Welcome to our weekly MLS round up – now with Gold Cup plating and brought to you in association with the word "Wondolowski". Or perhaps that's "Wondowlowski" if you're the luckless US kit man charged with making your best guess with the iron-on letters, and who probably consoled himself by thinking, "He'll probably have a quiet game anyway…" (fair play to Wondo and said kit man, Jess Bignami, for tweeting a picture of them holding up the offending item)
Wondolowski's hat-trick against Belize, taking his international total from zero in 11 games, to four in 13, must have been watched with bittersweet feelings by a San Jose support who, never mind Supporters Shield repeats, must be thinking their playoff chances are dangling by a thread. The Earthquakes probably need two points per game from here on and even that might not be enough. They start against Seattle on Saturday night – the Sounders have a few games in hand on most of the teams around them, but last week's defeat by Vancouver hasn't changed the perception that they are folding in the big games. The Whitecaps will be confident in hosting a Chicago side who finally lost with Mike Magee in the side.
Rewind to Friday night, and Wondolowski's recent prowess may have postponed Philadelphia fans' ability to have a bittersweet moment of their own at the sight of seeing Jack McInerney in a US shirt. He'll be absent on Gold Cup duty for the arrival of Chivas, who are beginning to stabilize a little and went very close to upsetting a teetering Montreal last week. Not that Montreal have suffered unduly from rivals closing the gap. They travel to New York on Saturday night with the Red Bulls on a mini slide of their own after a winning run in spring, while the side that has stealthily climbed into second in the east, Sporting KC, host Toronto FC – soon to be hosting a forlorn/Forlan punfest near you, if recent reports are to be believed.
Houston did a goal! The Dynamo broke their scoreless streak in emphatic fashion last week. Well they scored, anyway, and move on to New England, who are sticking doggedly with the group trying to break free in the playoff places in the East. With Columbus not playing, the balance of those middle standings could look a little different by the end of the weekend. Or not – it's been that sort of season.
Speaking of that sort of season, the frontrunners in the West, partly by default it seems, are headed to the side that defaulted – RSL go to Dallas hoping to take advantage of the hosts' continuing slump in results, while later on Portland attempt to put the loss of their unbeaten record behind them against an LA side who've started putting results together in ominous fashion.
"Putting results together in ominous fashion" every week – our sleekly efficient body of fan reps and writers representing each of this weekend's competing teams. They're on hand with their take on the week that was and the weekend that might be. See what they have to see and add your own comments below. Then join us for live coverage of USA vs Cuba on Saturday, and return on Monday morning with faces full of rueful experience as we review just what we learned this weekend (just don't expect us to have learnt how to spell "Wondolowski"…)
All kick-off times are listed as ET
Philadelphia Union vs Chivas USA
Fri 7.30pm, PPL Park
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Union limp into Friday's game against Chivas USA having taken two points from three games. Two of those matches ended as draws after the Union twice surrendered 97th-minute equalizers against 10-man teams, a feat likely unmatched in the history of American soccer. The third match saw a fatigued and shorthanded Union lose 1-0 to a similarly shorthanded Houston team.
The Chivas USA match presents intriguing storylines. Gabriel Farfan returns to PPL Park for the first time since the Union traded him in May. He could play against his twin brother, Michael, for the first time as a professional. Separately, former US captain Carlos Bocanegra debuts for Chivas, and one wonders not only how he will perform but also how he will be welcomed in his MLS return.
Finally, the Union will have two new players available now that the summer transfer window is officially open: goalkeeper Oka Nikolov and left-back Fabio Alves. Neither is expected to start, but both play in positions the Union needed to upgrade. Nikolov's arrival marks the first time since Zac MacMath became the Union's regular starting goalkeeper that he will have legitimate veteran competition for his spot. MacMath is the league's youngest starting keeper and has often looked it. He is a talented shot-stopper whose mental mistakes and unfortunate errors have combined to sap his confidence. Alves will seek to replace Ray Gaddis, who could start for many teams at right-back but has struggled on the left.
