So I'd just finished writing the intro for this weekend's "MLS Rivalry Week" line up of games, as well as my sneak preview of NBC's ambitious coverage of seven games in ten straight hours of programming on Saturday. I'd struck the perfect balance between informative and irreverent, with a side order of punditry, a sprinkling of stats and just a hint of teary-eyed nostalgia for rivalry games past, when the f%$#%@ computer crashed before I could hit save.
That's why I'm one person kicking a laptop (FACT), while there's a team of 150 experts (FACT) working across the country on tomorrow's NBC extravaganza, which is going to feature their network and cable channels, NBC Sports Extra, NBCsports.com,
an acoustic set by Arlo White with the whole thing sponsored by Microsoft Windows. In the middle of it they're doing a two and a half hour live show called "The Breakaway" from their state-of-the-art studio in Connecticut, which will be cutting between live footage of four games in progress, while a "heavily caffeinated" (his words) Arlo White dashes from live commentary duties at Red Bull Arena to ringmaster the whole affair with Kyle Martino and Russ Thaler.
It all sounds rather exciting. And as the whole thing is taking place to cover MLS Rivalry Week, get ready to binge. Whatever your take on MLS Rivalry Week, in which all manner of historical and geographical rivalries and the "teams that are left over when the actual historical and geographical rivalries have been paired off" are played out across the country, there's no denying that there some pretty appetizing games this weekend.
We're straight into it with the Atlantic Cup game between New York and D.C. United. The last time these two met it was that wild, storm-lashed, playoff game in November where D.C. eliminated the Red Bulls. I'd say the Red Bulls are out for revenge, but as per their usual off-season turnover half the team has left. Still there's always longest standing team member Roy Miller. Doubtless he'll have something special in store...
By the way that game will be called live on NBC by the team presenting "The Breakaway". When the game finishes, messrs White, Martino and Thaler will be Cannonball Running their way up to Stamford to do the live studio show (because ten hours of on air broadcasting isn't already enough of a logistical challenge). While they're headed up the highway necking freebie cans of Red Bull, Sporting KC will be trying to kickstart a season that's looked strangely listless against Chicago Fire, who may not appreciate their quest for a coherent midfield being explored in public.
Then the games come thick and fast - with kickoffs staggered so that "The Breakaway" can cut to the ends of each half, as well as key moments like penalties, goals, red cards and (hopefully) dogs on the field. First Montreal put their 100% record on the line in their first home game, against a Toronto side who are discovering a little self-belief under Ryan Nelsen and who will apparently be roared on by some 4000 fans on their travels. Then the Philadelphia Union return home from their snow day in Colorado to welcome New England, who are played one, won one. Both sides feature coaches who have lost their "new coach" luster and are expected to stamp their identity on their teams now - let's see if they can.
Columbus welcome a San Jose side who were gifted the initiative by New York last week, but are looking a little unconvincing with key players out. Columbus will fancy their chances at home, even against the Supporters Shield holders. Meanwhile Colorado travel to Real Salt Lake in the first Rocky Mountain Cup game of the year. Both teams are works in progress, but the hosts will hope that home advantage and their institutional memory is more potent than the Rapids high off-season turnover.
Finally on Saturday, we're back to live coverage of Seattle vs Portland, which should be a nice peaceful way to see out the day, as old friends catch up. Seattle of course are coming off being the first MLS team to knock a Mexican side out in the knock out stages of the Champions League, while Portland are playing some attractive soccer under Caleb Porter, even if the results aren't quite coming yet.
Sunday sees Dallas and Houston resume inter-conference hostilities, with the hosts rather humiliated by Chivas last week, and needing their new strikeforce to...strike. Houston meanwhile were eliminated from the CCL quarter-finals by Santos Laguna and would love to get their domestic campaign back on track at their Texan rivals. Finally it's the first Superclassico of the year, as Chivas travel down the hall to LA Galaxy - sadly NBC have not announced plans to simulcast Chelis's press conference afterwards.
