Welcome to all MLS fans, Confederations Cup refugees and those for whom watching the TV ticker bar of possible transfers to and from minor European teams and Premier League benches is no longer cutting it as entertainment.
Yes, we're in the official "dog days" of summer and MLS teams are chugging along, rotating squads with each whirr of the ceiling fan, reluctantly giving up players for the Gold Cup and generally just trying to not be mathematically eliminated before the weather cools down a little. A busy midweek program is out of the way and we're straight into another busy weekend, which kicks off with Friday night's friendly between the USA and Guatemala at Qualcomm Stadium – the one and only friendly Jürgen Klinsmann's de facto B team will be playing before their Gold Cup campaign starts against Belize on Tuesday.
Getting us underway on Saturday evening, a suddenly faltering New England side try to revive at home against a San Jose team who briefly held the lead and a tantalizing possibility of their first winning streak (which rather goes to show how they've slipped this year) against Chicago on Wednesday, only to lose 3-2. That's followed by Houston trying to recover some form of their own against a Philadelphia side who have really hit their stride in recent weeks and who were seconds away from a road win against high-flying RSL on Wednesday night. The evening is closed out with Vancouver aiming for their first Cascadia Cup win since entering MLS against a Seattle side who are edging around the playoff places after another win in midweek.
Vancouver forced a road draw against Sporting on Wednesday, and SKC will have a difficult task improving on that when they travel to the in-form Chicago to open Sunday's games. That's followed by Columbus trying to regroup after a long road trip to LA to face another Western side, when Portland are the visitors. "Portland are the visitors" used to be music to the ears of beleagured MLS coaches everywhere, but not the 2013 Portland, who have RSL in their sights at the top of the West.
Over in the East, leaders Montreal showed their resilience in coming back against Toronto in a wild midweek game. They are scoring a lot but conceding a lot right now, and from a very quiet schedule so far are capping a busy week for an older squad when they face Chivas. The Impact lost to Colorado last week and the Rapids complete a home stand against Eastern opposition when they follow Thursday's game with New York with the visit of DC – who perhaps deserved more out of their game in Seattle the other night than the late goal that consigned them to a 2-0 defeat.
Finally LA look to end the weekend in rather happier form than they ended last weekend against San Jose, when they host Dallas. Dallas have been sliding of late, even if they've showed some resilience to dig out results, while LA have hardly been sweeping all before them either. This could be an important game for both sides.
Well aware of the importance of every game – our crack team of fan reps and writers representing each of the weekend's competing teams. The non-Canadian ones have all been dragged from backyard grills to present their take on the week's big stories for their teams, while the Canadian ones would like to point out that for a fuller picture of the weekend's action you might want to watch Canada vs Martinique when they get the Gold Cup action underway at the Rose Bowl on Sunday afternoon.
Anyway, read what they have to say, add your comments and predictions and don't forget to join us on Monday morning for Five things we learned.
All game times are listed as ET
New England Revolution vs San Jose Earthquakes
Sat 7.30pm, Gillette Stadium
Julie Kumor, Midnight Riders:
The biggest news of the week is probably the Midnight Riders winning their second straight Supporter's Cup over the Rebellion, 4-2. The Riders are now undefeated in Cup play against the Rebellion. It was also a better game than the one in LA. On Sunday afternoon a friend said to me – "there were all these amazing MLS games on last night, and we were stuck watching Revs-Chivas, the worst one."
The loss to Vancouver in league play, DC in Open Cup and uninspired play against Chivas has meant New England fans have gone into full panic-mode. New England fans (this covers all sports) are either on top of the world or at the very bottom, there is no in-between. There is no difference between second place and last. So can the Revs climb out of the perceived last place and get back on track against San Jose? I hope so. We tend to do better over West Coast teams because of the travel time the other team incurs, but I am not sure that with Agudelo's injury and Bengston having lost his confidence that we can grind out a victory over a team that is known for last minute heroics and exciting play. I would like to see Chad Barrett get the start over Bengston because he has shown he can score and fits in better with Fagundez and Rowe. I also like the muscle that Barrett brings to the field, which makes him a good balance to the finesse of Fagundez.