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
The positive momentum is finally starting to build for Chivas USA. After three straight months of horrible form, the Goats have three draws in their last three games. Yes, they have given up leads in two of those matches and yes, they still haven't won in league play since March, but there's at least a bit of hope that this team won't lose out the rest of the way. As I've stressed more than once, this team has to start somewhere, and the recent results are promising.
The other news this week is that in addition to the arrival of Bocanegra, Chivas have signed the 16-year-old forward Caleb Calvert to a Homegrown contract, and brought in Mexican forward Erick "Cubo" Torres on loan from Chivas de Guadalajara. Both players will probably see at least some playing time, but Torres is the player who will be expected to start scoring early and often. It appears the defense is improving each game, but work needs to be done on the offensive end and if Torres (and possibly Calvert) can get the scoring going, Chivas' prospects should continue to improve in what has been a brutal season so far.
New York Red Bulls vs Montreal Impact
Sat 7pm, Red Bull Arena (TSN2, RDS)
Dan Dickinson, Sports editor, Gothamist, New York:
All credit to Don Garber and Major League Soccer for achieving the impossible – I can't remember any game in the history of the league, let alone the sport, where there has been so much drama and anticipation about away goal kicks. The league has told the New York's supporters groups that the "You Suck A**hole" chant at opposing goalkeepers must stop, and the Red Bulls front office decided to incentivize it further with money for the supporters' fund if the chant is excised across multiple games. Debate has been both tireless and tiresome. Is this "modern football" gone mad? Will the chant endure, not because it's a particularly good chant, but because of a desire to stick it to Don Garber, a figure rarely liked in Harrison circles?
"YSA Gate" has overshadowed the fact that the Red Bulls host Montreal in a remarkably important match. Both teams have won just one of their last five, with New York flailing at Colorado and Montreal struggling to salvage a draw from the likes of Toronto and Chivas. It is a classic six-pointer, one New York will need to win outright to calm their doubters and stop talk of their annual "summer swoon".
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
The momentum is halted but the Impact are still the Eastern conference leaders with two games in hand. After a 3-3 thriller against Toronto FC, the Impact only managed a 1-1 tie against Chivas USA. The good news is that bench players Collen Warner and Sanna Nyassi stepped up and were able to prove their worth from the start. The bad news is that the Impact look a bit more predictable after only taking two points out of a possible nine.
Facing the Red Bulls, the return of Justin Mapp will be a boost but Red Bull Arena has not been kind to the Impact. Matteo Ferrari will not forget Thierry Henry bicycle kick and the club hopes to break the curse of NJ. With the Impact being a bit more predictable lately, we can still expect Marco Schallibaum to stick with his two-striker formation.
I do not believe in the defensive stability of the Red Bulls – at least in how it organizes itself. It compensates with a physical presence but Paponi and Di Vaio can make it rain. On the other hand, the more organized Impact defense will suffer against a more athletic Red Bulls offensive crew, led by Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. After playing against "weaker" teams, the Impact face tough opposition now and it starts against a big team with big names (less Juninho).
New England Revolution vs Houston Dynamo
Sat 7.30pm, Gillette Stadium
The Revs Roller Coaster continues. A tough loss to Vancouver and two lackluster performances against basement-dwellers DC United and Chivas has now been followed up by a complete and dominating performance against a depleted San Jose side.
At the very least, the Revs play a much more pleasing style of soccer over last season. They've found some great diamonds in the rough and have increased the overall skill level of their squad quite a bit. Jose Goncalves, Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo and Andrew Farrell have all come in to the club on shrewd and impressive deals. It's really quite the haul. It really makes you wonder what kind of squad they would have if they didn't waste three of their biggest contracts. Jerry Bengston, Kalifa Cisse, and Juan Toja all have big veteran contracts, were expected to do a specific job, and have all played a marginal role at best.
This coming Saturday the Revs have a huge opportunity to make a statement. The Houston Dynamo are coming to town and they are only two points ahead and have played one more match.
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
Last week, Houston finally got back in the win column with a narrow 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. For weeks, the talk in Houston has been the inability of the Dynamo to score – namely their two forwards, Giles Barnes and Will Bruin. Even though the Dynamo ended up on the right side of the scoreline, there were plenty of missed chances and much of the game echoed their previous matches. Ricardo Clark was the savior on the night, but he was also lucky for having another chance after missing a perfect opportunity earlier in the game.
