Everyone sitting comfortably? Good — then we'll begin. This is how you hold a flag. This is what to call the opposing goalkeeper. This is how you suck air through your teeth, place your hands on your head and look at the skies in fury that the gods have selected you for special punishment by bestowing upon you a hapless center forward who can't hit the goal from six yards...
The news this week that US Soccer have invited the Seattle chapter of the American Outlaws to co-ordinate the supporters sections during next month's World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium, went down predictably well with certain sections of said support (the ones in Columbus for a start), and sets us up very nicely for this weekend when Seattle visit Columbus in MLS play, possibly wielding PowerPoint presentations. Doubtless the hosts will be all ears.
Before that heartwarming display of pedagogy, the weekend gets underway with Toronto hosting New England on Friday night. The Revs young guns are keeping the pressure up on the currently bound playoff teams in the East, having thumped five past Philadelphia last week. The Union won't find it any easier to get back on track this weekend when Eastern leaders Montreal, fresh from putting five goals of their own past Houston, visit on Saturday evening.
That Montreal result, and the Fire's unexpected win over Sporting KC last week means that we have an intriguing game coming Between Chicago and Houston on Sunday, as the battle for Eastern playoff spots intensifies. Both Sporting KC and New York fell to unlikely defeats last week to further confuse the picture. Sporting won't find it easy to regain momentum against a young Colorado side who've been perhaps the surprise of the season, while the Red Bulls may be back at home where they're stronger, but have something of a wild card game in taking on their rivals D.C. United, who may be in poor form this year, but will be very keen to act as spoilers for a faltering New York.
Speaking of spoilers, it's just possible that San Jose fans will not be joining in the universal happiness over Landon Donovan re-signing for LA this week. The two California rivals meet in Carson on Saturday night, resuming a rivalry that brought us at least one great game last year, as well as that chastening playoff experience for San Jose. They're not out of the playoff picture yet this year, but can ill-afford to lose any more ground to their rivals, including the Galaxy.
Another team who have found themselves just beginning to lose a little traction in the playoff race is Vancouver, who might be approaching their home game with Chivas with a little more caution after the Dan-Kennedy-inspired Goats turned over the Red Bulls last week. Meanwhile two teams who don't any encouragement to regard each other with healthy caution after a few recent encounters, RSL and Portland resume hostilities in Salt Lake on Friday night. Salt Lake stole a draw at the death in Portland just days ago, and the Timbers will be anxious to get a better result than they managed against Seattle last week.
One group of people who continually get even better results than they got last week — our regular group of fan reps and writers for each of the weekend's competing teams. See what they have to say about the week's main stories for their teams, add your take in the comments and join us again on Monday for Five Things.
All kick off times are listed as ET
Toronto FC vs New England Revolution
Fri 7pm, BMO Field
Sonja Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp:
Two guys were sitting on the Toronto subway; one was wearing a Toronto FC jersey, the other, a Barcelona one. The Catalonia cheerer turned to the tortured Torontonian and asked, "What's the point? Is it even fun to support Toronto?" The TFC-ee looked at his seatmate and smiled. "Yes," he replied, "Because I know that one day the pain will turn into victory." Some may argue that the Toronto fan is optimistic—delusional even—however, he's right: victories can happen when you least expect.
Of course, "victories" for Toronto do not necessarily mean "wins." For instance, Toronto FC drew their most recent game against D.C United. Post-game, coach Ryan Nelsen insisted that his team deserved the full three points, however most Toronto fans are happy with the one and are just glad to keep their dignity. Dwayne De Rosario, former TFC captain-turned-torturer, scored within the first ten minutes for D.C., while Bobby Convey got the equalizer in the second half for Toronto. The Reds were able to walk away without being defeated by the last place team in the league and without being further humiliated by the former player. That is a victory.
Next, TFC take on New England Revolution—a team fighting to keep their current playoff spot—on Friday night at BMO Field. If they can get away without former-TFC fan favourite Chad Barrett scoring on them, that too will be considered a victory.