Anyway, the networks aren't the only people full of innovative ideas. The Guardian's contribution to this high-tech gestalt is to ask our usual cast of fan reps, bloggers, beat writers, and podcasters for each side playing this weekend, to fill us in on what's been going on this week and look forward to the games. See what they have to say below, add your predictions and we'll be back on Monday with 5 Things we learned this weekend (I'm really hoping that one of them is "This is what is wrong with my computer").
All kick off times are listed in ET
New York Red Bulls vs D.C. United
Sat 12.30pm, Red Bull Arena (NBC)
Dan Ryazansky, editor, Metrofanatic, New York:
It's Miller Time. Oh, why does it have to be Miller Time?
It looked like three road points were in the bag. Then, after some lax defending (some of it on Roy Miller's part), it looked like at least a point will be salvaged. Then, a stupid handball by Miller in the box, and all looked doomed. That is, until Luis Robles saved the penalty kick, only for it to be whistled back because Roy Miller -- who else but Miller! -- idiotically decided to wander into the penalty area long before the ball was kicked. So, yes, a retaken kick, and re-applied doom. Thanks, Roy.
Please, please, please, no more Miller Time...
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
This week's main story is renewing our rivalry with New York. No two teams have played each other more than DC and NY, so it's always the talk of the fans when these two original teams get together. Having former United defender Mike Petke as New York's coach only helps feed the excitement for United fans as we can serenade him with "Petke is a wanker" yet again. Petke wore that badge with honor when he played for NY and insisted that we still use that moniker for him when he arrived in DC, so we'll keep it going, with a degree of affection, now that he's back in a prominent position in NY.
John Thorrington will be out for DC for the next two months or so with an MCL injury, he had really shown his class in his two games with United and his presence will be missed, it was his deft chip and awareness that created United's goal to defeat Real Salt Lake. But Dwayne DeRosario will return from his suspension earned in the preseason and United fans are looking forward to the offensive spark he'll bring to the team.
Sporting Kansas City vs Chicago Fire
Sat 3pm, Sporting Park (NBCSN)
Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:
After a dreadful performance in Toronto, Sporting KC spent the week coping with the 2-1 away loss at Rogers Centre. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen called the exercise of watching film from the match "depressing." The SKC captain also made comments to the effect that the whole team, not just the defense, didn't play as itself. SKC must find its identity before Saturday when it faces the Chicago Fire. It's Rivalry Week in MLS, and while there is debate whether SKC vs Chicago Fire is a true rivalry, SKC is under a lot of pressure to put on a good show to a sold out standing-room only home-opener crowd. The pressure is on the defensive line; too many mistakes cost the last match. It is early in the season, and we know SKC can come back from a slump (case in point 2011 season start), but it is best to avoid walking with that ghost and prolonging any depression.
In other news, on a development front, SKC announced that four players would be going on loan to USL Pro partner Orlando City Soccer Club. Goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defender Yann Songo'o, midfielder Christian Duke and forward Dom Dwyer will be on hand for that team's season opener in April. Meanwhile on Twitter, US Men's National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, mentioned Sporting Park as a likely host to a World Cup qualifying match. Despite the poor performance at Toronto last weekend, the week was not without good news in Kansas City.
Dan Martin, Whiskey Brothers Aught Five, Chicago:
It's been a navel-gazing week in Fire land since the club's loss to the Revs last Saturday and the question of goals (and where they will come from) has been foremost in conversation. Attitudes range from the simplistic "fire everybody" to the wishful "bring in a proven goal scorer" along with more nuanced views touching on the formation changes the club has undergone and the early-season injuries to important players that have challenged the team's depth (depth that was highly-touted in preseason). One way or another, zero goals for and five against is not the way anyone expected to be heading into the third week of play. Fire fans' introspective spell was broken only by revived rumblings of the clash with SKC.