In all honesty, the Dynamo did look hungrier and more energetic offensively and fans are hoping that trend continues.
Next up for Houston are three important conference battles – starting this weekend with New England on the road. A few weeks back, the Revs came into BBVA Compass Stadium and shocked the Dynamo with a 2-0 win. For added fun, the Houston and New England game will be the first time the clubs have met since Brian Ching's extremely direct post-game comments about the Rev's time-wasting and diving in their last match. It'll be interesting to see if those comments impact the behaviors of either side.
Sporting KC vs Toronto FC
Sat 8.30pm, Sporting Park
Mike Kuhn, Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City:
The talking point this week is whether Kansas City have found their form. Heading into last week against the Columbus Crew, Sporting KC had won just two of their previous nine league games. During that time frame they also bowed out of the US Open Cup in the second round to an affiliate club, Orlando City. Big questions were starting to be asked about the way the team was playing.
Against the Crew, though, KC got their first home win in MLS play since early May, and while the scoreline was 3-2, it wasn't that close as Columbus scored on their only two shots on goal. KC got a 1-1 draw against a streaking Vancouver team, but they still looked better and with a better deflection off the post KC wins that 2-1. Then KC went into Chicago, a place where they traditionally have been quite poor, and were able to pick up a 2-1 win. Picking up seven of nine points in a little over a week jumped KC from fifth to just one spot out of first.
Now it's just a matter of whether Kansas City will be able to keep that form up. Facing a Toronto side that has struggled again this year, it's certainly an opportunity for Kansas City to continue their current unbeaten run and get a measure of revenge for their early 2-1 loss in Toronto this season.
Duncan Fletcher, Waking the Red, Toronto:
What's the big story for Toronto FC? Well, coming off a bye week there's a few stories, one of them an almost huge one. That would be Diego Forlan. Rumours of him coming to TFC got stronger over the weekend, leading to a reporter finally coming out on Monday and saying yes, it will happen. There's been the expected denials from Forlan, his agent and his current club, while TFC themselves settled on, 'yes we're talking but there's nothing concrete'. And so we wait.
While we wait, TFC did make one trade, promising young midfielder Luis Silva sent to DC United for allocation money – Kevin Payne does love his allocation money. Though he hadn't really contributed much this season, it's still an odd move for a team that's purportedly trying to build around youth. Without knowing how much allocation money came back and what they plan to do with it, we all have to just warily trust that it will all work out.
Going into the game in Kansas City, Danny Koevermans has re-injured himself so won't be available, though Robert Earnshaw and Richard Eckersley are fit for selection, the Englishman Eckersley joining Irishman Darren O'Dea and Scotsman Steven Caldwell, meaning TFC's defence is now literally a joke. With four players away on Gold Cup duty with Canada, much to Ryan Nelsen's annoyance, it'll be a very threadbare bench as TFC look to build on what has been a relatively promising last month or so.
FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake
Sat 9pm, FC Dallas Stadium
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
We're slumping. It happens every year but it doesn't make it any easier to take. In some ways it's just how we roll – we slump in summer, begin to pick up a little in late August/early September and limp into the playoffs, but when it's happening, even minor injuries seem bigger and you start looking down the depth chart in alarm.
But even allowing for all that our form is definitely a concern. The last big win was on 25 May against San Jose, and now we haven't won in something like six games and haven't scored in the last two. Part of me wants to put it down to the coach tinkering with the lineup but to be fair I don't think that's really true – most of the changes he's made have been consistent with injuries, suspensions and call-ups.
And yet despite it all we're still in second and hosting a team that has never got anything out of Texas. The pessimist in me wants to look at the current run and say this is where Salt Lake break their streak and take one or three points with them, but I also think this is as good a game as any to rally and survive a test of character. Nobody's pulling away in the league and all the points we won at the start of the year have still got us sitting nicely even through this spell. Nobody should panic, but it would be nice to turn this streak around at the weekend.