Lisa Erickson, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs to just missing with missing players, it has been a wild ride for the Earthquakes and their fans. The biggest story was the crazy California Clasico where the Goonies came back from a 2-0 deficit to winning 3-2 in front of 50,000 screaming fans at Stanford Stadium. There were paratroopers before the game, a salute to all the branches of the armed forces at halftime, Steven Lenhart's bloody gash to the head that saw him off the field, Victor Bernardez's red card in the 77th minute to bring San Jose down to 10 men … add some Goonie magic by Alan Gordon and Shea Salinas which saw two goals in two minutes during the final three minutes of stoppage time and you've got a true Classic(oh!). The night ended for the fans laughing at the dejected LA players and an awesome firework extravaganza celebrating the USA.
Fast forward to Wednesday night and the Quakes-killer Mike Magee "assisted" in driving in the final nail (or goal) in the Chicago Fire's 3-2 win over a very depleted Quakes side. San Jose basically mustered up a reserve squad due to Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Nana Attakora, Marvin Chavez all being at the Gold Cup; add in Lenhart recovering from those head lacerations, Bernardez and Salinas sitting out due to suspensions (the latter was sat due to the MLS disciplinary committee's decision about an elbow to Keane). All the Quakes can do is hope for some reserve Goonie magic in New England on the weekend!
Houston Dynamo vs Philadelphia Union
Sat 9pm, BBVA Compass Stadium
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
Things are looking grim in Houston lately as the Dynamo are deep in a rough patch. Last week, Houston's 2-0 loss in New York became their sixth straight game without a win. What's more glaring is the fact that Houston can't score – at all. In their last six games, the Dynamo have only scored two goals and in their last two games they have been shut out. Will Bruin is getting much of the heat here by fans, but he'll have a cooling off period as he joins the USA for the Gold Cup. Fans are hoping whatever is causing the young striker to struggle will be fixed with a vacation away from his everyday training exercises.
This week, Houston hosts Philadelphia and will be looking to turn things around in front of a home crowd. We keep trying to see the positives in things and believe the goals will come, but much of that depends on the health of Omar Cummings. Cummings has made his way back from knee surgery so now attention will turn to him as Houston plays without Bruin. It wil be interesting to see how Dominic Kinnear handles the lineup in terms of formation, with Bruin gone. He could opt for a more attack minded 4-3-3 with some speedy players up top and on the wings. In the end, this match has become a must-win if Houston wants to keep pace in the East.
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
How do you give up 97th-minute equalizers in two straight games while playing against 10 men? Did you even know it was possible?
Philadelphia Union pulled off that stunner over the last week, gifting points to two shorthanded clubs at the top of the Western Conference, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Both fielded starting lineups missing key players. Both received red cards, although RSL's Lovel Palmer didn't deserve his. In the end, the Union collapsed twice, unable to kill games under pressure due to defensive mistakes, one by error-prone goalkeeper Zac MacMath and the other by converted left-back Ray Gaddis.
The losses come down in part to the club's weak midfield. The Brazilian World Cup winner, Kleberson, has been more observer than player. Michael Farfan has lost his confidence. Roger Torres can't get off the bench. Keon Daniel was on international duty for the RSL match, but if there's one thing he can do despite a subpar season, it's hold the ball and kill a game. The situation is so bad that manager John Hackworth brought in target forward Aaron Wheeler late against RSL to deploy a lineup with four defenders, two holding midfielders (neither of which is great in possession) and four forwards. Jonathan Wilson would do cartwheels over this inadvertent homage to the 4-2-4.
Union strikers Conor Casey and Jack McInerney have been in great form, but McInerney is off to the Gold Cup. The team's weak links keep holding the club back.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders
Sat 11pm, BC Place (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Brenton Walters, @CapsOffside:
Two road games, two good results. The Whitecaps are managing to get points (a win in DC and a draw in KC) with injuries and missing players, and despite not playing at their best. If that's the mark of a champion, then plan the parade! Some are not convinced by the team because of some luck and the teams we have beaten lately (Chivas, DC, etc), but five wins and two draws in their last eight games isn't all luck. And a lot of those points have been after going down a goal. The team is fighting to stay in games, and Rennie is fitting players in where he can.
