; there was also the sighting of a newly shorn lamb named Steven Lenhart. With his golden locks gone, some of the weight from not having scored yet in 2013 was off his shoulders and he hit a GotW candidate from range. Add to that a goal in the second half by Sam Cronin and the Quakes were able to pull out the win versus the Rapids.
But of course, no game by the Earthquakes comes without a bit of drama and controversy. First, there was the Alan Gordon sandwich that sent Atiba Harris to the showers early and the Quakes forward lucky to have a leg to stand on. Tempers flared in the second half when Hendry Thomas did a hard tackle on Steven Beitashour and Watson decided to kick the ball back towards Thomas. Words between Chris Wondolowski and Thomas flared to the point that it seemed after the match Colorado's Paraja decided to "congratulate" Watson's first MLS win with passionate words and gesticulations.
But that was last week, now San Jose is off to RFK stadium in the nation's capitol to take on the cellar dwelling DC United. It will be a good test for the Quakes to extend their road win record to two and get everyone on board with Watson's style of play. All the Quakes should be back with the exception of Beitashour who is potentially out due to the Thomas tackle.
Columbus Crew vs Chicago Fire
Sat 8PM, Crew Stadium
Ian Fraser, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
The Crew's play last week wasn't that far off from performances they have shown in a lot draws and losses but this time they managed to get some early goals and a rejuvenated defense produced a shutout. I said earlier this year that this team is going to have its up and downs and after a prolonged period on the downside this past weekend provided an up desperately needed around Columbus. The Crew's previous wins have come against the league's worst teams and in games against quality competition they have had to settle for draws or close losses (with exception of Philly away) that left Robert Warzycha constantly lamenting 'undeserved results' while the calls for his firing grew louder. A win over the league's first place team has probably bought him some more time but his seat is still as hot as ever with the fans.
The difference was the return of Chad Marshall, Josh Williams and Danny O'Rourke to the lineup solidifying the defense. Columbus lost defender Glauber via an ACL tear but this may have been a blessing in disguise as it forced Warzycha to move Josh Williams to CB - many have preferred the Marshall/Williams pairing since last season. Warzycha's tactics are based around solid defending and these 3 provide the best core.
After laying down in their first league meeting and getting bounced in the Open Cup, Columbus owe Chicago and anything short of 3 points this week is inexcusable. It's simple: BEAT YOUR RIVAL.
Scott Fenwick, Editor, On the Fire, Chicago:
Despite periodic mental breakdowns and stretches of undisciplined play versus the Rapids on Wednesday night, Lady Luck led the Fire to a 2-1 victory over Colorado at Toyota Park, in a nail-biter that extended Chicago's unbeaten streak to six across all competitions. "Magic" Mike Magee netted yet another goal for Chicago, a nifty, first-half PK conversion that marked his fifth in as many games since donning Fire red. With nine MLS goals, Magee currently finds himself second in MLS's Golden Boot race. Upcoming, the Men in Red face fixtures against Columbus (Saturday) and Orlando City (next Wednesday).
Chicago is in the midst of a three-game stretch in a mere seven days. As such, we'll see how Frank Klopas's roster decisions reveal his priorities. Which is more important right now: a road win at the Crew, a fellow middling Eastern Conference foe who the Fire trail by five points (with a game in hand), or a single-elimination U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal battle at home versus tournament darlings Orlando City, the third division (USL Pro) side who achieved the improbable by shutting out 2012 Cup champs Sporting Kansas City on the road?
It's likely Chicago will have to expend a lot of energy to get a result at Crew Stadium, a place where Columbus recently shut out Montreal 2-0. In the end, if the Fire are to solidify their claim as "Kings of the Cup" this year, Klopas should field a (mostly) reserve squad on Saturday and rest his starters for next Wednesday.
FC Dallas vs Sporting KC
Sat 8.30PM, FC Dallas Stadium
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
The word I used to describe last week's game- while it was still happening- was maddening. So often I feel like this team suffers losses and other misfortunes as a result of oversight or poor decision making. The Portland game was a product of the former. Blas Perez was already missing due to national team duty with Panama (same story, different week). Things got crazy, however, when Kenny Cooper flew back to Dallas on Saturday morning to deal with a family emergency. Down two out of our three strikers, it all came down to Eric Hassli to put the team on his back and the ball in the net.
... for eight whole minutes.
