Big news at Guardian HQ this morning. The Guardian has reached an agreement in principle with the up and coming Manhattan neighborhood of Poughkeepsie to build a live-blogging specific office. I'd tell you more about the plans themselves, but in a complicated writer-swap arrangement to finesse the deal, I've been transferred to copy edit press releases for the Anthony Weiner mayoral campaign. It's exciting news and certainly puts the news that DC have finally taken a step closer to building a soccer-specific stadium into perspective.
Either DC or the gods have a sense of humor, though – the announcement came just before the Revs came to town – a team whose long-suffering fans have always consoled themselves at their lack of such a stadium by looking at the teams around them who also lacked one.
Not that your own stadium is a guarantee of success. Toronto host Columbus to start the weekend, with not a lot to cheer about at BMO Field – though by their current, modest standards, a goalless draw to prevent New York going top of the East would count as a success. The Red Bulls will try to get back on track when they host an RSL side smarting from last week's late loss to Sporting, while Sporting will hope to be the latest team to set the one-time frontrunners back when they visit Montreal.
The Rapids broke their long losing streak against Seattle last week. They host LA on Saturday evening, though they will be wary of a team that beat Vancouver last week despite missing a number of key starters. The Whitecaps will try to get back into winning ways when Philadelphia arrive on Saturday afternoon. The Union dented Portland's playoff hopes last week (while not doing much for their own), with a goalless draw. And the Timbers remain on the road, but on the other side of the country, when they play at San Jose on Saturday night. That could be lively – the Earthquakes are running out of games in which to earn a playoff place.
Chicago were slipping a little until last week's 4-1 dismantling of DC. Can they get a mini-run going when they visit Houston? Houston beat Stoke City 2-0 in a friendly the other night, which should tell you either everything or nothing you needed to know.
Finally, on Sunday night, anyone fretting about the lack of Mexican players in the Gold Cup final between USA and Panama can relax and enjoy Chivas USA's players running around in Seattle and quoting HG Wells.
Always happy to give me the runaround are our talented line-up of fan reps and writers representing each of this weekend's competing teams. Read what they have to say about the big stories for their clubs this week, have your say in the comments, and join us for live coverage of the Gold Cup final on Sunday from just before 4pm. We'll be back on Monday with Five things we learned. And if you'd like to see what we learned from the US semi-final, you can always read that as well.
Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew
Sat 2pm, BMO Field (TSN)
Sonja Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp:
It has been over a year since Toronto FC won a home game. Sure, the team won its home opener, but that game was not play at BMO Field – which was not winterize for the March match – but at the Skydome. This lack of wins (two in total for the 2013 season) has not gone unnoticed by TFC fans, who have long been demanding a change to the roster. Though names like Carlos Tevez and Diego Forlan have been bounced around Toronto media, no assurance of a big-name signing has come from the club. However, while most TFC supporters are salivating at the prospect of a new DP, may I suggest a different signing tactic?
What Toronto FC need is a new coach – and I don't mean "new" as in "to the profession". Now, this is not an original thought by any means, TFC has had more head coaches than seasons in MLS. However, instead of just hiring a different guy to replace the last guy, the club should scout someone –properly – who will fit both the club and its fans; someone who actually knows how to turn a club around rather than just "rebuild". Essentially, what the club needs is a new leader; someone not to just guarantee wins, but who will help restore faith in the club and the fans. Um. Does anyone happen to know Guus Hiddink's new telephone number?
Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
I keep writing the same thing: the Crew lost yet another home game to a team they should beat, and fans are calling for the sacking of coach Robert Warzycha.
There some additions this week. The Crew were able to lose in spectacular fashion by allowing two goals in second-half stoppage time. And now the fans aren't just looking for Warzycha to go, they want to clean out the whole front office. I would also add that it is starting to appear like the players are losing as much hope as the fans. Two stoppage-time goals reeks of a team that won't fight hard for each other.
This week Columbus travels to Toronto, one of the few teams more craptastic than the Crew, and striker Jairo Arrieta returns from the Gold Cup to boost a struggling attack. This would normally be a week in which Crew supporters would be excited about the team bouncing back, but everyone in Crewville just seem too bummed out to have any hope. The only positive of a lost season may be more playing time for the young homegrown players. The Crew featured five Ohio boys on the field last weekend and some of the young Ohioans have looked impressive. Most notably, USA Under-20 captain Wil Trapp has brought some stability to the midfield. Look for him to have another solid game this weekend while the Crew take some frustration out of the Canadians for a big win. (Hey, I'm still holding on to hope!)