That goal deficit would be more terrifying had the club not managed to create some genuine chances against the Revs – finishing chances remains the problem. The notion of scoring "by committee" with a variety of players contributing to the attack, in the absence of a dominant scorer, still seems a far away dream at this point.
On the injury front, the departure of defensive stalwart Arne Friedrich back to Germany for treatment struck many fans as a bit strange and even elicited frightened notions that this journey spelled the end of the road for the veteran. The club was quick to assure fans that #23 would be working with a therapist whom he had visited during previous injury spells and coach Frank Klopas hinted on Thursday that the target for Friedrich's return is the April 7 match against New York.
Montreal Impact vs Toronto FC
Sat 4pm, Olympic Stadium (TSN)
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
Matching last season's away record of two wins is already a feat by itself. Winning twice in Cascadia would have been the story of the week for the Montreal Impact.
But around 3-4000 Toronto FC fans are expected to make the trip to Montreal. Under the #RivalryWeek Umbrella, the hype around the Montreal-Toronto "derby" is growing, though I was never a believer of the automatic translation of a rivalry between two cities, two hockey teams and of the "Two Solitudes" into a prepackaged MLS version. The rivalry on the pitch will determine the rivalry as a whole. Travelling fans from both clubs will definitely be a big part of that "Derby". A Big Red Mass of TFC fans will be present amid a Deep Blue Sea of Impact supporters. Will this game define a derby that everyone wants to see come to life?
Sonja Missio, 90 Minutes of Hopp:
On Saturday, March 16, thousands of Toronto FC fans are expected to descend upon Montreal for The Reds first game of the season against Les Bleus. The highly anticipated road trip is a cause for excitement for the TFC faithful and not just because Torontonian enjoy a good ol'fashion road trip north east. You see, Toronto fans—though they may not want to admit it just quite yet—have found hope in their team this year. After their season home opener 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas at the Skydome last week, TFC fans have been given a reason to renew their faith in the club.
However, that renewed faith is not just from having one win under their belt; it is from physically seeing a difference in the team. TFC are noticeably faster, smarter, and better. Yes, there are still some problems in their back line and issues with the dreaded post 70-minute fatigue, but these changes can't be expected to happen overnight.
For once though, Toronto FC is really about new-ness and positive impacts. From the new club president Kevin Payne, the new head coach Ryan Nelsen and new players such as MLS Player of the Week, Robert Earnshaw (whose two goals gave Toronto the win last Saturday) and homegrown talents like Kyle Bekker, there are finally genuine promising prospects for Toronto.
Philadelphia Union vs New England Revolution
Sat 5pm, PPL Park (Univision Dep)
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
There's winning ugly, and then there's Philadelphia Union's win Sunday over Colorado. The Union never bothered to get off the team bus upon arriving at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. They just parked it and only let Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo off long enough to score a couple of goals before driving away with the 2-1 win they stole from Colorado.
Just two weeks into the season, Union fans have been sounding off on second-year coach John Hackworth, with whom many are decidedly underwhelmed. Never mind that his young team had just snatched a road win at altitude in Colorado. Philadelphia held just 35 percent of the possession and seldom connected on more than two consecutive passes against a Colorado team missing three of their best attackers. Many fans don't like the negative tactics, and they don't like Hackworth's lineups either. Then again, road wins matter.
Critics found more wood to burn with this Saturday's "Rivalry Week" match against a New England team that is clearly not a Philadelphia rival. Most fans approach it with good humor. One commented that the Revs' biggest rivals are actually their owners, the Kraft family, who have yet to dip into their fortune to construct a soccer-specific stadium. Less pervasive is talk about how surprisingly good New England looked last week in their 1-0 win over Chicago. The Union are unlikely to underestimate the Revs, but fans might. If the Union lose at home, someone might light a fire under Hackworth's seat.
