Welcome, in the absence of the still holidaying Graham Parker, to this week's MLS reviews and previews, in which fan reps, beat writers and other well-qualified observers consider their team's performance last week and prospects this.
Your comments (supportive, critical, even tastefully abusive, if you really must) are, as ever, very welcome indeed. Possible additional subject for discussion – what did the USMNT's remarkable 4-3 friendly victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina, achieved with only two MLS-based players (Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson of Seattle) in the squad, say about the strength or otherwise of said domestic competition? And I still want to know what everyone thinks about the rise of the dual-qualified player – John Brooks, Aron Johannsson et al.
All kick-off times ET
Montreal Impact vs DC United
Sat 7pm, Stade Saputo (TSN2, RDS)
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer
In the middle of crowded August, the Montreal Impact come back home after a mid-west road trip to Chicago the weekend before. Looking for revenge against DC United, Montreal is eager to win more game and win them now.
Not anymore in a comfort zone in the Eastern Conference, the cliché of six-point games could not be truer and one can even upgrade to a nine-point game cliché. Continuing the clichés, there is no small team in MLS with an apparent parity that is more apparent in the standings. Though the 2013 DC United has been horrible, the club is still a top MLS club. The Black & Red did not make the Eastern Conference finals out of pure luck.
With a Concacaf Champions League game in midweek, Marco Schallibaum faces yet another challenge. Between squad rotation and needed rest, how desperate is the Impact to beat Heredia and have six points in two games in the CCL?
The club's winning mentality has helped it to go beyond the call of duty and win games with character. Is the characterometer drying up? Is it enough to take the club to the Promised Land? The perspective of making the playoffs was a sure thing and still is. But Montreal knows that it needs to pick up wins and have a positive momentum before getting there.
DC United is in their way towards that path.
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles
United followed up their US Open Cup win in Chicago with injuries to Luis Silva and Dejan Jakovic that forced the team to field it's youngest starting XI in history against the Union. In fact, the average age was 22.6, according to the Washington Post, and that was with veteran James Riley in the lineup as the "old man", at 30.
While the final result, a 2-0 defeat, will show in the record books, United were not toothless in the game. The Union could control the game for stretches but United were not overwhelmed and they created chances of their own, especially after Dwayne DeRosario entered at the half. Goal-line heroics from the Union defender Sheanon Williams denied Collin Martin (18 and making his first MLS start) and kept United off the scoreboard. In the end, United played all five of their homegrown players, as 17-year-old Micheal Seaton came on late. This was Seaton's MLS debut, and he'll go down in MLS history as the first player younger than the league to enter a game.
United are continuing to re-tool for 2014 – they have picked up the Swiss defender Dennis Iapichino, who was waived by Montreal this week. Coincidentally, United now travel to Montreal to take on his former team. Luis Silva should return to the lineup, and we'll see if he can keep up his DC United scoring streak – three goals in three games so far.
A DC United bonus – Dan Walsh, looking south from Philly, adds:
DC United have officially hit rebuilding mode, but when one looks at the talent on display, it actually isn't that bad. Over the last several weeks, the club has acquired several talented young American players – striker Conor Doyle, midfielder Jared Jeffrey and attacking midfielder Luis Silva. The moves have all paid immediate dividends, with Silva netting three goals in his first three games and Jeffrey and Doyle impressing. This all strengthens a talented midfield that has been hobbled most of the year, with Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon each missing time with injuries and adding more pressure on holding midfielder Perry Kitchen. (Dwayne De Rosario typically functions best in more of a second striker role.)
But the changes also highlight just how bad it got for DC. Combined with the loss of Andy Najar to Europe, the injuries have revealed the lack of quality found in United's defenders and strikers. The backline proved overpaid and underperforming. The strikers were even worse.
Without fear of relegation, United manager Ben Olsen is now experimenting to see which young players can stick on this team as he rebuilds it. A consequence of that will be games like United's 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, which ended a two-game winning streak. Defensively, the club doesn't have the talent to shut down top forward pairings like Philadelphia's. This week's signing of 23-year-old left back Dennis Iapichino should help, but in league play, United is basically playing for next year.