Colorado Rapids vs LA Galaxy
Sat 7pm, Dick's Sporting Goods Park (ESPN2)
Richard Bamber, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
This week in Rapidsland features a "hold the front page" moment as, in the aftermath of Gold Cup semi-final wins for USA and Panama, Twitter was awash with rumors that the Panamanian striker Gabriel Torres will be joining the club as a designated player in the next few weeks. The story is now being widely reported locally and Rapids fans will be sure to keep a keen eye on the opposition in Sunday's final. At 24, Torres will bring some experience to the side while still being a player that could have his best years ahead of him.
Saturday's game at home to LA Galaxy will be the return of Rapids legend Pablo Mastroeni to DSG Parkand he is sure to receive a standing ovation for his 10 years of service. While there is no Landon Donovan (or indeed Mike McGee or David Beckham) lining up against us this year, the Rapids will still have to contend with one of the league's most dangerous players, Robbie Keane. With only six points separating the top six sides in the Western Conference, the Rapids need to do everything they can to prevent their fellow play-off contenders from picking up points so they can grab one of the five spots themselves. This includes getting some sort of result from Bruce Arena's men in front of the ESPN2 cameras this weekend.
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
Things have gone well in LA LA land recently, despite the Galaxy being a few stars short of a constellation. Landon Donovan has been away on national team duty, while Robbie Keane suffered a knock and was unavailable last week. Now losing Omar Gonzalez to international duty as well, it's a less than ideal side that Bruce Arena takes to Colorado this weekend.
That non-ideal squad was able to get a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps last time out, with Jose Villarreal starting in place of Keane and Hector Jimenez continuing his solid job of starting in place of Donovan. Arena had to scramble to replace Robbie Rogers as well, who suffered from hamstring tightness. This got Pablo Mastroeni his first start in a Galaxy kit.
With both homegrown forwards scoring against the Whitecaps, it was a positive sign that the attack can produce without Keane. The defense was on their game again as well, severely limiting the Caps' attacking opportunities. Having to replace Gonzalez in Colorado with either a second-year player or a hot and cold defender could be an issue, as a Gonzalez-less back line resulted in the Galaxy's worst defensive performance to date a few weeks back – a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the New England Revolution.
It's the midfield that needs to step up in Colorado, taking on pressure to keep it off the attack and back line.
Montreal Impact vs Sporting KC
Sat 7pm, Stade Saputo (TSN2, RDS)
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Add another name to the history books for the Montreal Impact. The second-year MLS club has officially signed its second designated player, Hernan Bernardello. The 26-year old Argentine midfielder signed a one-year contract with a two-year option for the club.
Bernardello fills out a gap in the Impact's "soccer demographic hole" in its lineup. He is not in the twilight of his career. Nor is the ex-Almeria player a young puppy looking to gain experience. He is in that perfect equilibrium that combines age, experience and fitness to be an impact player sooner than later. Not everyone was impressed that the Impact is giving designated-player money to a ''defensive'' midfielder. But that is the reality of the cost to get a player with those attributes. Time will tell if the Impact was right to sign Bernardello but until then, the profile on paper is very interesting.
After a 0-0 tie against FC Dallas, Marco Schallibaum saw positives from getting a point, even at home. Hosting the Big Dogs of the East, Sporting Kansas City, is not an easy task. Sporting KC do not fear anyone and are still able to impose their style away from Sporting Park. But a win against KC would be a statement to the rest of the league that the Impact are not dead in the water, regarding their aspirations for a top-three spot in the East. More importantly, Montreal need to find an identity in the way they play to gain and keep momentum for the 2013 playoffs.
Mike Kuhn, Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City:
There have been two main talking points for KC in the last week. The first has to do with last week's game against Salt Lake. The challenge by Chris Wingert on Kei Kamara in the first 10 seconds of the game. There were plenty of calls for a red card right then, and many KC fans' opinions were backed up when the disciplinary committee suspended Wingert for an extra game due to the challenge.
The other big talking point has been KC's push up the table. After last week's late winner against Salt Lake, KC are unbeaten in six since they were knocked out of the US Open Cup by their affiliate club, Orlando City. Part of the turnaround can be attributed to the emergence of Soony Saad. Saad has come into the team and really started to establish himself in the forward line. He's allowed KC to push Graham Zusi back and let him play more regularly in the center of midfield, where he can help to create chances. This week KC continues on the road against Montreal, but the road hasn't really been a problem for KC this year. The team haven't been defeated on the road since a 2-0 loss to LA in April. If they can continue that road form against Montreal, they'll put themselves in a position where Montreal's two games in hand won't allow them to pass KC in the standings.