See? Toronto can be victorious; you just need to know where to look.
The Revs roller coaster of a season is currently ascending (many would argue it's ascending towards an inevitable let down but we're not negative here in the Guardian MLS Previews). They whooped the Philadelphia Union in a I-95 Rivalry match-up last Sunday night winning by a score of 5-1. It was the Revs second 5 goal outburst of the season and really highlights the potential that the squads possesses.
Kelyn Rowe's own play mirrors that of the Revs. At times he's looked like a top of the league playmaker while in other matches he looks like he'll barely huff and puff his way through 45 minutes. What is never in question, however, is his long-range shooting ability. Rowe has hit some true "golazos" and if he can gain the consistency that comes with a regular spot in a successful side his potential is certainly very high.
The Revs now must build on their stellar recent play and that is going to fall on the shoulders of some very inexperienced players. I expect the Revs to pick up their first three points away in Toronto this Friday night but I am not sure if they will be able to hang on if they are lucky enough to reach the lofty heights of the playoffs.
Real Salt Lake vs Portland Timbers
Fri 10pm, Rio Tinto Stadium (NBCSN)
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective:
With a bad loss, an exciting draw, and a dominating win in their last 3 league matches one could wonder which is the "real" Real Salt Lake? With a total of 7 matches in August (6 MLS & 1 Open Cup) it has been a very busy month, and on Friday night RSL will play host to the Portland Timbers as both sides look to capture as many points as they can in the very crowded Western Conference. It will be the third time this month that the two sides will face off against each other, RSL won 2-1 at Rio Tinto back on the 7th in US Open Cup action and just 9 days ago they drew 3-3 in Portland in MLS action, and I expect there will probably me more scoring on Friday night.
Portland is dealing with some injury issues (Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury) and the suspension of centerback Pa Modou Kah that will likely force them to make some lineup changes while RSL is heading into a two week break from action and rested several players during last weekends 4-0 thrashing of Columbus and should have their choice of players to put on the pitch. The biggest question heading into the match is can Portland stop RSL from scoring? The Timbers held the Sounders to 1 goal last weekend in Seattle, but RSL leads MLS in scoring with 48 goals and have had multiple goals in 16 of their 27 matches played and only held scoreless in 4 matches. RSL has a +13 goal differential at home, while the Timbers have scored 15 on the road and allowed 15 goals on the road.
I expect we could see another rotation up top for RSL as Alvaro Saborio tries to regain fitness after a minor injury and before leaving on National Team duty, but if not we could see the pairing of rookies Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garica again, hard to argue against them after they had such an impact last weekend. I think RSL has another strong week and pulls off a 2-0 win over the Timbers and further extend their lead at the top of both the Western Conference as well as the overall MLS table.
Michael Orr, Portland:
A difficult loss to arch rivals Seattle Sounders last weekend precedes this key match between West leading Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers. Though the Timbers remain within striking distance, especially with two games in hand, injuries and suspensions continue to define this part of Portland's season.
Will Johnson, the Timbers' captain who has not played since the US Open Cup semifinal loss in Sandy on August 7, will again be absent due to a broken shoulder blade. Diego Chara returns from his one game yellow card suspension and is expected to play alongside the hobbled Ben Zemanski in central midfield. Zemanski is simply hobbled less than Johnson and Jack Jewsbury, who is expected to miss another game due to a recurring ankle injury.
Just nine days after a 3-3 draw at Jeld-Wen Field, Salt Lake will have Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and perhaps Alvaro Saborio back in the starting XI. Meanwhile, the Timbers will be without center back Pa Kah after his yellow card accumulation, requiring a start from either the recently injured Futty Danso or as yet unused Rauwshan McKenzie.
Though points in Sandy are not necessary to the Timbers' playoff hopes, especially with Toronto FC and Chivas USA coming in the next two games, a good performance with a weakened team would go a long way toward lifting morale as the season inches toward completion.