Former Whitecap Alain Rochat played a decent game for DC, occasionally causing us some trouble. Odd to see him in the black and red of DC. And there seemed to be a Rochat-shaped hole in our backline against SKC. Rennie has mentioned new players, and a new keeper has joined, but the calls for a full-back to replace the departed Rochat are growing.
And finally, we have a Cascadia game on Saturday. We're still winless in MLS against our Cascadia rivals, but now is as good a time as any to beat Seattle and break that duck. Come on you boys in white!
Dave Clark, Sounder at Heart, Seattle:
A funny thing happened on the way to the "Sounders aren't very good" narrative. Outside of performances against Salt Lake and LA, the Sounders are actually pretty darn good. Those losses matter. They are not a great team, but they are a good team. Winning on Wednesday night sets them up for a result against the Whitecaps. Not only did they get a solid 2-0 win behind Obafemi Martins' (he's tied for seventh in goal scoring in MLS and was not used in back-to-back games until mid-May) they got rest and maybe healing for the most important player on the squad.
Going to Vancouver is one of the easiest road trips in MLS. Sounders FC will bus up, just like a couple thousand fans. When they get to the friendly confines of BC Place (where they have not lost in MLS play) they will meet a Whitecaps squad that is in middle of their annual mid-season rebuild. But during this rebuild, Vancouver is winning.
Seattle knows exactly how to address this Whitecaps squad. They did it just a month ago. That was back before Sigi Schmid had his US national teamers back, before Osvaldo Alonso was back. Sounders FC now has seven wins, all after that horrid start to the season. They have games in hand. They have Oba, Ozzie and a cast of dozens in support. There is no reason to think that some rough water lies ahead. This is a little ski vacation up to BC that Sounders (people of the Sound) are used to taking.
Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City
Sun 3pm, Toyota Park (ESPN)
Scott Fenwick, Editor, On the Fire, Chicago:
Chicago Fire never says die … a 3-2 result at home against San Jose Earthquakes on Independence Day Eve marked yet another come-from-behind win for the Men in Red. On a nine-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, Chicago is the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. Remarkably, the Fire has yet to lose a game since the arrival of Bakary Soumare from the Union and "Magic" Mike Magee from the Galaxy. Young Dilly Duka is rounding into form and the once ice-cold Chris Rolfe is beginning to find the back of the net.
Chicago's fine run notwithstanding, it appears the front office in Bridgeview will make some significant roster changes this month. Failed DP forward Sherjill MacDonald wants out and is looking to return to Belgium, defensive depth must be addressed, and that international striker everyone is pining for should arrive forthwith. By August, expect three or four new players to don Fire red.
This weekend's rumble at Toyota Park versus Eastern Conference regional rival Sporting Kansas City is a statement game. While the Fire has indeed been unbeatable (7-0-2) for six weeks now, its wins have come at the expense of poor-to-middling league foes (DC United, Columbus twice, Colorado and San Jose) and third-division sides (Charlotte Eagles and Orlando City). This Sunday's MLS Game of the Week on ESPN marks an opportunity for Chicago to show a national television audience it can beat a top side. Carpe Diem, Klopas.
Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:
In its first match of the week, Sporting KC drew at home to the Whitecaps. A goal by defender Aurélien Collin gave SKC the lead in the 35th minute, but just before the half the Whitecaps' Camilo scored on a beautifully taken free-kick. No more goals came for SKC despite having had several opportunities. Defender Matt Besler had a great game and homegrown player Kevin Ellis recorded his first MLS career start after making his debut as a substitute last week against the Columbus Crew. Ellis started ahead of Seth Sinovic, who has been playing through injuries and in need of rest.
SKC goes into the weekend match three points from the top of the Eastern Conference, where the Montreal Impact lead with 30 points and two games in hand. The Fire comes into the weekend on a nine-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. The streak began just before the Fire acquired forward Mike Magee on 25 May. Magee, just named MLS player of the month, has scored in five of his last six matches. SKC's defense must look to neutralize the Magee threat. Fans have grown increasingly frustrated with Sporting's performance, and a loss at Toyota Park would bring even more criticism of the club's Manager Peter Vermes. A win for Chicago would be a bump to their playoff chances.
