If you lived here, you'd be home by now...
Yes, it's week 28 of the MLS season, and as NBC's Steve Davis revealed this week, the league recently had preliminary discussions about cutting the league season to 28 games from its current 34 to ease congestion around international weeks etc. Weeks like this one for example, where World Cup qualifying has taken several key MLS players away from their clubs. Add in the injured and suspended at this stage of the season and a lot of lineups are looking a little threadbare this weekend. By the way, on the subject of Steve, he'll be joining me to ponder the five things we learned this weekend on Monday morning.
Before that the weekend kicks off with the USA's qualifier in Costa Rica tonight. We'll be covering that one live. So join us on the site from just before 10pm ET tonight.
The only "eastern" kick off on Saturday sees Sporting KC hosting the post-Warzycha Columbus, who still harbor faint playoff hopes after beating Houston in midweek. Sporting lost Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day, but will see this as a game they should be winning if they're serious about defending their Eastern conference regular season title. Meanwhile over in Dallas, the hosts are trying to reignite their stalled challenge against a Vancouver team who have stuck around the playoff places while struggling to keep a run going themselves recently.
Later that evening, Chicago try to bounce back from conceding that late Adam Moffat goal last week, but it won't be easy when they go to a Seattle side who are suddenly on a roll. The Sounders aren't scoring a lot at the moment, but thy aren't conceding any either, and with RSL not playing they could close the gap at the top of the West. LA may have something to say about that when they host Colorado, and so too might Portland — though they have to address the fact that they've finished the wrong side of a few recent scorelines during a tough run against the best of their peers. This week they face Toronto, and with due respect to Ryan Nelsen's men, Portland won't have a better chance of steadying the ship.
On Sunday we get back under way with an afternoon kick off in Houston, where the hosts return home after a mixed-fortunes road trip East, to face the on-again off-again New York, who've lost current talisman Tim Cahill to injury (so they might be off-again). The Dynamo need a win with Chicago and New England on their heels for the last playoff spot. Not that the latter will have it easy hosting Montreal, even if the Impact's road form is a little indifferent. They dropped two points at Philadelphia last week. The Union are on the road themselves this week, where they've been decent this season. They're at San Jose on Sunday night, right after Chivas and DC do battle down in Carson. Chivas have had a couple of decent results of late, but went down to Seattle in midweek. They're still persisting with their mission to act as "spoilers" according to keeper Dan Kennedy though.
Always happy to act as spoilers, our regular cast of fan reps and writers representing each of this weekend's competing teams. See what they have to say below, add your own thoughts, join us tonight for Costa Rica vs USA, join us again on Monday to find out what we learned this weekend, touch your toes and recite the alphabet backwards. Only another six or so rounds of this to go before the playoffs...
All game times are listed as ET
FC Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Sat 8.30pm, FC Dallas Stadium
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
First of all, I just wanted to note that today (Thursday) is two years to the day since Bobby Rhine passed away and so it's a sad day for us, remembering him. Other than that, there are a couple of stories coming off the bye weekend — the first being that the club has finally revealed that a stadium sponsor has been found, though they're no officially announcing who it is until September 10th. It's some welcome money coming in.
The second is that once again we're short of forwards going into this weekend's home game against Vancouver. Kenny Cooper is suspended and Blas Parez is with Panama. You'd think now would be a good time for the coach to throw in Jonathan Top up front, but Hyndman has been making comments to the effect of how hard it is to break into the 18 let alone the starting 11, and the belief is he'll start with Hassli up front which none of us are happy about it. Hassli has had plenty of chances to prove himself at the start of the season, and just hasn't produced. Most fans gave up on him when we were short of forwards in June and he only managed seven minutes of the game against Portland — when surely he could have played through. But that's the thing with him — the coach has mentioned that he doesn't really watch what he eats and frankly for the amount of money we've spent on him, looking after himself seems like a basic requirement. He's done nothing.
