This is now attempt number 329 of writing an opening sentence of this weekend's previews — attempts written in the knowledge that the first listed game of the weekend is a Columbus Crew home game, and attempting not to make a really bad pun about teams being on fire, or rising from the ashes, or finding their spark, or...
Columbus Crew's scoreboard caught fire last week, delaying the start of their game with D.C. United. When the game got underway, Columbus
smoked beat DC 3-0. Now that that dignity snare has been safely negotiated, I can tell you that the Crew host New York this week, with the Red Bulls coming off a last minute victory over Toronto courtesy of a Tim Cahill brace. And since there are no possible jokes involving Australians and barbecues, or bulls/cows we're safe to proceed to the next game.
It's a less busy schedule than usual this weekend, owing to a fairly full midweek program. New England and Portland got the weekend underway early last night and aren't in action over the weekend, so after the Crew vs NY game the next listed match up is a lunchtime kickoff on the West coast, with San Jose facing Montreal. The Impact have been pretty undaunted in their West coast travels so far, opening their season with a very effective raid on Cascadia, and coming into this game having just put six past a hapless Toronto team in midweek. Meanwhile San Jose are slowly playing into form without getting spectacular results. Speaking of which, Seattle are back in action this weekend, having finally ended their winless streak on the road in Colorado a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps they're hitting Philadelphia at the right time, with the Union losing at New England last week.
Vancouver had a heartening comeback against Western frontrunners Dallas (also resting this weekend) last week and now they visit Rio Tinto, where Salt Lake will be hoping not to repeat either the warm up injuries that saw them lose two players (including the vital Saborio) before last wek's game against LA, or indeed the 2-0 loss in that game. That game kicks off on Saturday evening, at the same time as RSL's Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Colorado kick off against a Toronto team still trying to iron out familiar late game woes under Ryan Nelsen (or "entire game woes" if you count Wednesday's game in Montreal).
That does it for Saturday night. Two games on Sunday. Sporting KC were pushed off their game by a willing Portland Timbers side last week, and there may not be much rest on the horizon as Chivas and their pressing game come to town on Sunday afternoon. Then the Galaxy and Houston restage last year's MLS Cup final in Carson, with the Dynamo a little indifferent in keeping their impressive home streak going against Colorado last week, and LA's kids looking impressively mature in seeing off RSL last week.
Speaking of kids, young Atticus Lane-Dupre got four goals in midweek as his side Green Machine won a 10-9 thriller over the Timbers in front of some 3,000 fans at JELD-WEN.
And from that heartwarming story, on to several more from our fan reps and writers representing each MLS team in action this weekend. Find out what they think are the big stories at their clubs going into this weekend's games, have your say in the comments, and we'll be back on Monday morning with our regular five things we learned column.
All kick off times listed are ET
Columbus Crew vs New York Red Bulls
Sat 4:00PM, Columbus Crew Stadium (NBCSN)
Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
Well, the big news in Columbus last weekend was the scoreboard literally bursting into flames during team warm-ups. The game was delayed an hour while the Columbus Fire Department put it out, moved fans from the area, and gave the all clear to resume the game. But as bad as a scoreboard fire is, it doesn't compare to the dumpster fire that is D.C.'s team right now.
Yes, D.C. is bad, but the Crew looked like world beaters last week. Coach Warzycha finally read this column, took my advice, and decided that Federico Higuain, Jairo Arrieta, Eddie Gaven, and Dominic Oduro all needed to be on the field at the same time. Three first half goals and the best offensive display seen in Columbus in quite some time proved the decision to be a good one.
The other talking point around Crewville this week is about how bad this week's opponent, the Red Bulls, have been on the road this season. Last week's game at Toronto was New York's first away win this season. In six away games, NY has managed just one draw while picking up four losses and have given up 10 goals. Meanwhile, the Crew are coming off their best home win in a while. Hopes are high going into the weekend, hopefully the scoreboard won't be the only thing on fire in Crew Stadium this weekend. The New York Metro Stars went dim, but the Crew are burning bright!
Dan Ryazansky, editor, Metrofanatic, New York:
A New York designated player midfielder with Premier League pedigree, who seems to do all the little things, but never scores... We're talking about Claudio Reyna, why do you ask?
Of course, a week ago we might have been talking about Tim Cahill. The Australian finally broke through in the scoring column, tallying both goals in NY's 2:1 victory over Toronto. The second came as regulation was winding down, minutes before a wandering gaffe by Luis Robles gifted the home team the equalizer.
Juninho will return from suspension this week, and it will be interesting to see how Mike Petke fits him into the lineup. As good as the Brazilian has been moving the ball forward, on defense he is anything but alert, and seems misplaced in the middle of the field. The fate of Robles also seems to be in the balance, as Kevin Hartman is getting closer to making his MLS return.