Columbus Crew vs Seattle Sounders
Sat 7.30pm, Columbus Crew Stadium
Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
A home win against a depleted New York team three weeks ago was followed by a convincing win over lowly Toronto, and the Crew faithful were starting to get excited again. Maybe the season isn't over! Maybe we can sneak into the playoffs! Maybe we'll be streaking at just the right time and make a deep playoff run! Well, all those dreams were shattered by a trip to league leaders Salt Lake City. The Crew offered no resistance to Salt Lake's relentless attack, and went down 4-0.
Kyle Beckerman's brace was a reminder that the Crew lack a tenured midfield veteran. Then goals by Devon Sandoval and Luis Gil highlighted the lack of impressive young attackers to come through Columbus lately.
This week, a Seattle team that has won 4 of its last 5 games comes into Crew Stadium. I don't think there will be much drama on the pitch. The Crew's defense just cannot handle Seattle's attack, and Crew talisman Federico Higuian is on red card suspension. There could be some drama in the stands, however. This week saw some snarky internet disagreements between USA supporters in Columbus and Seattle. It will be interesting to see the reception USMNT stars Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Brad Evans receive this weekend.
Dave Clark, Sounder at Heart, Seattle:
A funny thing went and happened during this injury riddled, call up laden, disappointing season for Sounders FC. They were involved in the two largest transfer fees ever paid by MLS and its clubs. Seattle also sits with the third most wins, a gob of games in hand and a home record that is down right impressive.
There are some questions left though. Can the Seattle Sounders win on the road? To this point they are decent, but clearly have struggled in big games away from CenturyLink. The Crew shouldn't be the challenge that LA or RSL were, but they also are not an easy club to defeat. The biggest question is how will Dempsey, Martins and Johnson play together. This weekend we still may not get that answer. The answer also won't come the week after this.
Sounders fans may be tired of unanswered questions and eager for a season that feels as successful as it is to the mind. A win against the Crew goes a long way to the second, but with weakened rosters on both sides it should not be a great indicator of strength by either team.
Philadelphia Union vs Montreal Impact
Sat 7.30pm, PPL Park
Adam Cann, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Following a 5-1 defeat to the New England Revolution, the Union face the last team to put five past them as the Montreal Impact roll into Philadelphia. The Union's loss allowed the Impact to claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, and the Canadians will look to solidify their hold on the top spot against a depleted Philly side.
Standout central defender Amobi Okugo is suspended for two matches after seeing a pair yellow cards against New England. Right back Sheanon Williams will take over Okugo's spot in the middle, with either Ray Gaddis or Michael Lahoud covering for Williams. Gaddis, along with midfielder Keon Daniel, is questionable against Montreal. Both players are recovering from minor ankle injuries. The team's leading scorer, Jack McInerney, will look to rejoin the starting eleven after a run of poor form saw him relegated to the bench against New England.
A week ago, the Union seemed well placed to secure the franchise's second playoff berth. Two disallowed goals in the second half of the Revolution match resulted in a young team losing its cool in an important Eastern Conference showdown. Under head coach John Hackworth, Philly has responded well to adversity. If they can earn points at home against the Eastern Conference leaders, the Union will feel a lot better about their chances of getting their playoff run back on track.
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
The euphoria from a 5-0 victory will not get to the heads of a talented but experienced Montreal Impact squad. Without Marco Schallibaum on the bench against the Houston Dynamo, Les Bleus did what they do and faced adversity, with the ultimate hope being to start a winning streak.
The almost-complete game displayed at Stade Saputo, this weekend, was a compliment to the club's talent on and off the pitch. Both sides of the pitch have finally synced up just in time for the final stretch of the season. Beating the Dynamo is no small feat and having inconsistent players become consistent is key to the Impact's success towards the MLS playoffs, and if I dare say, the MLS Cup.