So while we're looking forward to resuming a series that fostered some decent rivalry between the two sets of fans over the home and home series in May, it's rather overshadowed by wondering who's going to put the ball in the net because it's not going to be Hassli. And who's going to come n for him, because he's not going to last 90 minutes.
Brenton Walters, @CapsOffside:
The Whitecaps this week are a team that almost feels like its in a tailspin. One point from six against both LA teams simply isn't good enough for a team that is struggling to finish in a play-off spot. Regardless of their minor resurgence, Chivas are still a horrible team that we should beat, especially at home.
The key to our play-off run-in was (still is?) continuing our home form. Dropping points in two straight games puts intense pressure on the team to make up those points on the road, a Herculean task for a team that has averaged less than a point per game away from home this year.
Rumblings about Martin Rennie's future at the club have started to get louder, and for good reason: regardless of how many points we finish with, if we miss the play-offs we will have regressed in Rennie's second year in charge. While Rennie hasn't done anything explicitly deserving of getting fired, missing the play-offs would be a serious blow to club's aspirations, especially given how much Portland has improved and how successful Seattle have been after a horrible start to the season.
Can the Caps and Rennie find some redemption in Dallas, San Jose and Montreal? Can we win on the road AND at home? It's unlikely. One of the knocks against Rennie is that his teams don't perform well in big games. He's got plenty of opportunity to remedy this, with just eight games left and every game important.
Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew
Sat 8.30pm, Sporting Park
Mike Kuhn, Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City:
The main storyline for Kansas City this weekend is the number of absences that the team will have when they take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday. Sporting will be missing four players who have been called up for their national teams. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are away representing the United States as they look to clinch a spot in the 2014 World Cup with games against Costa Rica and Mexico. KC will also be without Mechack Jerome and Peterson Joseph, who are in South Korea with the Haitian national team as they play a friendly against Korea.
Along with those four, the team will be without forward Dom Dwyer. Dywer has been loaned back to Orlando City ahead of their USL-Pro Championship game against the Charlotte Eagles. The merits and sportsmanship towards Charlotte that this brings up are certainly topics of discussion for Orlando and Charlotte fans, especially if Dwyer plays a major role and Orlando wins.
All this without yet mentioning Sporting Kansas City selling forward and second leading scorer, Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough on deadline day Monday. The biggest absence will be in that right forward slot in KC's 4-3-3, Zusi and Kamara have occupied that spot lately for KC but with both gone, it looks like that job will fall to either CJ Sapong or Jacob Peterson come Saturday. With Benny Feilhaber picking up his play and Paulo Nagamura returning from injury it's lessened the blow in midfield from Zusi playing on the wing up top. Neither Sapong or Peterson will be expected to provide the same style Kamara does but they'll need to step up and contribute more.
Ian Fraser, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
A change of direction was needed for the club in general but this season in itself needed a jolt. Firing the coach always stirs the pot as the reality of a disappointing season becomes clear and guys see firsthand that people will be held accountable. A new coach brings new life, a new attitude and philosophy to the team but also a clean slate for everyone in the locker room. Guys who were buried in the doghouse or weren't favored now have a chance to show that they can help this team.
We saw this first hand in Wednesday's victory. Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Tyson Wahl and Eric Gehrig were all given a chance after seeing very little or dwindling minutes under Warzycha. Goals came from Justin Meram and Ryan Finley, guys who have been played by Warzycha lately but were not able to produce for him. In Graham Parker's article earlier this week, I had mentioned that there is blame to go around on the players as well. In his postgame interview, Meram made a point to say that Bliss had come in and brought clarity on the expectations of each player/position on the field. One of the biggest critiques of Warzycha seemed to be around communication, so maybe Bliss' communication can help relieve some pressure on these guys and they execute better.
Hope has been given to a season headed down the drain under a lame duck manager. Making the playoffs will be a task but at least this team should go out fighting now.