The personnel might have changed, but it looks like the vibe is very similar to a year ago: NY can get results against the weaker teams, but struggles against stronger ones. Nevertheless, the first winning streak of the season gives hope heading into Columbus.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Montreal Impact
Sat 4:00PM, Buck Shaw Stadium
Robert Jonas, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
The hits keep coming for the Earthquakes as news broke this week that bruising forward Steven Lenhart had been suspended by MLS for two matches following "violent conduct" against Chivas USA defender Mario de Luna last weekend. The Quakes were already without fellow target man Alan Gordon, halfway through a four match suspension for using inappropriate language, meaning head coach Frank Yallop will have a thinned roster to choose from for upcoming home matches against Montreal and Toronto. So who does Yallop choose to pair star striker Chris Wondolowski?
Rookie forward Adam Jahn, who rescued a point for San Jose against Portland a week ago, could be the best complement for Wondo. With size similar to teammates Gordon and Lenhart, Jahn can provide the target play in the opponent's area that is required in the Quakes set-up. The Stanford University product has already impressed in the start to his career and has the confidence to help a flagging Earthquakes offense. The other option for Yallop is Mike Fucito, the former Montreal Impact that was Wondolowski's striking partner to open the season when Gordon and Lenhart were out with injuries. An intriguing third option is Marcus Tracy, an athletically gifted forward who has yet to make his MLS debut. Tracy seems more likely to make an appearance off the bench, but this might be the right time to get the exciting forward on the field.
Whoever makes the line-up, the Earthquakes will need productivity. Winless in their last five matches, San Jose has not regained the scoring touch that led to a franchise record 72 goals last season. With a quarter of the 2013 season already in the books, the club can't afford to keep giving away points in an ever increasingly competitive Western Conference.
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Injuries and Canadian Championship craziness would describe the Montreal Impact week.
The sweet taste of victory against the Chicago Fire (2-0 win) turned sour with a scene that Impact fans have seen again and again since joining Major League Soccer. Alessandro Nesta limped off the pitch early in the second half as another Gladiator goes down. The good news is that youngster Wandrille Lefevre got some precious minutes, filling out the shoes of the Serie A legend.
A historical 6-0 win vs Toronto FC could be a great milestone in the club's history if they make it all the way and take the Voyageurs Cup home. Marco Schallibaum fielded a much more experienced squad for the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship. Six goals later, the Reds of Toronto go back home with a hangover and a bruised ego.
On the flip side, another player joins the list in the infirmary. Daniele Paponi limped off 30 minutes into the game with a hamstring injury (out 4-6 weeks).
What have we learned from this week? The seed of victory has taken root in Montreal Impact from the players to the coaching staff. The winning mentality, that the club was known for, is stronger now than ever. And they will need it as Les Bleu de Montreal take on the San Jose Earthquakes in San Jose.
Philadelphia Union vs Seattle Sounders
Sat 4:00PM, PPL Park
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Union left New England last weekend with a 2-0 beating and a reminder that they are a very ordinary team right now.
The Union sit in sixth place at 3-3-2, but they have been little more than a functional, no-frills squad highlighted by striker Jack McInerney's torrid start. Philadelphia's three wins have come against seventh, eighth and last place teams. They have lost to second place New York, fourth place Kansas City and now seventh place New England on the road. And they have drawn with ninth place Toronto and fifth place Columbus. Effectively, they're doing no more than was predicted in preseason and no less than can be expected of a team playing very conservatively.
Philadelphia's primary problem has been their weak midfield play. Right midfielder Danny Cruz has proven one-dimensional, taking very few touches compared to his midfield compatriots while consistently looking for deep runs behind defenses. Center midfielder Keon Daniel has been dropping so deep that he adds little to the attack. Meanwhile, 2012 all-star Michael Farfan has been moved out of his comfort zone to play wide left, while his twin, Gabriel, has been relegated to the bench despite impressing more than Cruz and Daniel. Recently acquired loanee and designed player Jose Kleberson has yet to see major minutes.
If Union manager John Hackworth starts playing his best midfielders in their best positions, the Union could be an impressive team. Right now, they're just functional, and some fans even question that.
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
Two weeks is too long to wait for the boys in Rave Green to play a match. The MLS has to sort out this woefully unbalanced scheduling somehow, to think that one team can have already played 10 matches and the Sounders 6 is a little off. This can be clear as day when the biggest news during the down time involves summer transfer window rumors with a US National (Herculez Gomez) and a homegrown player getting a new haircut (DeAndre Yedlin). After a couple weeks off the Sounders prepare for back to back road games in 4 days, starting with this weekend against the Philly Union and followed up with a rematch of the US Open Cup final against Sporting KC. The first match this Saturday will have a familiar face in Jeff Parke on the opposing side after being traded in the offseason closer to where he grew up. His replacement, Djimi Traore has more than made up for the loss, easing the blow for sure. Only injury concerns, of course include 2 of our DP's in Shalrie Joseph & Obafemi Martins as well as Steve Zakuani, as if our thus far toothless attack needed more bad news. Right now the Sounders faithful are maintaining patience and hoping for at least 4 points from these road matches, with an expected win against the Union and a hope for a draw against the Sporks. Anything less than 3 points from these two matches will only add more intolerance and serious questions.