New York Red Bulls vs Real Salt Lake
Sat 7pm, Red Bull Arena
Dan Dickinson, Sports editor, Gothamist, New York:
In the space of two weeks, New York dominated a side many had pegged to win the Supporters Shield (4-0 over Montreal); held their own against Olympique Lyon in a perplexingly scheduled mid-season friendly (2-2); and really impressed by failing to do anything against a side many have written off this season (0-0 at Toronto). When coach Mike Petke told the media that he "literally got the [Toronto match] DVD and cracked it in half and threw it out", I felt a twinge of familiarity, as I've thrown out any logical or fact-based approach to predicting how the Red Bulls will perform. They have made obsolete old constructs like "form" or "possession" or "game plan". The Red Bulls scoff at your cries about "modern football" – welcome to post-modern football.
Saturday brings a reunion game of sorts, with Fabián Espindola, Jámison Olave, and Jonny Steele lining up against the club that let them all go in the offseason. The pessimist inside me remembers the three goals RSL scored inside the first 20 minutes on their last Harrison visit, in 2011, and that NY hasn't managed a victory against this opponent since 2009. The optimist in me would point to NY's 6-2-2 home record in 2013, and that Real will be missing Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, and Tony Beltran. And then both voices bow in deference to post-modern football, where none of the above matters because anything is possible. Put me down for a 4-4 draw – it's just as likely as anything else.
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective:
For Real Salt Lake, the best part of travelling to New York to take on the Red Bulls may be getting a ref with some experience. After a couple of matches in which the highlight has been controversy, getting back to playing soccer may be just what RSL needs. Of course we should also mention that RSL will be a bit short-handed again on Saturday, as Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran will be in Chicago with the USMNT, Chris Wingert will be serving the first of his two-match suspension, and injuries will again be keeping out players like Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Josh Saunders. RSL's defense could get a boost, as young Carlos Salcedo returned to practice on Wednesday and newcomer Brandon McDonald appears to be adjusting to his new team quickly. Either would be a welcomed addition to the roster this weekend.
RSL's depth has been tried all season, with now 26 players having seen first-team action. One player who due to injury and extensive national-team duty has been absent for long periods is likely to make his return – Alvaro Saborio is now back with RSL and appears ready to go. He has been one of the best strikers in MLS over the last three seasons and his addition to a RSL side that has been paying very well lately can only help out. I look for RSL to adjust their midfield and perhaps bring in Khari Stephenson, who looked very sharp in practice and would provide a good physical presence for the side.
Emotions could be high as three former RSL players (Espindola, Olave and Steele) get their first shot against their former team. I am going to pick this one to end up a 2-2 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Philadelphia Union
Sat 7pm, BC Place (Univision Dep.)
Benjamin Massey, Editor, Maple Leaf Forever, Vancouver:
Goalkeeping controversy is the order of the day in Vancouver. The odd thing is, nobody's really dissatisfied with the play of Brad Knighton. He allowed a meaningless clunker against the Chicago Fire two weeks ago but otherwise he's doing fine. Just fine. Not brilliantly. But with Danish veteran David Ousted on the roster, "fine" isn't good enough to keep the wolves away. Ousted is one of those expensive European import goalkeepers who strike out a lot in MLS but everyone keeps signing them anyway, and with Knighton not having stolen a game for almost a month (the horror!) some fans are calling for Ousted. Not to solve any problems but because, well, he's the new guy, he might be better!
So we don't know who we'll see against the Philadelphia Union (one of Knighton's old teams). The reliable, if unremarkable, known quantity or the exciting new kid in town with the nice haircut and exotic accent. Really, MLS goalkeeping is a lot like high school dating.
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia
There is rarely a shortage of intrigue around the Union. Coming off a scoreless home draw against a good Portland Timbers team, they now have a few challenges to face.
First, they will have to go on the road to face the Whitecaps this weekend without striker Conor Casey, who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Jack McInerney may have stolen the headlines early this season with his goal-scoring prowess, but Casey has regained the form that made him MVP of the 2010 league championship game. Aaron Wheeler will likely replace him. Wheeler has impressed in spurts, but this would be just his second MLS start, the first at the target-forward position that has been so critical to the Union this year.
