MLS week 18: reviews and previews

• San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy resume rivalry
• Leaders Real Salt Lake travel to struggling Toronto FC
• Montreal Impact take on sliding Colorado Rapids

Always ready to ignore the compelling evidence that suggests that at this stage in life I'm not going to own a speedboat, I believe virtually everything I read when it comes to get rich quick schemes. And like David St Hubbins I believe that makes me a more selective person than someone who believes nothing they read. So when I read that Grant Wahl over at Sports Illustrated had tracked down a man called George Dempsey in Bristol, UK who claims to regularly bet and win on MLS games, I was anxious to hear what his system was for navigating all that pesky forced parity. It was, it turned out:

"Don't bet against Toronto."

Actually he may have said "on" rather than "against", but I was too busy betting my life savings (the fee for this piece) on Toronto to beat the new Supporters Shield frontrunners, RSL, in this weekend's opening game. Were it not for needing the stake money, you'd be reading an empty column…

That said, that Toronto v RSL game will be followed by some intriguing matchups, even if you're not a betting man or woman. Dallas looked down and out against Sporting last week, only to claw back two late goals to level the game after Sporting attacker CJ Sapong had been, er, less than sporting and got himself a red card. Dallas still have some question marks over them as a road side and they're on their eastern travels again when they go to a Philadelphia side who blew past New York last week. Sporting will try to regroup against Columbus later on Saturday evening.

The Greta Garbo of MLS, Montreal, make a rare public appearance to take on a Colorado side who've been crashing down through the gears alarmingly. It will be interesting to see which Impact appear – the lackluster outfit out-hustled by Columbus, or the sleek side that passed their way through Houston last time out. Kicking off at the same time, DC will try to stretch their winning streak to two (which frankly sounds a lot nicer than the non-winning streak they were riding before Chris Pontius's penalty beat Toronto last week) when they take on the easy come, easy go stylings of Martin Rennie's Vancouver, whose game plan seems to be "start slow, win 4-3".

New England can speak to the efficacy of that game plan from first-hand experience, having lost a 2-0 lead to the Whitecaps after an Andrew Farrell red card. Despite that setback, the Revs are slowly coming together this year. They visit Chivas, who appear to have been coming apart rather more quickly. When fans pay to fly an LED banner protest over the stadium during a game, you can guess that things have got a little tetchy.

Always a little tetchy – meetings between San Jose and LA. There's another one on Saturday night and if previous versions of this game are anything to go by, there could be fireworks (and maybe a forward roll if Robbie Keane scores). Finally, on Sunday, New York host Houston, with both sides suddenly looking a little beaten up.

No strangers to recent misadventures – our regular cast of fan reps and writers for each of this weekend's competing teams. Catch up with their team news below, enjoy the weekend's games and join us on Monday for five things we learned (including whether my new system for roulette works).

All game times are listed as ET

Toronto FC vs Real Salt Lake

Sat 1pm, BMO Field (TSN)

Duncan Fletcher, Waking the Red, Toronto:

On Monday, an email was sent to the press, notifying them of a "special announcement" to happen on Wednesday. They even went as far as to organise a live stream on the club website – must be something exciting, guaranteed to be the big story of the week. Sadly, no, it was to announce a mid-season friendly against AS Roma, TFC once again enthusiastically promoting the sizzle rather than concentrating on the steak. Not even their own sizzle either, instead basking in Roma's reflected sizzle.

All of which is a shame as after a chaotic April and May that was practically a second preseason with all the signings, releases and lineup experimentation that went on. Ryan Nelsen now appears to have settled on a stable lineup, and it's actually doing quite well. A well-earned tie in Houston leaves TFC sitting on a one-month unbeaten streak (only three games, but let's not diminish things) going into the game against Real Salt Lake. Scotland's Steven Caldwell has solidified the defence, to the extent that they actually got their first clean sheet of the season in Houston. There's still a general lack of creativity and not many chances being created at the other end, but you know, baby steps – it's starting to look like things might just be starting to come together.

Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective:

Real Salt Lake has had a very good June, and when I say very good, I mean great. In March, RSL GM Garth Lagerwey said: "We will be better in June than we will be in March, and we will be better in October than we will be in June." I don't think he had a clue how good RSL would be so quickly after their "reload/rebuild/restock", or whatever you want to call it. In May, RSL was a very good team, 4-1-1 in all competitions with their only loss a 3-2 thriller in Montreal; in June, RSL has been unstoppable – 5-0-0 in all competitions, including three huge wins against Western Conference opponents and two US Open Cup wins, with 16 goals scored and 3 allowed.

Can RSL make it a perfect month? In order to do so they must do something they have never done before, beat Toronto FC at BMO Field – oh, and also get their first win of any kind in Canada. Well, they have made believers out of a lot of people, and despite playing their top lineup on Wednesday I think the early-afternoon affair in Toronto should go their way, even without their top players. There have been younger and new to RSL players stepping up all season, in particular during this hot stretch of two months. A return trip to Toronto for Joao Plata and Aaron Maund will likely fall in RSL's favor. My only question is can RSL keep their streak of six matches with multiple goals in tact? Sure – a 3-1 road win for RSL on Saturday, to cap one heck of a good month.

Philadelphia Union vs FC Dallas

Sat 5.30pm, PPL Park (NBCSN)

Corey Furlan, Sons of Ben, Philadelphia

Last week was big in that we finally got a win over that team up the road [New York Red Bulls], which was really encouraging for how the team is doing. Yes, they went down to 10 men early but three points is three points.

The other big story is Jack McInerney getting the Gold Cup call-up and we're all really happy for him. Though to be honest, the thought of him going is a lot easier to bear after the last game when Conor Casey scored twice – he's finally doing what he was signed to do and it makes us worry less about where goals are going to come from with McInerney gone.

Dallas this weekend is basically a good chance to see if this progress is for real. A win here and we'd have beaten two good sides in a week and proved that we are where we are in the standings on merit.

Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas

Big story this week is the Open Cup loss against Portland. To cut right to the chase: we expected better. For weeks now, Schellas Hyndman has been droning on about how serious he takes the US Open Cup, since it bears our owner's name. Which is exactly why our starting XI included Chris Seitz in goal and Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli on the bench.

Matt Hedges was out with a calf injury, so Walker Zimmerman slotted in. Zimmerman is a great player, but every rookie has a set of rookie mistakes that they will make at some time in their rookie year. He chose Wednesday night to get some of those mistakes out of his system. All in all, the boys showed great fight, but this is one of those times where I say it was not good enough. It's never acceptable to go up 1-0 then lose 3-2 at home.

This weekend we are at Philly. I don't know anything about them, but they are apparently on some sort of tear. If Matt Hedges is back, we'll be able to contend. If not, look for Philly to look for a Zimmerman-sized hole in our defense and cause problems.

Montreal Impact vs Colorado Rapids

Sat 7pm, Stade Saputo (Univision Dep)

Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:

The Impact are proving to be almost impossible to beat at home. The club has also continued the important trend of not losing two games in a row. Actually, the Impact has not had two draws in a row, making its place among the top MLS teams logical, rational and fun to watch.

Alongside Mike Magee and Jack McInerney, Marco Di Vaio leads MLS with 10 goals. With the team playing better around and for Di Vaio, the arrival of young striker Daniele Paponi has added another threat. Paponi displayed all the skills in his portfolio that will make him indispensable for the club's success. Physical but talented, intense and fast, Paponi has just added another headache to opposing teams.

With six games in the next 30 days, the Impact have a chance to continue their winning momentum with some weaker opponents including the Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA and Toronto FC. These are not three easy points but they are almost a must-have to continue to be in the top 3-4 of the Eastern Conference.

At this point of the season, there is no need to praise the Impact or be impressed by them. The crunch time of the summer months is when you make it or break it and consistency is what the club needs. Will help come during the transfer market? Depth or designated player?

Richard Bamber, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:

Two main stories this week. The first is the aftermath of the trade of club captain and legend Pablo Mastroeni to LA. While a lot of fans understand that all good things must come to an end, there has been the almost predictable outpouring of vitriol on social media against the front office and coaching staff as another fan favorite leaves under the post-MLS Cup win regime.