Colorado Rapids vs Toronto FC
Sat 9:00PM, Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Richard Bamber, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
A familiar story for the Rapids this week, as we're talking about injuries...
We got a 1-1 draw away to Houston last weekend which a lot of fans were happy with. Granted Houston are very good at home, but perhaps people being happy with that says more about current standards and expectations than anything else. The game saw us lose Hendry Thomas to a left hamstring injury for a couple of weeks, even as Mastroeni and Riveros both came back to make substitute appearances. On another injury related note Matt Pickens, the "number one" goalkeeper (though Clint Irwin may have other ideas...), was seen training without a cast, so there may be an interesting debate soon as to if and when he comes back into the team. It won't be before Toronto on Saturday obviously. We'd want to get a result there though it may be a little more difficult as they'll probably be hurting after what happened in the Voyageur's Cup in midweek.
One other nice little aside is that the play-in rounds for the 100th US Open Cup next week will feature Colorado Rovers, a local amateur side coached by Erik French, who's a regular at Rapids Supporter tailgates. If they negotiate their play-in round they'll be playing Real Colorado Foxes, who are the local PDL side. If that happens, the Rapids fans will probably show up to watch what'll definitely be a winning Colorado side...
Sonja Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp:
Does anyone else ever wonder if Ryan Nelsen is starting to get suspicious that he may be party to an elaborate hoax? Like a Just For Laughs: Gags, where he is set up to coach a soccer team that, unbeknownst to him, is actually just set up to fail each time, with the sole purpose to see the reaction from the poor, unsuspecting coach.
God, I wish that were true; unfortunately, Toronto FC is really just that terrible when it comes to results.
Take Wednesday night. TFC met with Montreal Impact for the second leg of The Canadian Championship. Having beat Les Bleus 2-0 at BMO Field a week earlier, Toronto arrived with high expectations, as did their fans. The last few games for Toronto had ended in dropped points from late minute goals; before the match began it was already decided: there was no way Toronto could let that happen against the rival Quebec city.
The good news: they didn't. Not a single late minute goal was scored that would have an impact (pardon the pun) on the final score. However, the bad news: that's because The Impact scored six goals, winning 6-2 on aggregate, so any late goals didn't really matter much. Coincidentally, the Twitter hashtag for the game was #MakeItFive to rally what would hopefully be TFC's fifth straight Championship win. Who would have thought Montreal would answer with their own, #WeMadeItSix.
The silverlining: Toronto can now come back to focus on the league. We're going to make playoffs for sure now, baby!
Real Salt Lake vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Sat 9:00PM, Rio Tinto Stadium
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective:
Real Salt Lake was left reeling after two quick goals scored by the LA Galaxy on Saturday and despite 20 shots including a couple of crossbar and pole hits, RSL was unable to get anything past Brian Rowe who was making his first MLS start. There is little time for RSL to look back at what might have gone wrong, as they now have to prepare to host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. These two sides faced off just a couple weeks ago at BC Place, a match the ended in a 1-1 draw on a cracker of a goal by RSL rookie Olmes Garcia, and a controversial PK converted by Camilo.
Real Salt Lake will have to figure out how to get back to their winning ways without Alvaro Saborio who is out for a few weeks with an injury, the team could also be without Robbie Findley and Olmes Garcia both of whom suffered injuries last week, but are still listed as questionable for Saturday. The injury issues have been something on the mind of RSL head coach Jason Kreis, who even recently mentioned that the team may need to tinker with their formation given the injuries. I expect that they will find a way to stick with their more traditional 4-4-2, but don't be surprised if you see rookie forward Devon Sandoval in the starting lineup, to provide some size and strength to the RSL attack. After watching a few Whitecap matches so far this season, I am very fearful that their tactic of dropping at even the hint of contact could be something we see a lot of on Saturday, if the play is left to the players, I expect a sound 2-0 RSL win.
Brenton Walters, @CapsOffside:
We're in a cup final! Yes, it's a tiny group of teams that compete for it, and yes we expected to get to the final, and yes we've been in the final the past two years so it's nothing new for us, but it's still a bit exciting. The Voyageurs Cup (contested by the four professional Canadian teams) has eluded us over its eleven year history. Many of us feel that this is our year to win. It's fate. Which matters, right?