Playing without your ENTIRE offense for 82 minutes begs the question: WHY didn't we travel with homegrowns Bradlee Baladez or Jonathan Top on the bench? Are they wildly inexperienced? Yes, but they're also better offensive options than JeVaughn Watson (who subbed in for Hassli). The boys fought hard, but Nagbe scored one of those goals that you just couldn't help. We couldn't respond; we just didn't have the firepower.
Kansas City at home is up next. They're a solid team who always put up a good fight. Hassli's status is the only one that we're unsure about, but that's not my main concern going into this game. The Cauldron are reportedly bringing 500 supporters to Dallas; that much support can do a lot for an away team. Here's hoping we can keep our wits about us and come away with three points.
Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:
It has been over a month since Sporting Kansas City won a match in MLS competition. And the bad taste from losing to PDL affiliate Orlando City SC in the third round of US Open Cup is still in many mouths. Following a brief break, SKC returns to MLS competition this weekend against Western Conference leader FC Dallas. This will be the first and only face-off between the two this season.
Defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi will be with the team, following national duty. Besler again proved his worth to the USMNT during this latest round of CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup qualifiers. With Besler on the pitch, the USMNT has only surrendered one goal. Seven players were away on international duty during this break, wearing SKC thin. Benny Feilhaber was disappointing against Orlando City SC. That match was a perfect opportunity for him to make the case that he deserves more minutes. Unfortunately, he did not. Also concerning was Claudio Bieler and CJ Sapong's inability to finish opportunities. Moving forward, this weekend Kei Kamara, Besler and Zusi will be available, as well as Teal Bunbury who made his return from injury against Orlando City SC.
FC Dallas lost its third match of the season to Portland Timbers last weekend giving up just one goal. Kenny Cooper was absent for that match responding to a family emergency, but he will be with his team as it faces a desperate-for a-win SKC and 650 traveling supporters.
Houston Dynamo vs Toronto FC
Sat 9PM, BBVA Compass Stadium
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
With quite a bit of rest, one would think the Dynamo would have given the Eastern Conference leader Montreal Impact a run for their money. On Wednesday night, that wasn't exactly the case. The Impact used two first half goals and solid defending to shut out the Dynamo 2-0. It wasn't all gloom for Houston as the game was a bit closer than the scoreline suggested. But Giles Barnes missed a penalty kick and the Dynamo couldn't capitalize on other opportunities throughout the match.
Unfortunately for the Dynamo, they are winless in five straight league matches with three of those games being defeats. The good news is Houston is getting over the injury bug and should have their international stars back for this weekend's match. Omar Cummings was back on the pitch and should round into form over the next few weeks. Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia are on their way back to Houston and should be available for Saturday's game against Toronto FC. Toronto is struggling this year and could be the perfect opponent for the Dynamo go get back on the confident side against. After dominating opponents at home for nearly two years, they've dropped two home games recently and will hope to get back on the winning side of things at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Sonja Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp:
Toronto FC won their last game. Let that sink in; it's not a phrase that TFC writers often type. Of course, replace the word "last" with "second" and the sentence would continue to remain true, but as a cruel reminder than a jubilant sentiment. But, whatever, let's focus on the positive: Toronto beat DC United 2–1 last weekend, securing the Reds' spot as second last in the Eastern Conference, five points head of the aforementioned team. In true Toronto fashion, the match was a theatrical masterpiece, but for once, it did not end in tragedy. The game always promised to be interesting, not just because of the similar table ranking, but because of personal vendettas coming into the match.
It was the return of TFC president Kevin Payne and coach Ryan Nelsen to DC United, a team they were both formerly involved with. It was also Toronto FC versus Dwayne De Rosario, a player that bounces from Canadian darling to MLS heel. And heel he was, scoring a penalty against his former team and hometown city, however, the Reds would come back to eventually beat United 2 -1.
The win has Toronto on a high, especially after the recent announcement of Terry Dunfield—another Canadian darling—being waived by TFC. However, a single (well, now second) win will not be enough to convince fans of the Payne/Nelsen Plan and Toronto FC still have a long summer to make up for lost time—and points—not accumulated in the spring.