Columbus Crew vs Toronto FC
Sat 7.30pm, Columbus Crew Stadium (MLS Live)
Ian Fraser, Crew Union
The Crew went out to honor the life of friend and team-mate Kirk Urso, and in a way left with a sense of new life for this organization. New owner Anthony Precourt was visible all weekend and saying the right things to lift people's hopes. Also, for the first time this year the midfield had only one defensive midfielder. Some question whether this was directed from above under the new regime or if it was the result of injuries to Danny O'Rourke and Matias Sanchez. Whatever the case, people have been clamoring for only one holding midfielder all season and they were rewarded. Will Trapp was immense and an attacking-based midfield was able to push Columbus forward to a surprising victory in front of a large crowd.
Coach Robert Warzycha, in all his predictability, usually keeps the same lineup coming off of a win so maybe the Crew can build on this. The formation will keep people happy but questions will remain about which guys to use in the attack and if some are being played out of position. The one player who should not be questioned is Federico Higuain. He has come under criticism in recent weeks but his second goal last week showed just the type of quality he has. His emotion also showed that he cares about what is happening on the field.
Now the Crew get a chance to atone for their recent embarrassing loss in Toronto. Hopefully they come out on the front foot and go on the offensive again.
Sonja Cori Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp
Last week I took joyful glee in the fact that the soccer gods' vendetta against Toronto FC appeared to wane for a couple of weeks. TFC was winning games and the club seemed (somewhat) stable; like any good Toronto fan, I held my breath for the inevitable calamity to come onto the club. However, it has not come – at least, not yet. Sure, TFC lost its last game to the Seattle Sounders and the team was pretty much destroyed by AS Roma in a mid-season friendly, but that's nothing unexpected. What is unexpected is that the rumours swirling signing Newell's Old Boys' striker Maximiliano Urruti may actually come true.
The 22-year-old Argentinian has become a mythical creature for the Toronto team: always talked about, but never actually seen – until now. Urruti has arrived in Canada the Toronto FC have released statements about – and pictures of! – him practicing with the club. While the forward has not officially been signed for the Reds, having Urruti actually in the country is more promising than previous rumours of Toronto FC exec's flying down to Argentina, only to receive flat-out rejection from their Primera Division counterpart.
Right now, it would seem as if Toronto will actually acquire the creative, quick, and calculating man up front that it bad needs. We just have to wait and see if the powers that be – the soccer gods, the MLS big wigs, and the Argentina deities – allow the deal to go through. Amen.
New England Revolution vs Chicago Fire
Sat 7.30pm, Gillette Stadium (MLS Live)
Christopher Camille, Midnight Riders
The MLS Eastern Conference is mediocre at best. Even the top teams have some very obvious flaws. This is a good things for the Revs. It means they have been able to hang around in the playoff picture despite some pretty uninspired play.
Looking at the current make-up of the Revs, certain pundits might even say they're one or two players away from cementing their place in the playoffs. It's because of this that you can not blame Revs fans for feeling underwhelmed with their recent transfer window activity. Sure, they signed Charlie Davies, and on paper Davies makes plenty of sense. His loan is a low risk, possible high reward move that also brings a hometown player back to his original roots. Unfortunately, he's their only addition.
Juan Toja and Jerry Bengston are just sitting around collecting big money paychecks – the wiggle room was there for Mike Burns and the Revs front office to really make some moves that would push the Revs back to the playoffs, their supposed goal this season.
Davies hasn't scored since 2011. Juan Agudelo is leaving the Revs in December and will likely be completely unmotivated to preform throughout the rest of the season. Jay Heaps hasn't been able to evolve his style of play past the 4-1-4-1 that showed some success earlier on this year. Things are bleak.
Dan Martin, Section 8
More of that, please! I said last week that the Fire must make up ground on conference opponents and they did just that, defeating Montreal 2-1. Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka filled in admirably for the injured Patrick Nyarko, each tallying a goal, while Sean Johnson and Chris Rolfe both made big defensive plays to keep the advantage late. New designated player Juan Luis Anangonó was active and showed glimpses of what he might be capable of once the team has had time to heal – goal-scoring all-around badass Mike Magee missed the game with injury.