Seattle Sounders vs Chicago Fire
Sat 10pm, CenturyLink Field
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
Despite 7 starters out with either national team call ups, injuries or card suspensions, the Sounders managed to pull a third consecutive 1-0 victory this past Wednesday and have found themselves leading MLS in points per game heading into this Chicago game. It's hard not to look ahead to the rest of the month's schedule with Real Salt Lake & the LA Galaxy on the horizons, which is what concerns some for this Chicago matchup coming up. Getting three points is essential to maintaining control of the Supporters Shield, and having a healthy Obafemi Martins will certainly make things easier. Otherwise on 2 days rest, a half starting lineup, half reserve team is what we'll be faced with. What's been the most impressive these past three matches has been our defense, and the play of Osvaldo Alonso. He's everywhere, stifling every opposition and making his own case for future DP status. Local products Lamar Neagle & DeAndre Yedlin are continuing to get better and better, the former notching his career best 6th goal and no sign of slowing down as his confidence increases with each match. Offensively, much of the burden will be reliant upon what Mauro Rosales can create in however many minutes he's able to play, as he's been the catalyst for much of the offense of late. Predicting another 1-0 win for the rave green.
The main story for the Fire this week is, can the team win on turf for the first time since June 2010? The Men in Red needlessly dropped two points last week and now have to go to the Pacific Northwest, a place where they have never won. That's right, never won. With that being said, I think the team has a great chance of breaking those ducks on Saturday night. Seattle will be missing some major pieces due to international call-ups and even though the Sounders have won 6 of their last 7 there are some some obvious flaws with the teams play.
The most notable is the Sounder's failure to defend properly on set pieces. In the team's last three matches, this has been painfully clear. Watching Seattle's last match against Chivas, especially the second half, gave me hope that the Fire can get something out of this game. Chivas could've easily scored more that one goal from slack defending on free kicks and with a player like Mike Magee putting balls in and possessing players with aerial ability such as Berry and Larentowicz, I think the Fire can take full advantage. The East is wide open at the moment, with everyone taking points off of one another and a positive result on Saturday night would put the team in a great position with 8 games to play.
LA Galaxy vs Colorado Rapids
Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center
The LA Galaxy have started their late season push to the playoffs. Winners of their last three league games, LA is finally looking the part. Outscoring their opponents 8-2 in those games, all fingers point toward the perfect pairing of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
It's no surprise that the two of them make such a huge impact on a team that craves star power. But, with international duty taking such a huge chunk of their possible appearances it's no wonder they are just now starting to click.
But MLS doesn't seem to want the Galaxy to play with their dynamic duo against Colorado. The first two meetings of the three games against the Rapids have all fallen under a FIFA international window. So is anyone really surprised that the 3rd and final game of this series will be played during an International window?
Throw out the recent goal scoring by Landon and Robbie, and throw out the defensive efforts by Omar Gonzalez and Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Between the United States, Ireland, and Panama those four guys won't be found on the StubHub Center pitch come Saturday.
But remember when we talked about getting the younger players early playing time in hopes it would payoff in the future? That time is now. Expect Jose Villarreal, Jack McBean, Gyasi Zardes, and Brian Rowe to man the vacant positions and possibly cement their future with the Galaxy.
For LA, it's about carrying momentum through this FIFA date/ Colorado game, and into the road game with DC United.
Todd Haggerty, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
The Rapids summer of love started with a bang and went out with a disappointing "meh". The team overachieved in June and July only to put forth mediocre performances in August. The Rapids now find themselves in a playoff battle and can ill afford to drop points. Fortunately the schedule makers have looked fondly on 'Pids as they face the Galaxy during an international break for the second time this season. The Galaxy will be short numerous players who could do damage to the Rapids still fragile back line; while the 'Pids will only be missing Gabby Torres--who is yet to gel with the team. September makes or breaks your season and with three points begging on the the road the Rapids better seize the initiative.