Columbus Crew vs Portland Timbers
Sun 5pm Columbus Crew Stadium
Ian Fraser, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
Columbus almost did what it has done on the road for most of the season last week but they forgot one key piece of their counterattack tactics – defending. The Crew got two goals created by counters but costly mistakes in the back gave SKC a victory.
The Crew are leaking goals, spelling doom for a team supposed to be defense first. Glauber's season-ending ACL injury was welcomed by many as Josh Wiliiams moved to centre-back but it also threw rookie Chad Barson into the fire and teams have been successfully picking on him. Something needs to change along the backline. It could be personnel but Warzycha needs to rethink his philosophy. Relying on the backs to provide width and support for the attack leaves the team exposed when they commit turnovers. They are not providing offensive production to justify the vulnerability.
The saddest part of this stretch, in which Columbus have only won once in six games, is that the coach and front office are content. "The team played well, we just weren't on the right side of the scoreline" is no longer acceptable and shows a lack of recognition that things are not working. It doesn't get any easier at home to a Portland Timbers team that has been one of the league's best. We'll see how hot Warzycha's seat is Monday.
Roger Anthony, Timbers Army, Portland:
The Timbers used their week off to sit back and savor an unbeaten run that is now just shy of four months. The club's reserves got some work in Wednesday, with a friendly against Monarcos Morelia of Liga MX. The front office made productive use of the downtime, signing four starters to contract extensions and hiring a new announcing team following John Strong's ascension to "Voice of MLS" status with NBCSN. Elsewhere on the telecasting front, wwner Merritt Paulson vowed to make sure the club's 7 August Open Cup match in Salt Lake City will be televised back to the home fans. The cup tie means that Portland and emerging front-runner RSL will meet three times during August.
Paulson also fired up his notorious Twitter machine to note that general manager Gavin Wilkinson was keeping himself busy on the eve of the transfer window. A week ago, the club made a quick run to Defenders R Us, picking up 18-year-old Jamaican international Alvas Powell on loan (with option to buy) from Portmore United. By Wednesday, mlssoccer.com was rumoring that 21-year-old forward Leandro Diaz might be coming to Portland on loan from Lanus of Argentina (coached, incidentally, by former Columbus stalwart Guillermo Barros Schelotto).
Riding into Saturday's game, it would be easy for the Timbers to look ahead at the 13 July home showdown with LA Galaxy. Perhaps there's motivation to be found in the geography: Columbus is a mere 200km from coach Caleb Porter's University of Akron proving ground.
Montreal Impact vs Chivas USA
Sun 7pm, Saputo Stadium
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Early warnings signs against the Columbus Crew and the Houston Dynamo have materialized into real problems for the Impact. Losing 4-3 to the Colorado Rapids at Stade Saputo could have been put aside as an exception. But the way the Rapids smothered the Impact midfield was worrisome. Add to that some loose marking in the box and Perkins not being perfect and the Impact seem mortal, beatable and shaken.
Traveling to BMO field to face Toronto FC, the Reds would have seemed a good rebound team, but Ryan Nelsen has a better hold and feel on his squad. Even after taking an early lead the Impact conceded three goals in the first half and all hope seemed to be lost. A comeback performance, led by Marco Di Vaio and invigorated by Felipe (yes that Felipe) and Collen Warner, will be remembered for a long time.
A 3-3 tie between the Impact and Toronto FC is the perfect recipe to kick-start this rivalry, derby, whatever you want to call it. Taking one point from BMO Field could be seen as a good thing and the comeback might temporarily drown the lackluster defensive performance for Les Bleus de Montreal'
There isn't a defense problem at the Impact: there is a ''defensive'' mind-set problem at the Impact.
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
Chivas USA made a massive move this week, signing US international Carlos Bocanegra after he had spent nearly a decade playing in Europe. The Goats, who have continued to cut the roster down to the bone, look like they might actually be trying to become competitive in MLS, which is of course great news for the fans. While Bocanegra can't singlehandedly turn the club around, if he can contribute regularly on the field and if Chivas continue to make positive moves, it could be the start of a revival that was inconceivable just a week ago.