During the week the club finalized another designated player move, this time releasing do-little forward Sherjill MacDonald and ushering in the Uruguayan international Edigio Arévalo Rios. Though many Fire fans were scratching their heads at a move for "another defensive midfielder", it's hard not to be excited when one views tapes of Rios' play with both Uruguay and Palermo, his previous club. To call him "combative" in the midfield almost understates his style – observers have used terms like "hard working" "world class" and "pitbull" as descriptors. His touch and vision will likely aid the linking of the defense to the forwards once his tough tackles have won the ball and stopped an opponent's attack.
Saturday's match against New England is a chance for a little bit of payback for the season opener at Toyota Park, which ended 1-0 for the Revs. The new-look Fire have the same needs as last week and three points for the Men in Red (coupled with a Houston loss) would vault them into the playoff spots for the first time this season.
New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union
Sat 8pm, Red Bull Arena (NBCSN)
Dan Dickinson, sports editor, Gothamist
A number of weeks ago, I had someone explain to me his theory about how to measure the mood of the Red Bulls' fan base. The math is simple: one loss provides a depression force equal to the lift they get from three wins. (By that math, they're at a -13 mood right now, which seems about right.) This theory was running through my head as I watched the Red Bulls fall behind on a confusing penalty, and then get put entirely out of the game by Federico Higuain's impressive chip. With such colorful adjectives and a returned air of disgust from supporters, you'd think they'd be out of playoff contention; instead, they're still second place in the East.
As the team enters the final 10 games of 2013, this weekend's visit from Philly is the strongest opposition (based on table position) they will face in that stretch. It's at home, where the Red Bulls have dominated and Philly has never gotten a single point – but RBNY fans will more easily recall the 3-0 beating the team took in Chester rather than the 2-1 victory at home earlier in the season. The Red Bulls need full points to keep from getting passed by their I-95 neighbors on the table – and, perhaps just as importantly, to once again pacify a grumbling fan base. Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill should both take the field, and they'll need to contribute to take down the strong partnership of McInerney and Casey.
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page
Philadelphia Union's rivalry with the New York Red Bulls has typically been more underwhelming than Union fans would like. The Union are only in their fourth season of existence, but already, their rivalry with DC United is one of the league's most intense. The Red Bulls? Not so much. There just haven't been enough important games or bad blood between the two sides.
Saturday's Union-Red Bulls match marks a change in that. The Red Bulls sit in second place, while the Union hold steady in third. A win combined with a Kansas City loss would put either team atop the Eastern Conference. New York will have the home-field advantage, but expect hundreds of Philadelphia fans to make the short trip north to Red Bull Arena.
The Union enter the nationally televised match coming off a 2-0 win over DC United. Their forward corps continues to be one of the league's best, with Conor Casey and Jack McInerney both among the league's top five goal-scorers. Meanwhile, winger/forward Sebastien le Toux and right-back Sheanon Williams rank among the league's top five in assists as they continue to provide great service on crosses, set pieces and Rory Delap-style throw-ins from Williams.
Casey's matchup with New York center-back Jamison Olave should be fun to watch, as two of the league's strongest players match up. Both teams play pragmatic soccer and put forth good back lines and excellent striker pairings, so look for midfield matchups to determine the result.
Houston Dynamo v Seattle Sounders
Sat 9pm, BBVA Compass Stadium (MLS Live)
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory
In Houston we're still trying to figure out what went wrong in Real Salt Lake. Trust me, the penalty may have been soft and could've gone either way, but regardless the Dynamo couldn't get things together and only have themselves to blame. The passing wasn't there, giveaways were too common, and performance in the final third was just not there last week. Even with Boniek Garcia on the bench for much of the contest, the Dynamo were expected to give RSL a challenge.
This week the Dynamo have a big game. It's not about Clint Dempsey; it's so much bigger than that. In front of a sellout crowd, Houston needs to make a statement and convincingly beat a streaking Sounders team. With the Eastern Conference remaining tight, the Dynamo can't afford to drop below that magical red line in the standings. Chicago is on their heels and appears to be hitting a stride.
Houston will look to pressure early and capture that first goal and put Seattle against the wall. Passing has to be crisp, defense near perfect, and the offensive production up front has to be there. It's appears unlikely that the newest Dynamo DP will be available for the match, so the lineup will be pretty similar to last match expect Garcia should start.