Portland Timbers vs Toronto FC
Sat 11pm, JELD-WEN Field
Roger Anthony, Timbers Army, Portland:
Maybe that split season used by Liga MX isn't such a bad idea after all. The Portland Timbers are perched on the brink of history, but it's history you wouldn't want to make. As the Clausura segment of the MLS regular season closed, Portland was coming to the conclusion of a 15-game unbeaten streak – one of the six longest streaks in MLS history. Of the previous five teams with unbeaten streaks of 15 games or more, only one missed the playoffs, and that requires an asterisk: Columbus carried an 18-game streak into 2005, won its opening match, and then sank from playoff contention for three years.
Now, in the rugged Western Conference, it's the 2013 Timbers who find themselves sinking fast. Since the start of July, the Timbers have been a meek 2-3-5 in league and Open Cup play. Fans scanning the remaining schedule see low-hanging fruit in a pair of matches with Chivas, and this weekend's clash with Toronto.
While Saturday's match isn't quite a "must-win," it's at least a "better-win." The Reds are now missing five players, not to mention a president and general manager. Portland can top that, though: Between injuries, suspensions and national team call-ups, the battle-scarred Timbers could list just 14 players as ready and available by midweek. There's a chance, then, that two 21-year-olds could be making their first MLS starts – forward Jose Valencia and homegrown midfielder Steven Evans.
Duncan Fletcher, Waking the Red, Toronto:
It had been a quiet week or two for Toronto FC. Almost too quiet. This was almost going to be about the points lost last week to a poor refereeing decision, or how TFC might adapt to losing 3 starting players to international duty. But it's never dull for too long with our beloved Reds, and so here we are.
Reports came out on Wednesday, it was confirmed at a media conference call on Thursday. Tim Leiweke, CEO of owners MLSE had decided to fire Kevin Payne, President of TFC. Who'd been in the job roughly nine months. Differences in opinion over just what direction TFC needed to be going in was cited as the reason. Some are happy to see Payne go, few are absolutely outraged about it, but many are bewildered that there's yet another change to go through.
Hopefully this time, having the main man in charge pick his own man will lead to a good thing, but whoever is brought in as the new GM apparently won't have that chance. Leiweke was quite forceful in saying the new guy is going to have to work with Ryan Nelsen as coach, hopefully that's just talk that he doesn't really mean if he hopes to bring in anyone good.
Oh, also in the same press conference Leiweke mused very openly about TFC perhaps sharing their stadium with the CFL's Toronto's Argos in the future. It's been an interesting couple of days.
Houston Dynamo vs New York Red Bulls
Sun 5pm, BBVA Compass Stadium (UniMas)
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
Questions about the ability of the 2013 Houston Dynamo squad are in full swing as they picked up a single point in two road matches in the extremely tight Eastern Conference this week. Fan frustration is at an all-time high with the team's lack of finishing and inability to get results when they've needed them most.
Over the weekend, Adam Moffat saved the day with a last minute goal to draw even with the Chicago Fire, but on Wednesday night Houston couldn't handle the Columbus Crew and were held scoreless in a 2-0 loss.
The issue has become a joke – Houston just can't get the ball in the net. Will Bruin, who scored a club record 16 goals last year, missed three (yes I said three) chances early in the match and the game went to the half scoreless. It didn't take long for the "road Dynamo" to show up and the Crew jumped on top just minutes into the second half. Tally Hall saved a penalty a couple minutes after the first goal, but the Crew doubled their lead and kept their playoff chances alive with the win.
That's exactly what Houston has been unable to do this year – win when necessary. The schedule gets tougher for Houston who at this point many are counting out. I wouldn't go that far just yet, but this game against New York on Sunday could very well define the Dynamo season.
Dan Ryazansky, editor, Metrofanatic, New York:
Every week, the time seems to turn in Metro-land. After last week's debacle at Chivas, NY rebounded strong with a win over DC. Oh, the victory wasn't easy and didn't come without controversy, but we're used to that at this point...
"Coach's decision." Those two words sent Titi Henry to the bench after a spat with Mike Petke two days earlier. The French ubermensch sat next to his supposedly lesser teammates, staring onto the field as David Carney and Bradley Wright-Philipps made their first starts. Carney was burned on DC's lone goal; Wright-Phillips was a welcome addition to the attacking line. His ability to play with his back to the net should be welcome once Henry returns to the fold.