In addition, Chivas USA welcomed back midfielder Eric Avila. After going on trial to Chivas de Guadalajara and causing all kinds of consternation among Chivas USA fans, it is nice to see one of the better performers on the roster come back for at least the rest of the season. And if the reported move of Mexican forward Erick "Cubo" Torres to Chivas USA from Guadalajara comes through, then the Goats could actually see a win again sometime this calendar year. Hey, it's a tiny goal, but we've got to start somewhere.
Colorado Rapids vs DC United
Sun 9.30pm, Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Todd Haggerty, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
The Rapids went into their most recent match, against Montreal, with little or no expectations. Ninety minutes later the 'Pids had claimed all three points in what was one of the team's most exciting matches in recent memory. Looking ahead, supporters are oozing (or sweating) optimism as the team plays five of its next six matches at home. Will this be yet another false dawn, or will the momentum from their improbable victory over the Impact continue?
We will know shortly as the Rapids host DC United. The DC United match should be three points in the bag for the Rapids, but as Montreal learned, you don't play games on paper. Hopefully the 'Pids head this warning and start to narrow the gap between themselves and Salt Lake.
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
After a week and a half of hope, United is back to where it's been most of the season. Looking for answers. The Whitecaps visited RFK and United put together a solid if uninspiring effort and fell on a dubious penalty call, forever marking this game as the Joker in the Middle game, thanks to Ben Olsen's post-game tirade (that cost him $2,000). The biggest news though is that injuries have crept back into the club. First Nick DeLeon's ankle has taken him out, and Dwayne DeRosario left the game with a hip injury. DeLeon, DeRosario, and Chris Pontius have started together three times this season. And that really explains United's woes – the depth hasn't been there to pick up the slack. United then traveled to Seattle to take on the Sounders, but injuries and call ups led to a makeshift lineup. Some changes were fairly seamless (Rochat for Thorrington), while others (Riley for Rochat in the defense and Pajoy for DeRo up front) were not. Pajoy has inexplicably become more ineffective – surely his chances should be done now. The valuable minutes wasted on Pajoy could be time for Ruiz or Townsend to be productive, or at least try.
The transfer window opens this week, and United will surely look to bolster a thin roster, already picking up Jared Jeffrey on his return to the States. Rumors will start to swirl for both changes on and off the field.
LA Galaxy vs FC Dallas
Sun 10.30pm, StubHub Center
The LA Galaxy played perhaps the best 65 minutes of the year against the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium over the weekend. They dominated on offense and defense. They frustrated San Jose into bad passes, rushed shots and limited their ability to find any rhythm. When Victor Bernardez was given his second yellow card in the 77th minute, with the Galaxy up 2-0, the game was locked-up for good. There was no way a 10-man Earthquakes team could score against an 11-man team that had dominated so completely.
Then missed offensive opportunities began to pile up. Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and others were shy in pulling the trigger. San Jose, bolstered by the continued saves and the dodged bullets began counterattacking and, almost like a movie script, tore apart the stunned Galaxy defense for three unanswered goals; two of those goals in stoppage time. Two of those goals were by former LA Galaxy player Alan Gordon.
It's the continued late-game collapses that are hurting LA on their quest to get a third straight MLS Cup. It's both a collapse from the defense who allowed the goals and the offense who failed to bury the reeling Earthquakes. Consistency must be found in the next two games. Columbus & FC Dallas will provide a good challenge. But with Donovan heading off to the Gold Cup, fans are left wondering where the leadership will come from. It didn't come from Stanford Stadium and Bruce Arena will ensure it doesn't come from repeating embarrassing performances.
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
Big story would probably be the Philly game last week. Blas Perez scored an obvious goal that was clearly over the line but we were robbed, and even though we got the equalizer deep into injury time it was a game that left a bad taste, even if to all intents and purposes it was a game we didn't expect much from beforehand, with George John out and Ferreira only available to come off the bench. The team fought hard to get what it did out of the game, but it's still worrying about how vulnerable they are when John doesn't play.
This week sees a couple of games against the two LA teams in quick succession. We played Chivas in the 4th of July game and then it is a very quick turnaround to play the Galaxy, which will be a very difficult game, especially with how they did last week and our travel. I'm just hoping to get through fairly unscathed. No more injuries, no more cards, and a fair shot at a team who've got closer to us in the standings with results slipping a little in recent weeks.