Ultimately, this match could be a turning point for either club.
Colorado Rapids vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Sat 9.30pm, Dick's Sporting Goods Park (MLS Live)
Benjamin Massey, editor, Maple Leaf Forever
With the Whitecaps (relatively) rolling along the past few weeks, fans can be forgiven for looking to this week's affray with a bit of a hitch in their throat. You see, it's a road game. The Whitecaps are better than they used to be, but they still don't really "do" road games. (This has been the biggest story of the week for about three years, really, but that makes for boring writing.)
Colorado is a decent team and a fellow playoff contender with a good home record. It'll be tough, but to be taken seriously the Whitecaps have to start doing better in these games (a 1-1 draw in Portland a few weeks ago was better, but still not very good). Can the Whitecaps win and elevate themselves to the rank of team to be respected? Or will it be business as usual?
Los Angeles Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake
Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center (MLS Live)
Josie Becker, editor, LAG Confidential
The LA Galaxy managed a point on the road in Dallas, which is actually an improvement over recent road form. On the other hand, with Landon Donovan furthering his Gold Cup form into a hat-trick, there's a sense that the Galaxy left points in Dallas. Donovan went so far as to call out the defense in post-match interviews.
It's certainly a point worth discussion, as Carlo Cudicini continues to be quite vulnerable on the near post and the defense continues to have communication issues on set-pieces. The trouble is the replacement Bruce Arena grabbed in the transfer window, Panamanian goalkeeper Jamie Penedo, hasn't had to much time with the team and there could be a bit of a language barrier.
The good news is how much the offense hummed even with some major parts missing. The midfield was makeshift with Robbie Rogers unavailable, but Robbie Keane, Marcelo Sarvas and Todd Dunivant all getting distribution to Donovan showed the many ways the Galaxy can come at teams. Keane usually takes a few matches to get back into goalscoring form after an injury, so it's good that Donovan is currently in goals and goals alone mode. The kid Gyasi Zardes still needs to live up to his potential, but he's been better with his decisions inside the penalty area lately.
Against a Supporter's Shield contender in Real Salt Lake, LA will need to be firing on all cylinders to get all three points.
Daniel Eslinger, RSL Perspective
Real Salt Lake kept their top overall spot on the MLS table with a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo last weekend, and did it with a 4-3-3 formation showing again how much diversity the team has with their current roster. That diversity and depth will be tested again this week as they head to LA to take on the Galaxy, who are fighting to get themselves into a more secure playoff spot in a very crowded Western Conference.
The Galaxy are seven points behind RSL with one fewer match played but with the recent form of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane getting back to full fitness they could easily make a run towards the top spot. RSL and LA have a huge history over the last five seasons, going back to the 2009 MLS Cup. Both sides have shown that there is no home-pitch advantage in this series, as last year the away team won all three matches and LA has already notched a win at Rio Tinto this season. There are a couple of huge matchups that will likely determine how this match goes – can Omar Gonzalez with his new DP contract keep RSL's Alvaro Saborio in check and can the RSL backline and midfield deal with Landon Donovan? Landon scored the only Galaxy goal in the last meeting of these two teams, a 3-1 RSL win, but he has nine goals and eight assists in regular-season matches against RSL – he is clearly a player that has to be dealt with.
The Galaxy are impressive at home, with a 7-1-2 record and 18 goals scored while giving up just four, but RSL is the top offense in MLS and have only been kept from scoring four times this season, so you should expect goals in this match and with both teams showing an ability to both score late and a habit of giving up late goals, this one should go down to the final whistle.
I think overall RSL is the better team at this point of the season – look for a 2-1 RSL win.
Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas
Sat 11pm, Jeld-Wen Field (MLS Live)
Roger Anthony, Timbers Army
During Portland's 15-match unbeaten string, coach Caleb Porter spoke of "Keeping the highs low and the lows high." In other words, focus on the long run. The lows arrived in July and since the streak was snapped, the Timbers have one win and two draws in six matches.
Portland kept a low profile during the transfer window, and Don Garber didn't see fit to grace the team with an $8m gift. The window on an Open Cup likewise slammed shut with a dormant start in Salt Lake City – the kind of thing veteran clubs pounce on.