Meanwhile in MLS, we're still struggling. A draw against Dallas felt like a win after we came back from two goals down, but it was still just a point at home. And it means we're winless in six. Over that period Martin Rennie has benched some starters, experimented with various line-ups, and generally shown some dissatisfaction with the team. We do have some depth in attack, but with Kenny Miller still out and Darren Mattocks seemingly unable to get any dangerous shots on net, it's uncertain whether we can compete with the best teams in the West.
If we get a point in Utah we should be happy, especially with Saborio potentially out. Fingers crossed, but I'm not too optimistic.
Sporting KC vs Chivas USA
Sun 5:00PM, Sporting Park (UniMas)
Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:
After last week's heartbreaking 2-3 loss at home in front of a sellout crowd against the Portland Timbers, Sporting KC faces Chivas USA at home this weekend. Coming off two consecutive losses, Sporting KC will have to prove it can maintain its composure against the goats. Against the Timbers, Sporting gave up the reigns, succumbing to several giveaways and allowing a goal off of a set piece. It was great to watch defender Chance Myers score the first two goals in his MLS career in that match but disappointing to watch the team fall short on defending counters.
With that in mind, expect Chivas USA to come in knowing Sporting is vulnerable to pressure from an all-out attack and, now, capable of giving up goals at home. If Chivas USA coach El Chelis is serious about preferring a 5-2 loss over a 1-0 loss, then count on that attack to come. Chivas USA defender Mario De has played almost every minute of every match and is critical to the Chivas defense. De Luna was named to the MLS Team of the Week and will be key to keeping Sporting KC at bay. Sporting KC will need to come in rested, refocused and ready for a fight.
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
Chivas USA had two main stories of the week. First, they got over their losing streak with a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes last week. While the Goats came from behind to take a lead in the game, their weakened lineup essentially had to defend on a wing and a prayer to keep the Quakes to just two goals and the draw is a decent result. With this week's game coming up against Sporting Kansas City, a very tough opponent, they will be welcoming back some of the absent players, but there are still considerable injury concerns, and coach Chelís will likely have considerable improvisation to do in that game as well.
The other big story this week was the announcement that Chivas' starting goalkeeper, Dan Kennedy, has signed a contract extension through 2016. Unquestionably the team's best player over the past two years, Kennedy's status was very much uncertain heading into the season, but the news this week hopefully puts any future rumors to bed. Now, hopefully Kennedy and his teammates can work together to continue to get results on the field!
LA Galaxy vs Houston Dynamo
Sun 11:00PM, The Home Depot Center, (ESPN2)
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
With the LA Galaxy's 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on the road last weekend, the main story at the club has been the sudden emergence of competent depth. Bruce Arena has a noted history of restocking the cupboard with the good stuff, Tommy Meyer starting MLS Cup in place of an injured A.J. DeLaGarza being perhaps the most storied example. Now the Galaxy got a goal from Charlie Rugg in his first MLS appearance, assisted by reserve squad veteran Hector Jimenez.
It was a good time for the depth to show its breadth with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Todd Dunivant, and Carlo Cudicini all on the mend. Another recent draft pick Greg Cochrane has done a solid job stepping in for Dunivant, and Brian Rowe (who was drafted by Chivas USA last year in the Supplemental Draft and passed on, became an MLS pool keeper, then signed by the Galaxy) made eight saves in relief of Carlo Cudicini.
Up top, the aforementioned Rugg started with Jack McBean, who is now out for over a month with a fracture collarbone suffered in the match against RSL. It's another chance for the Galaxy to show off its depth, cause even if Keane isn't ready to go this weekend one of Jose Villarreal or Gyasi Zardes will get to show off their stuff.
Landon Donovan should be good to go on Sunday, while Houston will be without Brad Davis. That has to be an advantage LA situation.
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
The big topic for the Dynamo this week is what the road will bring for the orange. Houston's good start to the season is mostly attributed to their success at home, but Houston has a tough few games ahead. It's no secret that the Dynamo are a different team depending on whether they are playing at home or away.
On Sunday, the Dynamo travel to the Home Depot Center to face off against the LA Galaxy in an MLS Cup Rematch. The Galaxy look a bit different in 2013 than last year's Cup Final, but they are just as dangerous. The Galaxy are coming off of two shutout wins over tough competition and have only allowed four goals this season.
The Dynamo lost their first two road matches this season, but pulled out a draw against Toronto FC last week on the road for their first road point. Houston would love to walk out of HDC with a point or the full three on Sunday.
Just three days later, the Dynamo will fly across the country to face Eastern Conference foe D.C. United on Wednesday. DCU hasn't had a lot of luck on their side of late and most Dynamo fans would naturally expect a win – but they're on the road and it's tough to tell which Dynamo team shows up. Either way, the Dynamo have a tough week ahead with a packed schedule for games and travel. It should be a fun week for Dynamo fans.