Yes, I used that C-word and it's for an obvious reason. The Montreal Impact had 19 years of experience in North American professional soccer before joining the MLS. The only mindset the club knows is winning and making the playoffs is not enough. The concept of rebuilding and participating for the beauty of the game are foreign concepts for Montreal. The winning mentality, combined with a distinct intention to play a beautiful but efficient brand of soccer, is what drives and still driving this club. In its path is the Philadelphia Union, an Eastern conference foe that has had some success against Montreal at PPL Park. Coming off a 5-1 rout to the hands of the New England Revolution, the Union are wary of a hot Impact team, even if the road has not been kind for the visitors.
In the final stretch of the season, Montreal seems to be ready to embark on a winning momentum and to start integrating better new signings (Bernardello and Lopez) and getting mentally ready for the long road to the MLS Cup.
New York Red Bulls vs DC United
Sat 8pm, Red Bull Arena (NBCSN)
Dan Dickinson, Sports editor, Gothamist, New York:
August started off so well for New York. But a 3-2 counterattacking clinic win at Kansas City led to a sequence of frustrating results that hit rock bottom with last week's 3-2 loss at Chivas. Offensive misfires (Espindola's two missed sitters) merged with defensive blunders (Sekagya's rough shoulder charge) to a result that flattered New York. No one felt like a one goal loss, and Mike Petke's apology to the post-match camera said so much.
RBNY now must salvage their August and prove themselves as contenders once more over a visiting DC United. Like with Chivas, there's no reason the Red Bulls shouldn't win over a DC side that has hit historic lows this season. But after Chivas, it feels the very real possibility that DC could get up just enough – exert a touch more passion than a Red Bull side that seems to fall asleep before games are over – to play spoilers. So a home win is the baseline expectation, and anything less than three points will tax the morale around Red Bull Arena at historic rates. A loss would leave New York hanging by a thread in the playoff race, and with some tough fixtures still left, in doubt of seeing the field after October.
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
United continues to simultaneously prepare for the US Open Cup Final and the 2014 season. After the 1-1 tie with Toronto this weekend, there was an extended meeting after the match. What went on? No one other than the players and staff know and they're not talking. Which is a good sign if the team can air out grievances in the locker room without the dirty laundry making it to the public. It's not a good sign that they had to do it in the first place. One positive from the match was a vintage DeRosario goal, with his dancing along the top of the area trying to find space and then bending a shot into the corner, hopefully this is a sign that his injury plagued season is behind him. There was a Chris Pontius sighting at RFK, sadly it was in street clothes, although he is apparently starting some light training. With his injury history, the long view towards healing would seem to be the wise move. United will take its youth movement up the road to take on the Jekyll and Hyde RedBulls still searching for the first MLS road win of the campaign.
Sporting Kansas City vs Colorado Rapids
Sat 8.30pm, Sporting Park
Mike Kuhn, Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City:
The big story this week for Sporting KC is the team's current league form. KC has won just one game in their last five league games. During this streak KC has seen the rest of the Eastern Conference crowd in around them. Now while KC is currently only two points out of first place, they are only five points ahead of seventh in the East. On top of that, three teams right below them in the standings have played one or two fewer games than KC, which if they win those games in hand could see KC fall out of the playoff picture, if only temporarily.
Finding a solution to their league form is key for the rest of the way. Outside of league play, KC's form has been quite the opposite. Their first trip into international competitions since 2005 sees KC sit on top of their group in the CONCACAF Champions League after their 2-0 win over Olimpia last night in Honduras. The two wins in their two away games in the group puts them in position where not advancing is a big failure with only two home games left. Sporting really needs to find a way for them to translate the success in CONCACAF play to league play. The league is all about getting hot at the right time, and if they can translate that success, right around now is the "right time" to do it.
Richard Bamber, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
Last week was a bye week for the Rapids where the team got a much needed (and deserved!) break from competitive matches. The main point is, with Diego Calderon playing 45 minutes for the reserves this week, Oscar Pareja has for the first time since becoming coach his 1st choice for a 18 man gameday roster as all but two fringe players in the squad are now injury free. The veterans have been traded & the players who didn't fit in with his style of play have left - it is now truly Pareja's team.