Real Salt Lake vs Seattle Sounders
Sat 9PM, Rio Tinto Stadium
Matt Montgomery, Under the Crossbar, Real Salt Lake:
Just days after hosting its first international match in four years, Rio Tinto Stadium returns to business as usual with Real Salt Lake facing a surging Seattle Sounders. And, in business-as-usual style, injuries are making things a little interesting. Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe — the first-choice center back and his probable back-up — are both out, and perhaps for an extended period. Alvaro Saborio is coming off an international break in which he played substantial minutes for Costa Rica despite coming off an injury. Carlos Salcedo is likely to start at center back alongside veteran Nat Borchers, which doesn't seem so bad. Encouraging, too, is the fact that RSL has been without Saborio for some time, so that is even less worrying than it might otherwise be.
The improvement of the attack has been the much-vaunted story of recent weeks: Olmes Garcia has been inspirational, Joao Plata has been a playmaking forward that fits the system perfectly, Devon Sandoval has come up in big moments, and Robbie Findley's even starting to come around. But that all tends to ignore the defensive improvements seen and continued changes in the midfield. It's not just that some players have started scoring from the midfield, but that the whole system has adapted to challenges with greater ease. With Seattle coming for a visit, it'll be as essential as ever for Jason Kreis's side to keep at the tactical shifts across the squad that have produced results.
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
This week has been exciting for the Sounders supporters, despite no games played, through having two US nats, in Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson, bag goals in back to back matches in World Cup qualifying — the former being a game winner in extra time in Jamaica and the latter in front of the home crowd in Seattle against Panama. Then to find out our starting right back home grown player, DeAndre Yedlin will be competing in the U-20 world cup has given Cascadians a tad bit more reason for nationalistic energy of late.
The time off has certainly allowed for rest from key injured players, like Osvaldo Alonso. It's unclear if Evans new found success at right back will change his role with the Sounders or if Zach Scott will assume those duties with Yedlin's temporary absence, but it didn't stop the front office from making an offer for Obafemi Martins' former Levante teammate, David Navarro. Adding the Spaniard would certainly make for an impenetrable central defense, but this is the silly season, so time will tell in the next couple weeks what comes from this. We're certainly liking our recent form, and feeling very confident, despite a rough road match up against RSL, coming up with a key away point is more than possible especially with the recent play from our home town forward, Lamar "NeaGoal", arguably one of the best at his position in the past month.
Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls
Sun 5PM, PPL Park (ESPN)
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Union will play their first regular season game in more than two weeks when the New York Red Bulls come to town on Sunday, but there's an increasing realization that this rivalry just isn't as big a deal as many want it to be. Yes, PPL Park will probably sell out. Yes, the game will be on national TV. But have there been any great matches, fights or red card festivals between them, as there are regularly when the Union play D.C. United? It's just not there yet. Many Philadelphia fans look up I-95 with animosity toward any New York area team, because rivalries in the other major sports (particularly football and hockey) have fostered it. But soccer? The animosity has yet to be earned. Maybe Sunday's match can change that.
The other big news of the week is the signing of veteran Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Oka Nikolov. Union manager John Hackworth said Wednesday that Zac MacMath, the league's youngest starting goalkeeper, remains his starter despite his struggles in the net. Nikolov is 39 years old and expected to join the club as part player, part goalkeepers coach. In more than 20 years with Frankfurt, however, Nikolov's coaches repeatedly pushed him aside, only to slide him back into the starting lineup and watch him lead his team to key wins, as he did this past season in helping his team to a 6th place finish. Who knows? It could happen in Philadelphia too.
Dan Dickinson, Sports editor, Gothamist, New York:
After what will have been three weeks off – never mind that debacle of a US Open Cup game against New England – the Red Bulls are finally ready to get back to work in league play. There was a lot of handwringing when the break started, as most everyone else had played less than New York, particularly Montreal, who had four games in hand and one point on the second place Red Bulls. But after all this time off, RBNY find themselves still in second place. Things aren't quite level on the standings table (Montreal still has two games in hand), but whether or not the Red Bulls fall down the table lies more in their own hands than the quirks of MLS scheduling.
That first game back will be a trip south to Philadelphia, facing off against the Union for the second time this year (and only trip this year to the Happiest Place On Earth, Chester PA). NY's first win of the year came thanks to Philly, and the Red Bulls have managed to run five straight wins against their rivals (or not, depending on which supporters you ask). Still, Jack McInerney has gotten hot with the goal scoring, and New York will be missing Jamison Olave thanks to a red card against Vancouver - so the defensive line that fell apart in Boston will have their work cut out for them on Sunday.