Julie Kumor, Midnight Riders:
If there is one thing I have learned in my ten years here about New England sports' fans, it is that we are never satisfied. The Revs started their season off with a win – we should be happy, right? Except we started last season off with a decisive win against the reigning champs of LA, and that was our season highlight. The number one MLS draft pick, our pick, Andrew Farrell, started. He looked hungry, he played with passion. Or did he? Did he hog the ball take too many dribbles? Juan Toja, he was integral in setting up Jerry Bengston's goal, really go back and really look at that replay, some called his play "genius." Other Rev fans wanted him subbed off the field for looking like he didn't know where he was.
So, here are the things I know I liked. Matt Reis, he silenced my criticism, he looked like Matt Reis of two years ago. He was confident. He was communicating. He was sharp. AJ Soares he was a leader, he was the reason Chicago couldn't get a breakaway. Cisse, Simms and Nguyen instead of watching the Fire's midfield attack, they broke up play and caused a lot of turnovers. I think we all liked what we saw, and hope they can continue this win streak past Saturday.
You know what else I learned? Jeff Larentowicz is such a dirty player.
Columbus Crew vs San Jose Earthquakes
Sat 5.20pm, Crew Stadium
Ian Fraser, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
It's Crewsmas, the most wonderful time of the year in Columbus. This week is all about the Columbus Crew home opener after starting the season with a two-game road trip. The Crew came out of the swing with a respectable 3 points. As Ben Hoelzel pointed out last week, the win against Chivas had the faithful drinking the Crew Aid but last week's game in Vancouver provided a better look at how this team stacks up.
There's no shame in losing at Vancouver so there's no panic but issues were brought to light. It was unfortunate that Vancouver's goals were the result of poor turnovers by the Crew. They had similar issues against Chivas that went unpunished, and they weren't as lucky this time. These miscues have to be eliminated or they will continue to hurt the team. In my entry before the opener, the 2 big issues surrounding this team were the CM pairing and Dominc Oduro. I'd say that is still the case. Danny O'Rourke is coming under criticism for his outings and people would like to see Matias Sanchez get his shot next to Agustin Viana. Oduro is as advertised, some great speed and some not so great moments. The debate rages regarding his role (starter vs super sub) and position (wide midfielder or forward who is getting behind the defense). Eddie Gaven may not be back this week but Ben Speas played well in his absence. The Crew will be more dangerous in their attack at home and will do enough to get the 3 points.
Lisa Erickson, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
Can rookie power save the Earthquakes in their time of need? With the hospital ward in San Jose still packed full with Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Steven Beitashour, Marvin Chavez, Mehdi Ballouchy, Marcus Tracy and perhaps even Mike Fucito (who received a gash on the foot), who will step up and make the most of the 'Help Wanted' sign?
The trio of young Quakes who have been coming off the bench for the past two matches are now making a true impact. Cordell Cato, acquired from Seattle, had a better game by taking a shot that led to New York defenders realizing that they need to mark him too. This allowed Sam Cronin enough space to cross a ball onto the foot of rookie Adam Jahn for the first goal.
The work effort of Jahn brought up the question of who should he be starting in place of Fucito. Quakes are better with a tall target forward and at 6' 3", Jahn seems to be the solution to the missing "Twin Towers", but sophomore Generation Adidas midfielder Sam Garza is also making his own case for a lead spot. If Frank Yallop wants to play up the middle, Garza might be his man. He was plagued by injuries throughout last year and is now ready to make his case that he deserves to be on the pitch and perhaps be the replacement for Simon Dawkins. All in all, it will be fun to watch these three musketeers throughout the 2013 year.
Real Salt Lake vs Colorado Rapids
Sat 6pm, Rio Tinto Stadium
Matt Montgomery, Under the Crossbar, Real Salt Lake:
Jason Kreis isn't wasting much time: Another handful of players became Real Salt Lake debutants last week as the retooled squad starts to meld. Lovel Palmer and rookie John Stertzer saw late action with the club looking for a late draw. Saturday could see more of those. Adboulie Mansally is suspended for a rather stupid headbutt, for which he was lucky to not see red, leaving Lovel Palmer in pole position to get his first start.