NY goals came from Lloyd Sam, on a possible chip that DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid failed to handle, and by Tim Cahill, on yet another header. Prior to Sam's goal, DC's Dejan Jakovic flattened Cahill in the penalty area, tearing his ankle ligaments. No foul was called, but once again Cahill somehow managed to score in a game after suffering an injury.
NY survived despite a rather borderline penalty call, when DC's Dwayne De Rosario made Ibrahim Sekagya obstruct him. The foul also earned Sekagya a red card. Thankfully, Luis Robles saved De Rosario's penalty kick, and NY escaped with a much-needed victory. They now go on the road with a tough match-up against Houston. Cahill is not available, but Henry should be... Pending another "coach's decision".
New England Revolution vs Montreal Impact
Sun 7.30pm, Gillette Stadium
Julie Kumor, Midnight Riders:
I generally don't pay attention to the transfer window closing, but this year I was being selfish. I didn't want Stoke to succeed in getting their last minute transfer of Juan Agudelo. The Revs need him more than he needs us. In the weeks after his new contract was announced he seemed content to wait until January, assured us he was going to play his best and help us get to the playoffs, then suddenly last week he starts re-tweeting stories of MLS rejecting bids from Stoke to bring him over now. So, was he going to stop playing hard for us? Sure he didn't want to get injured prior to January. Then on Friday he went down in the box, and I admit I thought this is a ploy to get off the field, to go to Stoke and part of me didn't want him on our team. He was being more selfish than me.
Then stories over the weekend trickled out that Sporting KC had sold Kei Kamara, a player just as important to them as Juan is to us and I felt bad for Juan. Why did KC get to sell Kei, while MLS rejects Juan's bid? Also I notice the difference, when the player is sold, the team did it, when it is rejected it is the league. I also remember how many bids the league has rejected on behalf of Rev players in the past (Shalrie, Twellman) and I think no matter how selfish I am or Juan is, the Revs' front office is a pretty selfish bunch.
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Winning on the road is always hard and the Montreal Impact is no exception to the rule. So getting a point at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union is good news for Les Bleus. Even though it was not its best performance last weekend, Montreal is generally never impressive on the road.
The Impact was lucky enough not to lose against the Union thanks to a perfect Troy Perkins and an inefficient Union team. Though there was some bad news for the club as it made official that Hernan Bernardello is out for up to 6 weeks with a left ankle sprain.
Picking up the injury against Philadelphia, Bernardello's loss will be felt as Marco Schallibaum's tactical schema has drastically altered since the Argentinean's arrival. Now the club's depth on the field is only deep in numbers and not quality, at least not enough quality. Schallibaum has another puzzle to solve and one might say that it's his job to adapt to suspensions, injuries etc. But how good can your team be, when your Plan A is almost your only Plan. Not that Collen Warner and Davy Arnaud cannot pinch in and contribute positively, but Bernardello was brought in for a good reason.
Between MLS games and the CONCACAF Champions League in September, choices need to be made on which competition to focus on (hint, it should not be the CCL),or at least which one to focus on with your best starting XI.
Chivas USA vs DC United
Sun 9pm, StubHub Center
Matt Hoffman, The Goat Parade, Chivas:
On Sunday, up 2-0 at Vancouver, it was the first time this season Chivas scored multiple goals on the road. But in reality, a draw—or worse—seemed inevitable. No team has scored more second half goals Whitecaps. Meanwhile, no team has conceded more second half goals than Chivas USA. With an irresistible force facing an eminently movable object, Vancouver equalized in the dying minutes.
Why is Chivas such a poor second half team? Coach Jose Luis Real's system of heavy pressing and tight marking is a culprit. The constant running and pressuring opponents is simply not sustainable over the course of a 90 minute match, despite the relative youth of the team.
To illustrate this point, against the Whitecaps, Chivas had 13 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 41 recoveries in the first half. At the end of the game, they totaled 19 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 57 recoveries.