Portland Timbers vs Colorado Rapids
Sun 7PM, JELD-WEN Field (NBCSN)
Michael Pearson, Timbers Army, Portland:
Games are coming fast and furious and Timbers still are unbeaten since March, something few fans could have dreamt at the season outset. Although the Galaxy game lacked the offensive firepower we've come to expect out of Timbers' games, it did show how much the defense has matured and solidified after so many different starting lineups trotted out due to injuries. Andrew Jean Baptiste and Pa Modou Kah were excellent in the center against a bevy of current and future MLS all-star attackers, and Donovan Ricketts continued his 2013 revival as the Timbers and Galaxy played to a 0-0 draw. Deep down, there is some regret that this new-look PTFC, who seem to be able to score at will this year, couldn't nick one against a defense that had given up 8 goals in just two games, but it was seemingly not to be.
Quickly, the Timbers turn their attention to a Sunday matchup against a getting-better-as-they-continue-to-get-healthy Colorado Rapids, in what should be a physical match. With their 5th match in just 16 days, and another midweek open cup match against FC Dallas looming in the Texas heat, it will be interesting to see how much the team has left in the tank. Hopefully the subtle squad rotation instituted by Porter will pay its dividends and Timbers offensive spark is ignited at home in Jeld-Wen.
Todd Haggerty, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
The Rapids traditional summer swoon appears to have arrived as the team has now dropped three of their last four matches (all competitions). The most recent loss to the Chicago Fire included a demonstration of ineptitude of the highest quality by both teams and the officials--including Tony Cascio's hitting the post from six inches out (what has happened to Cascio this season?).
Unfortunately for the Rapids supporters, the teams upcoming schedule is likely to inflict even more even more summertime misery. This weekend the Rapids travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the streaking Timbers in a nationally televised match. With the Rapids back-line producing a comedy of errors and the Timbers current form, only a victory by the home team seems possible. On a sad note, the Rapids bid adieu to a club legend as they shipped Pablo Mastroeni to the Galaxy. Anyone who spends 12 years with a team, especially this team, is incredibly courageous and slightly crazy . Good luck to ya Pablo, we will save a spot for you in the terraces.
Chivas USA vs LA Galaxy
Sun 11pm, StubHub Center (UniMas)
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
This week, Chivas USA got back to MLS action, playing the Vancouver Whitecaps in British Columbia. Their new coach Jose Luis Real was finally on the sideline leading the squad, and although they took a lead, they ultimately crumbled, losing 3-1. What's promising from the game? They played better than they have of late. What's not very promising? They still played at a level far below their opponent. Change doesn't often take place overnight, but with the roster being continually depleted of quality, it's hard to imagine exactly how they can get back to winning ways.
The big story off the field has been the departure of midfielder Eric Avila, who trained with Chivas de Guadalajara while they were in town, and has now returned to Guadalajara with the team. He apparently said farewell to his Chivas USA teammates, and although it appears he'll be on an extended trial with Chivas ahead of the Liga MX season, he's eager to play in Mexico and the team seems to be seriously considering adding him to their roster. Although I am happy Avila's getting a chance to fulfill a dream, I think the move, which will likely come with no compensation for Chivas USA, is more evidence that this team is being completely mismanaged. In an effort to strengthen one team in the ownership group, they will weaken the other, and I fear there will be no reinforcement to replace Avila's quality on Chivas USA.
Consistency - It's something the LA Galaxy have been missing. Whether consistency has lacked from results or from lineups, it's something the players, coaches, and fans are all clamoring for.
Coming off a 0-0 draw with one of MLS's hottest teams, the Portland Timbers, the Galaxy are once again calling for consistency, concentration and a total 90 minute performance. While the offense may have been unable to find it's footing, the return of Todd Dunivant and the outstanding play of AJ DeLaGarza seems to have put the defense in a much better state of mind.
Fans want to dismiss the rather uneventful Timbers' game as another example of the LA Galaxy not living up to expectations; in a city that is used to championships you can understand the frustration. However, key absences early this year have really effected this team. Look at players like Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, and Todd Dunivant. These are all players that have missed significant training time and game time. And if we're being completely honest, the trade of Mike Magee devastated this offense in the short term.
But most of that will change. All the players listed above seem to be coming back to form. Robbie Rogers received his first LA Galaxy start. Jack McBean (coming off a broken Collarbone) was inserted late into the Portland game. The pieces that were missing are starting to make their way back. And for this LA Galaxy team, a consistent pool of available players is all they are asking for right now.