While many supporters are thoroughly impressed with what they have seen on the pitch in recent weeks, there is a realization that the next couple of games will make or break our play-off challenge. All our remaining games, with the exception of Saturday's trip to Sporting Kansas City, are against Western Conference opponents who are fighting out for the points that will ensure that 5th or better finish. While it is still true that we have played the most games, we can only beat the 11 lining up against us & pray that everyone else around us plays out 0-0 draws. After the weekend, LA, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, San Jose & Vancouver (twice) all await.
Turning to this Saturday, the Rapids face a Kansas City side they have never beaten in their current 'Sporting' incarnation. Indeed you have to go back to March 2009 where we got a 2-1 home win against 'the Wiz', a fact that hardly seems relevant given the how much KC have evolved since then. It will be a tough away day & supporters will hope that the intimidated home atmosphere doesn't get to the player. While we will definitely play for the win, I imagine that most Rapids supporters will be pleased if we can come back from Sporting Park with a point.
Lastly, the Rapids website has been asking if supporters consider Kansas City a rival this week. The unaminous answer? No.
LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes
Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
The LA Galaxy made two major announcements relatively close to each other: long term deals locking up Omar Gonzalez and Landon Donovan just before the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This week we'll get to see if securing their futures keeps the squad focused against an undermanned San Jose squad.
Last week went well for LA, extending to a three match win streak in all competitions. After offense driven wins at home, a 1-0 road victory was a positive sign that the defense is starting to get their act together. It's a new look defense with Jaime Penedo taking over inside goal for exiled Carlo Cudicini. Penedo made a save of the week nominee save keeping LA on top when Vancouver looked sure to get an open net goal. His play has his mates on the defensive line fired up, which was able to keep the clean sheet despite some significant changes.
With LA continuing to struggle on set pieces in Dallas (even if two of the goals were done in offside positions) Bruce Arena has made an effort to keep size in the middle. Leonardo, whose handball was responsible for one of those goals, still has issues with discipline and focus but his imposing size in the middle combined with Omar Gonzalez disincentives crosses into the box. The shuffling has left Sean Franklin the odd man out, as he tries to become a regular in the midfield. That's still LA's biggest question mark.
Lisa Erickson, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
The Road Woes Continue… The Quakes have only won one road match all year. It wouldn't be so bad if they had drawn a few more times and bringing home a point, and yet they are struggling even with that. This last week for the San Jose Earthquakes was especially rough dropping 2 points to Dallas on a very questionable 'dive' in the box by Blas Perez. To add to the rough spell in the game, there were two Men in Blue (and Black) shown straight reds (Justin Morrow and Victor Bernardez) and Rafael Baca was given his 5th yellow meaning he too will sit out against the Galaxy. With the three amigos not going to see minutes at the StubHub Hub, they all were starters in Guatemala City against CD Heredia in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). But alas, the road woes continued when some San Jose players forgot to play to the whistle which allowed for Enrique Miranda to waltz in and score the match's only goal. The Quakes are ready to come home but need to stop by LA to battle the Second in the West for some much needed 3 points. With Bernardez, Morrow and Nana Attakora out I suspect Jason Hernandez to pair with Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart will hold down the left back. With Baca serving his one game suspension, I wouldn't be surprised to find Walter 'Pery' Martinez to sit in the center getting balls to Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon. It will take a miracle to bring home those needed 3 points, but with these Goonies anything is possible!
Chicago Fire vs Houston Dynamo
Sun 3pm, Toyota Park (UniMas)
MLS fans have probably heard by now about "the editorial" posted on the Fire's website last week. I'm not going to discuss it because it has been talked to death nearly everywhere else on the internet. If you really want my take on the matter, read it here.