So, applying Porter's principle to the rest of the season, what's a realistic expectation for the Timbers? In many ways, events of the last six weeks have shifted Portland back into building mode. It's not rebuilding – the nucleus for a contender may be in place. But the only way to win big games is to play rough-and-tumble big games in the cruel late-season months. Porter's young side is learning to do so.
Another lesson comes Saturday against Dallas, likewise a fallen frontrunner of spring. With two wins and a draw, Portland's had the upper hand in three previous match-ups. But recent opponents have given Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman the blueprint for bottling up the Timbers: against pressure in their own zone, Portland struggles. It's a tactic the Timbers' speedy midfield should exploit, but the patchwork defense doesn't move the ball efficiently or confidently.
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno
The big story this week is that we finally did that thing where the ball goes in the net and everybody gets really excited and you get a point, or a touchdown, or a basket – what was it called, again?
Oh… a goal!
FC Dallas finally scored a goal, after setting a club record for consecutive minutes scored without one. Six or seven games is a long time to go without a goal, y'all. We were so excited about the first goal that we scored two more, but Landon Donovan thought it was some sort of charity thing where he had to match FC Dallas' contribution. The match ended in a 3-3 tie – a good enough result for the most pessimistic of fans (we didn't lose), but not good enough for all. Keeping things in perspective, no, we did not lose, but our goals came from a defender and Blas Perez. The longer FC Dallas depend solely on Blas Perez for goals, the longer this slump continues. He can't do it all.
FC Dallas are at Portland this weekend. Portland are rumored to be without Will Johnson, but our own injuries in addition to our current form are more concerning. Starters Andrew Jacobson and Zach Loyd are both nursing injuries. Where our slump is concerned, we are not out of the woods yet – so I think the objective here will be to not lose too badly.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Sporting Kansas City
Sun 10pm, Buck Shaw Stadium
Nerdy Gales, Center Line Soccer
Oh Canada! Apparently the Quakes forgot to pack their metric cleats for last week's trip north of the border, with losses to Montreal (0-1) and Vancouver (0-2). Looking back, we considered a victory at BC Place crucial for our playoff hopes, and for 60 minutes all looked well until the Airplane! defense succumbed to the counter attack – no clearance by Clarence Goodson as he misjudged the vector of Victor Bernardez (the Quakes really ought to sign Robbie Rogers). This week we're spinning the defeat – the playoffs are still possible, but complex probability equations assert that 20 more points are needed from the remaining 10 games to make the cutoff for the post season.
Up next for the Quakes are Sporting KC, who are currently riding high atop the Eastern Conference and outscoring the Quakes with 36 compared to 25 goals for the season. Graham Zusi is back in full training for the SporKCs after a quad strain in the MLS All Star game; he and Kamara may be available, but questionable as starters. The current Earthquakes squad is all healthy, but are still transitioning with the recent arrivals of Goodson and Jaime Alas. Is there enough time remaining in the season for them to fully integrate into the squad and complete the equation? Surely Quakes fans will be scanning the other intra-conference results, hoping for scoreless draws. Yes – but stop calling me Shirley.
Michael Kuhn, editor, Down the Byline
The big talk this week for KC is the health of two of their most important offensive players. Graham Zusi is still struggling from his quad injury that he picked up in the All Star Game against Roma. While in the win against New England, they lost Kei Kamara to an ankle injury in the challenge that led to Andy Dorman's dismissal. Kamara was seen on the Sunday after the game both on crutches and in a wheelchair. Peter Vermes said that both are questionable at this time.
With Zusi out, Soony Saad has stepped up his role, as has Benny Feilhaber, putting in some of his better performances this season in Zusi's absence. Still Zusi can't fully be replaced by either. At the moment though, Kamara may be the bigger loss. As Claudio Bieler has struggled to find net the past few weeks, Kamara has stepped up his role in the offense upping his total for the season to seven and making him the second leading scorer on the team behind Bieler.
Heading across the country for the game against the Earthquakes would be a tough ask for Kansas City even with those two, but their absence will make this weekend's game that much harder if they can't go. The highlight of the game this weekend though may be the match up between Aurélien Collin and Steven Lenhart. The two went multiple rounds against each other a few seasons ago, but haven't gotten to go head to head since then.