Real used the same starting eleven from Sunday's match for a midweek fixture against Seattle. The team appeared sluggish, accomplishing very little out of the gate. Until Seattle scored in the 24th minute, Chivas was losing the possession battle 24% to 76%.
I'm expecting the same lineup as Chivas welcomes fellow bottom dweller D.C. United to the StubHub Center this Sunday. If Chivas can mount the furious, swarming pressure in keeping the visitors off balance, they stand a very good chance of collecting three points, so long as Real can alter play and use his substitutions judiciously.
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
United lost at New York this week, falling behind 1-0, then battled back to tie the game on Nick DeLeon's first league goal of the season only to immediately give up the lead again. United continued to battle, but couldn't find the equalizer. The game goes (as yet) another loss in the books, but the key is that the team kept the proper spirit and fought to the end to try and even the match.
Gone this week is the ENTIRE United Canadian contingent (DeRosario, Porter, and Jakovic), and they'll miss this weekend's match against Chivas USA. But news from United is that Chris Pontius (remember him?) has returned to full practices as has rookie Taylor Kemp. Also available for United is the contingent that has featured for the Richmond Kickers as their season has ended.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Philadelphia Union
Sun 11pm, Buck Shaw Stadium (ESPN2)
Nerdy Gales, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
The San Jose Earthquakes are finally back at home after a very tough three match road trip – road wins remained elusive with questionable calls in Dallas, shiny matted Guatemalan AstroTurf and questionable decision making in LA. Last week's thrashing by the Galaxy was disheartening from the San Jose perspective. The Quakes played their best players out of position rather than the best player available for that position, in a 4-1-4-1 formation that put the club's top scorers Wondolowski and Gordon behind Lenhart. Fans were perplexed when defender Clarence Goodson was forward for a free kick when both Gordon and Lenhart were on the field – inevitably LA scored on the counter-attack. It also seemed utterly pointless to substitute Jahn for Lenhart with a 3-0 deficit, but by that point in the match the Quakes fans playoff aspirations had lost the will to live.
Talking of Lenny, next up is Steven Lenhart Chia Pet night – I kid you not. The relevance of this week's opponent, the Philadelphia Union, almost falls into insignificance for the gardeners among the Quakes fans as the club's marketing team cultivates Lenny's internet moniker. The Union looks to continue their effectiveness on the west coast this year, while the Earthquakes valuable home record might nip their hopes in the bud. Lenny delivered on his eponymous wig giveaway last season, so perhaps Lenhart will blossom into the Union-killer of old. Local commentators still refuse to believe that the Quakes will fail to make the playoffs, but even the most optimistic of fans are resigned to an early off-season, nurturing and coiffing their new Chia Pets.
Adam Cann, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Veteran forward Conor Casey keeps saying his strike partner, Jack McInerney, just needs an easy tap-in to get back to his scintillating early season form. Last week, McInerney cut inside his man and leaped to touch his head to a Fabinho cross from six yards out. He whiffed. Moments later, head coach John Hackworth replaced McInerney and the Union played out a disappointing tie with the first place Montreal Impact.
This week the Union travel west to a deceptively tough matchup with the San Jose Earthquakes. Though the Quakes are near the bottom of the Western Conference, they haven't lost at home since opening night against Real Salt Lake.
Once again, Philly will be without Amobi Okugo in back. Sheanon Williams will deputize again in the middle with Ray Gaddis stepping into the right back role. Both players were extremely impressive against Montreal last week, though Okugo is in no danger of losing his spot in the first eleven.
Since the beginning of July, Philadelphia has scored five goals against DC United and Chivas USA, and five goals against everyone else. For comparison, a team of soccer writers could score five goals on DC and Chivas. If the Union lose, they could be pushed below the playoff cutoff for the first time since April. While this seems like a minor psychological issue, it is one John Hackworth will hope his young team does not have to deal with.
COSTA RICA vs USA, GUARDIAN LIVE MINUTE-BY-MINUTE 10PM ET FRIDAY