Second, there's the Danny Califf story. The former Union captain retired on 12 July at age 33, despite Union manager John Hackworth's attempts to acquire him for Philadelphia in May. After being controversially traded away from the Union last year, Califf wanted to return to the Philadelphia area so badly that he chose to end his playing career after Toronto's trade talks with Philadelphia collapsed, rather than get shipped around the country any further. Now that he finally went public about his situation on Thursday, will the Union and Califf's former team, Toronto, try to find a better solution? Or is Califf's playing career truly over? That's the question being asked by Union fans, with whom Califf remains hugely popular.
DC United vs New England Revolution
Sat 7pm, RFK Stadium
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles
Typically, United's story for the week is another loss in which the team regressed after apparently starting to pull themselves out of the doldrums, or that United picked up another young player in Connor Doyle, on loan from Derby County, in the ever mysterious MLS lottery system. But obviously the biggest news for DC this week is that ownership has used its machete to find a way out of the bowels of RFK (as lovable as it is) and has a deal with the District of Columbia for a new stadium. United have been handicapped by RFK on many fronts as MLS has evolved in the past decade, and the new facility will help bring the club in line with other clubs. If the stadium deal is United's third and final win of the season, fans can call 2013 a success.
The Revs' roller coaster season continued last week against Columbus, with a 2-0 win. They did manage the two goals but not until after they subjected those in attendance and watching at home 90 minutes of the worst soccer you'll see all year long. The only saving grace was Jose Goncalves, who was simply the best player on the pitch. He scored the only goal and interrupted any and all threats brought on by the Crew. It was a great job of bouncing back for the Revs captain, who experienced his first bump in the road the week before in Colorado, scoring an own goal, earning a yellow card and generally appearing out of sorts. It was, of course, the exception for Goncalves' play, not the rule. The Revs' playoff hopes hinge very tightly to his play and even if he performs flawlessly it might not be enough if the club doesn't seek out reinforcements and get healthy.
Oh and pretty nice seeing DC get their stadium deal done. The Revs must be right behind them on that front, right!?
Houston Dynamo vs Chicago Fire
Sat 9pm, BBVA Compass Stadium (NBCSN)
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
Slowly but surely the Dynamo appear to be getting their groove back. After a rough patch of seven games without a win, they have now picked up two consecutive wins – and both against Eastern Conference opponents. The wins have given the Orange a breath of fresh air and some room in the standings. The only concern is the forwards are still struggling to score and fans are left to wonder if where the goals will come from each game.
Some additional confidence could have come from Wednesday night's friendly between Houston and Stoke City, for their annual Dynamo Charities Cup. Midfielder Andrew Driver had a beautiful free-kick to open the scoring and Giles Barnes added a late insurance goal in the 2-0 win. Barnes hadn't scored since May and his performance against Stoke could give him some confidence in the upcoming matches.
Houston are looking to reclaim their home dominance over the next couple weeks, with big Eastern Conference matches against Chicago and Columbus. It'll be a tough test for Houston, but very quickly with two wins they could find themselves back in the mix for the top spot in the East. With just two league wins and a victory in Wednesday's friendly, suddenly Houston fans are back on the optimistic side and are hoping for a big run down the stretch. The Dynamo have a perfect opportunity in front of them to get their name back in the contender mix.
After smashing DC United 4-1 on the weekend, Fire fans are cautiously abuzz. Beating bottom-of-the-league clubs is expected, but so far those types of performances have yet to translate to taking the game to clubs in playoff positions. That must change this week if the Fire are to claw their way into contention for the post-season, as a string of six matches against higher-ranked Eastern Conference rivals begins in Houston this Saturday.
The Fire's April visit to the Dynamo ended in a 2-1 defeat, but that was before the midseason additions that helped steady the ship somewhat. Now, with Chris Rolfe and Joel Lindpere finally showing signs of rounding into the form that Fire supporters hoped for (but didn't see) in the early months of the season, there is more of an expectation that road points are in play on this trip to Texas.