It shouldn't be any real worry, but it is inevitably: Colorado Rapids, our opponents on the weekend in this newfangled "Rivalry Week" (hashtag not included), are full of new players, too, and they've struggled a bit as a result — rather like we have, although we're three points better off at this point. Here is, of course, where we talk about form being meaningless in derbies and mention some historic figures. But the bigger picture isn't the rivalry and the fan-created cup, but two squads finding their sea(son) legs, neither of whom would be devastated by a loss nor boosted highly by a win. (It's about the fans, we say here.)
The story is, as much as the first two matches, about getting things moving, getting players involved, and riding out the early season waves. A rivalry win, however important, takes a backseat to long-term considerations — as it should.
Richard Bamber, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
All the way leading up to the game against Philadelphia last week, the club was telling anyone that would listen that despite the winter forecast the game would go ahead and they weren't afraid of a little snow (an orange ball was mentioned at one point). Morning of the game - it's cancelled. The game did get played the next day and of course the Rapids lost and are sitting on 0 and 2. The only light moment was the local TV Station Altitude mistakenly using the numbers of the Philadelphia squad to fill in the Rapids team sheet. When the caption flashed up on the screen, it prompted some fans to say we might well have done better with that three-goalkeeper formation.
That brings me to the problem with the team. They're actually a better team all round but I'm not convinced they're playing the best formation, with the two defensive midfielders that everything goes through, and then a spread of four forwards, who are pretty interchangeable — good players, but I'm not convinced they're set up to get the best out of them. Anyway, three coachloads of us are heading over the Rockies to face RSL again and see if we can maybe win the Rocky Mountain Cup for the first time in six years.
Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers
Sat 8pm, CenturyLink Field (NBCSN)
Dave Clark, Sounder at Heart, Seattle:
How do you overshadow a match against your longest and most hated rival? Simple. Make history. The excitement over the historic advancement past UANL Tigres is the primary thing in Seattle fans' minds right now. It is such on odd thing for the opening salvo of the 2013 Cascadia Cup to not be a huge deal, but how could it? After Decades of Dominance in the regional rivalry cup Seattle moved onto bigger challenges.
That's not to say that Porter's side is no better than the one Spencer led for a year and a half. They are better, but when the primary goal of the entire organization and fanbase is an MLS Cup with some neat side goals of Open Cup revenge and the possibility of winning the CONCACAF Champions League, that's much more significant than three points. Seattle should still expect to get those. A couple players are returning to health (Estrada, Johansson, maybe Joseph). Their best are both in form and fit (Johnson, Martinez, Yedlin, Traore). And of course there is 41-28-10 all time Seattle advantage over that team from the village to the south.
Win over Tigres. Almost certain signing of Obafemi Martins and three more points against that team. One of the best weeks ever really.
Roger Anthony, Timbers Army, Portland:
Cascadia Week One sees the Timbers traveling north to take on Fishing Village FC. It's been a great week for the Sounders already, what with the anticipated arrival of the anti-Montero and the legitimately historic CONCACAF triumph over Tigres UNAL. Might Portland fly under the radar and steal a result for new coach Caleb Porter?
It's actually easy to picture: True, Portland's packing an 0-1-1 MLS record after two home matches. Moreover, counting the team's preseason tournament, the club is now 0-3-2 in five home games under Porter. In a combined 450 minutes of play, Portland has held a lead for exactly 20 minutes. Yet the soccer displayed since Porter's arrival has been easy on the eyes. The speedy forwards and wingers have treasured the ball, and the Timbers are outnumbering, out-possessing and outshooting opponents by margins undreamed of in Portland's first two seasons. But as Stumptown Footy blogger Ryan Gates astutely noted following Saturday's 1-2 loss, the Timbers controlled the ball, but Montreal's tough, well-organized defense controlled the game.
Behind the midfield line, it's a different story. The defense is a shambles – to the point where GK Donovan Ricketts got not one but two nominations for MLS Save of the Week. There's also a growing suspicion that having outside backs Ryan Miller and Michael Harrington continually sprint from endline to endline in search of manpower advantages is simply asking too much. It's a tactic tried and abandoned by ex-coach John Spencer during the expansion season.