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective
Real Salt Lake made history a couple weeks ago with their 1-0 win at Toronto FC – it was their first win in Canada. Now RSL will look to pick up their first MLS win in the state of Texas – going 0-11-2 in all competitions so far. The team is also riding an 11-match (all competitions) unbeaten streak. It will be a tough match for RSL, though, as they are missing four starters due to Gold Cup duty (Alvaro Saborio, Costa Rica and Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Tony Beltran, all with the USMNT). RSL will also be missing Lovel Palmer, who picked up a red card in RSL's 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union on 3 July.
Winning on the road used to be a huge challenge for RSL, but this year they are tied for the most road wins (four) with Sporting KC, and their recent form includes three wins in their last four road matches. Given the form of both sides this might be a great chance for RSL, as FC Dallas haven't won a match since late May and are 0-2-3 in the last five matches as opposed to RSL's 4-0-1. I look for a big match from RSL's Luis Gil, who has returned from the Under-20 World Cup in sharp form, while FC Dallas always seem to be as dangerous as David Ferreira is – this year he gets some help from Michel, who has really been a game changer. Can RSL pick up their first win in Texas? It won't be easy but the trends for both sides would point to yes and probably a 2-1 result.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Seattle Sounders
Sat 10.30pm, Buck Shaw Stadium
Robert Jonas, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
What a difference a week makes. Following a stunning California Clasico comeback win, the Earthquakes seemed poised to embark on a push to qualify for the playoffs. From coaches to players, the message was clear: "We are confident and able to get it done."
And then a two-game road trip through Chicago and Boston happened. With a roster decimated by injuries, international call-ups and suspensions, the Quakes fought valiantly in a 3-2 loss to the Fire before slumping to a depressing 2-0 loss to the Revolution. The high of beating the Galaxy in front of a packed Stanford Stadium was replaced by the low of seeing all the momentum vanish in the blink of an eye.
The Earthquakes limp home to the friendly confines of Buck Shaw Stadium, where they have lost only once this season, to play four of their next five league matches. Is it too late for the defending Supporters' Shield winners to overcome their eighth-place-standing in the Western Conference? Well, a look at the numbers does not paint a rosy picture. With three teams to surpass in the table to nip the last playoff spot, the Quakes will likely need to add another 30 points to their pitiful 21 already earned. To do so means closing out the season averaging 2.14 points per game – winning 10 of their remaining 14 would do the trick – something even last year's fabulous finishers the Galaxy did not do.
The Earthquakes are not mathematically eliminated from postseason qualification, but they are getting awfully close to being realistically eliminated. It might seem premature to say it, but the Goonies have entered stoppage time in their 2013 season and, weakened squad or not, they need results now. Does San Jose simply need to take it, as the cliché suggests, one game at a time? Sure, as long as each one is a win.
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle
It was great seeing the franchise's all-time leading scorer, Fredy Montero, back in town this past week, but he wasn't practicing with the squad. Although he's still technically a Sounder, his loan to Milionarios in Colombia has ended and it's looking like a move to the Portuguese league is imminent as Sporting Lisboa is about to pay the $3.25m transfer fee. How this affects the Sounders during the silly season remains to be seen, but with Mario Martinez looking less and less likely to sign now that his loan spell from Real Espana has ended, one thing the supporters haven't lacked throughout the franchise's history is confidence in the front office to get quality talent in and a commitment to bringing the MLS Cup to Seattle.
As for this weekend's match against the Quakes, the only question the Sounders supporters are asking is which team will show up? The one who lost 1-0 or the one that beat them 4-0. This has been one of the strangest campaigns of the franchise's five years thus far, at times looking like an unstoppable force and at other times looking lethargic. Overall they've had a good season. Unfortunately, expectations from the supporters isn't to be good, but great. The great news is the return of Osvaldo Alonso from injury and DeAndre Yedlin from U20 World Cup play. That should provide a significant sense of security for keeper Michael Gspurning and an improved attack from the right with the speedy Yedlin being able to cover more ground moving up, thus moving Rosales a bit more central to create more scoring opportunities for Martins, Johnson and/or Neagle.
Portland Timbers vs LA Galaxy
Sat 11pm, JELD-WEN Field (NBCSN)
Portland has had quite a week from a national perspective, first hosting the USMNT's 6-1 rout of Belize in the Gold Cup, and then announcing the city as host of the 2014 MLS All-Star Game. Yet the week was not perfect for the Rose City, as the Timbers lost for the first time since 9 March, 1-0 away to the Columbus Crew.