Speaking of additions – earlier this week the club announced the acquisition of the Ecuadorian forward Juan Luis Anangonó. Though the designated player likely won't play a role immediately, due to visa paperwork, he has begun training with the club and hopes are high that he could be the alleged missing piece of the puzzle that Sherjill MacDonald (and Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo and Alvaro Fernandez and Nery Castillo and …) just wasn't. Only time will tell if the Fire's scouting operation has finally struck gold, after relentlessly prospecting for deals in the global transfer market.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Portland Timbers
Sat 10:30pm, Buck Shaw Stadium
Nerdy Gales, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
Earthquakes fans had plenty of opportunity to watch some different players this week. After their 1-0 win over Seattle, courtesy of Walter Martinez's first goal as a Quake, coach Mark Watson took the opportunity to run out some reserve players for the international friendly against EPL's Norwich City. It was encouraging to see players such as Cordell Cato, Sam Garza and Brad Ring putting in feisty performances and it was our first opportunity to see the English veteran Jordan Stewart – all are looking to work their way into the squad for the CCL games. Cato slotted the ball into the back of the net for the only goal in the Quakes' victory over the apparently still-vacationing Canaries. Norwich traveled north midweek to Portland (another 1-0 loss) and the three-team round-robin will conclude when the Timbers (8-2-10) vacate the plastic carpet of Jeld-Wen for the lush, green grass of Buck Shaw on Saturday.
The Earthquakes have yet to beat Portland since they joined MLS in 2011, and Caleb Porter has the Timbers running as effectively as Timber Joey's chainsaw cuts through butter. San Jose will need to match the Timbers' level of effort to hand them only their third loss of the season. To add to the challenge, the Quakes are still missing Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and the yet-to-wear-Blue-and-Black Clarence Goodson, who will all be on duty for the USA in the Concacaf Gold Cup Final on Sunday. Marvin Chavez is on his way home and fans are also eager to welcome Salvadoran midfielder Jaime Alas – both players are likely to see action if they arrive in San Jose on time.
Michael Pearson, Timbers Army, Portland:
Another road draw against a good team, another trip way out East in which the team came away with points … and yet, the juggernaut offense that was seemingly so unstoppable has been a little absent of late. The team has been solid defensively, allowing it to continue to rebuild an unbeaten streak, but while the movement and bite of the midfield has continued to be solid, something just appears to be off going forward, compared to earlier in the season. Perhaps other teams are figuring out Porterball, or perhaps the team is just dealing with some fatigue over what has been a busy stretch of summer. The 0-0 draw with the Union was the last game east of Salt Lake and with 14 out of 15 games remaining against Western Conference foes, fans should quickly glean whether the Timbers are a legitimate threat to win it all this year. Rodney Wallace returns from sitting on the bench for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup and could be exactly what the left wing has missed since his departure.
This week its' San Jose, who have been dormant since their 1-0 win over Seattle way back on 13 July. San Jose needs the win badly to have any shot at making the playoffs, and is unbeaten at home except for the opening loss to RSL. For the Timbers, a win pushes San Jose that much further to the bubble (if not out), while allowing the Timbers to put a little breathing room between them and the other pack of Western Conference foes that see positions two to six separated by just three points.
Seattle Sounders vs Chivas USA
Sun 11pm, CenturyLink Field (Univision Dep)
Dave Clark, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
Inconsistency sucks. It does not matter if the changes are in the lineup or in the problems that have forced a team expected to be great to be merely average. In a given week the problems can be finishing, creating, set-piece defense, wide play, set-play offense, injuries, or national team call-ups. The only thing that is consistent is that there will be issues with the line-up and can the Sounders find a way to push them aside and succeed.
Against Chivas USA they should be able to do that. The Goats aren't good. They are better than they were when this happened. But they are still pretty poor. At home on a late Sunday night under the most amazing weather that Seattle has to offer, even a diminished Sounders side should beat them.
What the Sounders will need to do is finish. The forward core has some issues with that when the midfield does create chances. Seattle also can't have the stupid errors on set-plays that leads to goals by sub-par teams.
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
Chivas USA are coming off a bye weekend, after finally winning a match on 17 July, over Toronto. The Goats hadn't won since 30 March in league play, so getting three points was a very, very long time coming and the fact that the club overcame being a man down for more than an hour to get the victory was impressive. Add to that the assured club debuts of defender Carlos Bocanegra and forward Erick "Cubo" Torres, and on the field that flicker of hope for the team is getting just a bit stronger. However, they'll be facing the Sounders on the road on Sunday, and Seattle has dominated Chivas in recent seasons. The question will be if Chivas can reverse the recent tide against their opponents and pick up a result.
The other news around the club this week hasn't been as promising. On Tuesday, HBO aired a segment about the various racism and discrimination allegations against the club on its Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. The report looked pretty damning, although most of the allegations are in line with what has been circulating for months. Chivas USA issued a press release in response on Wednesday, a statement that made no direct reference to the Real Sports spot or specific allegations, but proclaimed a commitment to diversity at the club. I imagine there will be more twists and turns to this off-field story as the year progresses.