FC Dallas vs Houston Dynamo
Sun 1pm, FC Dallas Stadium (ESPN2)
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
The big story from the game last week was how terribly we played - particularly Kenny Cooper. For the last couple of games he's been used sort of like a target man, mainly because Blas Perez was still out and Hassli is supposedly still injured, though he came on for Cooper last week and did nothing.
I hate to say it but Cooper looked like the worst of his old self — why take one touch when you can take seventeen? He missed a complete sitter against Chivas, and then a few minues later David Ferreira stepped up to show how it's done. And don't talk to me about the supply from Henry. Ferreira is every inch as capable of giving Cooper supply, so I don't know what happened. But to lose to Chivas like that, I'm just really worried that it might be a sign of things to come.
The game against Houston - I don't know how intensely the players feel it as a rivalry but the fans have already started trash talking on Twitter and some of it's pretty nasty. Definitely more a rivalry for the fans, and it's already gearing up now. I'll be glad when it's over.
Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
The Dynamo were focused on two things this week: Wednesday's return leg in the CCL quarterfinals against Santos Laguna and the upcoming rivalry match against FC Dallas.
On Wednesday night, the Dynamo forgot to bring their "A" game mentality to Mexico, bowing out of the CCL with a 3-0 loss. It's not necessarily the loss that hurts, but the way it went down. A penalty, defensive miscommunication, and an unmarked player were the causes of the three goals — all things you could call preventable. Time to move on and focus on the MLS season — CCL success will have to wait until the next edition.
Rivalry week is headed our way with a trip up north to Frisco. A large turnout of Dynamo fans are expected to make the road trip as always and it should make for an interesting match. Both clubs are coming off losses –although a loss to Chivas USA might be a bit more embarrassing than Santos. Dallas and Houston will be looking to rebound from their previous games, all while staking claim to El Capitan. The cannon has been in Houston since BBVA Compass Stadium opened, and no one in orange is ready to see that thing go.
LA Galaxy vs Chivas USA
Sun 5pm, Home Depot Center (UniMas)
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
The main story for the LA Galaxy has been CONCACAF Champions League with LA getting week two off to focus on the international tournament. Things were able to go according to plan with LA getting the draw on the road and then coming back to LA and taking care of Herediano 4-1 at The Home Depot Center.
The defense has been more than encouraging. Omar Gonzalez has been paired with both Leonardo and A.J. DeLaGarza on the back line and both pairings have been great at keeping the ball out of the box. New acquisition Carlo Cudicini has only given up one goal in 270 minutes, and the Galaxy were up 3-0 when that goal was let in.
Mike Magee has taken his playoff offensive prowess and showed up at the beginning of the season scoring goals and showing good timing with Robbie Keane. In CONCACAF Champions League, Keane has also gotten to partner up with youngsters Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean both of whom have scored in the tournament. Villarreal had a great run of form in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, scoring three goals for the baby Yanks. Then he was able to slot right back in with the club, distributing the ball well and scoring against Herediano. Arena might give Villarreal the green light this month with Landon Donovan still on sabbatical. That the Galaxy have played well enough that Donovan isn't the main story in the early going, is a positive sign.
Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:
The main story at Chivas USA this week has been the fact that the team won last week for the first time in MLS since last July. That it was a comeback, and that three goals were scored by the Goats at home makes it even better. Given the changes taking place at the club the past several months, the poor attendance and the fact that the fans have borne the brunt of the abuse, in addition to seeing the losses pile up, means this win was cathartic on a number of levels. While I think most fans have been soaking up the good vibes this week, there is the matter of the Galaxy game on Sunday, and that is going to be a big test for Chivas. If they can improve on their form and team chemistry from the first two matches, it will have to be a minimum improvement, but of course Chivas fans want to see another win over their rivals!