While the club suffered several disappointing results in its now-ended 15-game unbeaten streak, none was a loss. Clearly dropping three points for the first time in four months is not cause for serious concern but with key players away on international duty and a red-card suspension looming, perhaps hosting the Galaxy on Saturday night is not the best of timing.
Frédéric Piquionne and Rodney Wallace are both playing in the Gold Cup this week while captain Will Johnson has been with Canada but is back home recovering from an illness. Meanwhile, Pa Kah will miss the Los Angeles match after his 11th-minute sending off at Crew Stadium. That will likely press Futty Danso back into service, though his observing of Ramadan combined with an 8pm Pacific kick-off could make for a very long day for the Timbers' Gambian defender.
The end of a long unbeaten run brings perspective, but it also holds the potential for previously unseen vulnerability. As a coach who rarely lost at the collegiate level, Caleb Porter will get a chance to show how he responds to Portland's first real adversity since week two.
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
With the LA Galaxy netting four goals over the Fourth of July weekend, and only surrendering one, the optimistic version of events says that LA are back. Robbie Keane said that any day now the Galaxy were going to score a lot of goals and the version that played against FC Dallas certainly looked primed to do just that. Keane, Robbie Rogers and Juninho formed a triangle of distribution that resulted in nine shot attempts from inside the penalty area directly in front of goal. This is a far cry from the struggling Galaxy in previous weeks, who had to settle for the majority of their shot attempts coming from outside the penalty area.
That means Dallas were respecting LA's flank play, which combined with fatigue opened the defense up in the second half. A total of 114 passes in the final third shows just how much possession LA was able to manage in an attacking position; 36% of the action on Sunday took place in Dallas' third of the pitch. The Galaxy defense was also a big part of that equation, as they have been all season. Dallas did not have one successful cross and half of their six attempts on goal came from outside the penalty area.
Portland and LA just played to a 0-0 draw in June – the difference between then and now is finishing. Portland gave up a great deal of fouls near the penalty area, so much that seven of LA's 13 attempts came from set pieces.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Chicago Fire
Sun 7pm, BC Place
Benjamin Massey, Editor, Maple Leaf Forever, Vancouver:
The only story of consequence among Vancouver fans this week is that on the weekend their team won their first Cascadia Cup match since 2009 and beat the Seattle Sounders for the first time in the league since 20 September 2008 – 2-0, at home, a fine goal, some beautiful saves, and the party went on long into the night.
From the perspective of previewing the next weekend's action, I realize this isn't very helpful. Well, what do you want me to say? The Whitecaps world is still on a high from that game, to say nothing of our five-game run with 13 of 15 possible points. One hates to be dismissive, but what's an afternoon game against an Eastern Conference opponent compared to that? Sure, we might want (maybe even expect) to beat Chicago, but we're still on our high from Seattle. Look, we don't get much to go crazy over in this league. Cut us some slack.
Dan Martin, Section 8, Chicago:
The end of the Fire's nine-game unbeaten streak came at the feet of Sporting KC in a hot mid-afternoon 8 July match at Toyota Park. Such matches are widely hated amongst the Fire faithful and this particular game was a perfect example why – a sluggish start followed by a nearly nonexistent second half. Mike Magee's magic tricks were not close to enough to bring the club level and now fans are left to wonder how the squad will match up against the top teams in the league. Magee etched himself into modern Fire legend with his post-game comments via Fire Confidential: where he heavily criticized the team's performance.
More recently, DP striker Sherjill MacDonald has voiced his desire to to "play somewhere else", prompting a wave of vitriol from those who have watched him struggle all season. Soon after Mackie's sob story broke, the Fire squared off against Liga MX and Team for the World partner Club America Wednesday night, ending 3-2 for the visitors. The highlight was a Daniel Paladini goal along with MacDonald's first of the year in any competition. Next it's out west to Vancouver, where the Men in Red will attempt to collect their first points on a Cascadian jaunt in a match that will likely feature the club's new left-back, the hastily-signed Shaun Francis.