Beating Sporting KC greatly helped the Fire's playoff chances but the situation remains the same in that department: Victories against conference opponents are a must. A win would move the Fire ahead of Houston in the standings and some favorable results in other matches could see them back in playoff position by the end of the weekend's league play.
Player-wise it seems that the Men and Red have returned to full health. Many fans are clamoring for another appearance from reserve defender Hunter Jumper after his game winner vs. KC (and reserve league goal vs. New York on Tuesday). It's hard to say whether Frank Klopas will make such an adjustment but Jumper's composed play in shutting out KC could see him take veteran Bakary Soumare's starting spot.
Even though the score line against KC was only 1-0, near-misses from forwards Chris Rolfe and Juan Luis Anangonó showed that Mike Magee might not be the only goleador in Fire red. Rumors of backline weakness in Houston ought to have those three forwards licking their chops in anticipation. Could we finally see a complete, dominating performance from end-to-end? Better late than never, I guess.
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
The upcoming match against the Chicago Fire will closely resemble a playoff match after this past week's results. Houston had an opportunity to not only keep pace with Eastern Conference clubs around them, but move up a couple places and separate themselves from those below – but we all know what happened.
The Montreal Impact handed the Dynamo their worst loss in franchise history with an embarrassing 5-0 scoreline. Houston never looked interested in the match past the first 25 minutes of the game and looked like a team confused. Poor passing, a large number of giveaways, and suspect defending at the back led to the thrashing by Marco Di Vaio and the Impact.
Chicago – on the other hand – took care of business as they can literally taste a playoff spot now that they are two points out of the fifth spot in the East after defeating Sporting Kansas City. You couldn't write a better story for the lead up to this game. It all comes down to who wants it more.
The game will be a test of character for the Dynamo, who didn't look all that impressive in a midweek win against Arabe Unido in CCL action. If they are going to hold their spot and become a challenger again in the East, the Fire will have to beaten. While a road draw is normally an acceptable result, Houston needs to prove to themselves they can beat solid opponents and add some space between the two clubs.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Chivas USA
Sun 7pm, BC Place
Benjamin Massey, Editor, Maple Leaf Forever, Vancouver:
There's a weird tension in Vancouver this week, considering that we're looking at a home game against the worst team in Major League Soccer. Surely this should be an easy win. But it's also a must-win; Vancouver's playoff aspirations grow increasingly foggy with every dropped point as our rivals thump Eastern Conference and higher-ranked teams in a manner that seems calculated to drive a Whitecaps supporter mad. Now Chivas USA, weak, everyone knows it, but coming off that victory over New York which is just enough to provoke already-jumpy nerves.
The word of the day is "urgency", a word carefully chosen because if the Whitecaps come up short against Chivas USA it might become "desperation". Vancouver's road record is the envy of nobody, and if they make a habit of losing home points, well.
Omar Avalos, The Goat Parade, Chivas:
Chivas USA travels to Vancouver fresh off of a 3-2 victory earned against Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. Chivas and Vancouver have split both of their meetings this season, first with a 2-1 victory for Chivas in March and then with a 3-1 Vancouver victory in June.
The big question for Chivas this week is whether or not they can keep their momentum and a consistent form going towards the end of this season. Manager Jose Luis Real found a successful starting lineup against New York, which observers expect him to keep going forward to build upon heading towards next season. Chivas fans in the Los Angeles area will finally have a chance to watch how their team does on local television beginning with the Vancouver game. The club announced that they at last signed a television deal to broadcast games in English and Spanish on LA channels KDOC 22 and MundoFOX 22 for the remainder of the season. Their lack of a TV deal was a bitter point of contention not only in LA, but league-wide.
Vancouver has a two-game losing streak, which might paint an accessible team for Chivas, but given that the Whitecaps are at home, expect them be a difficult side. A win and a combination of poor results by FC Dallas and Seattle will put Vancouver directly in playoff qualification. Needless to say, it's up to Chivas to play the role of spoiler for the Whitecaps.