Secondly it appears our team has fallen apart results wise again, with losses to San Jose, Chicago and Portland. An interesting feature is that we always have significantly more shots than our opponents yet end up being the losing side. Suspensions and injuries haven't helped as Oscar Pareja appears to be shuffling the backline each time we play.

This weekend we go to possibly the worst place of all for a team looking to stop the rot – high-flying Montreal. Here's hoping for a smash 'n' grab 1-0 win with our goal coming against the run of play…

DC United vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Sat 7pm. RFK Stadium

Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:

As a change of pace, DC United put together a solid performance this week and actually won an MLS game, defeating San Jose 1-0. The team was led by a strong performance from Chris Pontius playing forward, and the stewardship of John Thorrington. While the goal came on a penalty kick and not the run of play, it was the result of a brilliant buildup as United continually passed the ball through the midfield and across the field to find Chris Korb in the area and he was taken down. Pontius converted on the penalty for his first goal of the season, the combination of his work throughout the game and his finally putting in a goal is a positive sign that things may be getting back on track.

That performance needed to be followed up midweek, as United took on the Revolution in the US Open Cup quarterfinals. United once again played a first-choice lineup which included all off United's linchpin players: Thorrington, Dwayne DeRosario, Pontius and Nick DeLeon for one of the few times this season. DeLeon helped Pontius score a first half goal, that was matched by New England early in the second half, but Pontius found DeRo on the back post on a corner kick and De Rosario scored on a high arcing header back to the near post. To top things off, Lionard Pajoy scored. No really, he did. After some nifty work in the area where he was taken down by a defender, Pajoy converted the penalty to seal a 3-1 win. United have won three out of the last four games and are 3-1-1 in all competitions. Could some momentum be building? This weekend Vancouver comes to DC to see.

Benjamin Massey, Editor, Maple Leaf Forever, Vancouver:

The Whitecaps' defense has been the story for several games and this week we see it is slowly mending. Andy O'Brien is coming back, Brad Rusin is on his way, it's starting to look promising, and now Vancouver is off to … oh. DC United, who finally won their second game of the year led by no less than former Whitecap Alain Rochat, the defender whose trade for a pile of magic beans started this whole defensive mess. The well-liked third-year Canadian who was sent packing against his will to the worst team in the East, while his wife was pregnant, in exchange for almost worthless draft picks. Rochat's trade wasn't entirely popular with Whitecaps fans and his loss still hasn't been made good three weeks later. (Actually, DC has three former Whitecaps likely to appear in their 18: Rochat, Kyle Porter and John Thorrington. You will hear much less about the latter two.) There's your story, and if DC manages to beat Vancouver it'll be the only story that matters.

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew

Sat 8.30pm, Sporting Park

Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, Sporting Kansas City:

Sporting Kansas City are on a four-match winless streak. In the past 11 matches across all competitions, SKC have won only three times. Last week was especially disappointing. After giving up a 2-0 lead following a red card to CJ Sapong, the draw at FC Dallas felt a lot like a loss. Sporting KC need to not drop any more points at home, but I fear this may be the case this weekend. Even George Dempsey, the Sporting KC fan in the UK reported by Grant Wahl at Sporting Illustrated to make money gambling on MLS, told me on Twitter that he is betting against us.

Sporting will have to keep Columbus' Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain from taking chances at goal, especially if Oduro is started up top rather than in his usual spot on the wing. I'm counting on Columbus central defenders Chad Marshall and Josh Williams to not have enough to stop Kei Kamara and Claudio Bieler. (Remember when he was on a scoring streak?)

Dom Dwyer who has been on fire at affiliate Orlando City SC and will be with SKC this weekend, and I'm hoping he will see minutes. Teal Bunbury is back, but he struggled toward the end of the FC Dallas match, when he played some 25 minutes. This has to be the week Sporting KC turns it around, and if Columbus' luck of not winning consecutive matches this season holds true, it will be. I hope you're wrong, George.

Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:

Another week and yet another terrible home loss for the Crew last Saturday. This time it was to bitter rivals the Chicago Fire. In the Crew's last eight meetings against the Fire, Columbus has won just one match while losing the seven. If that does not fan the flames under coach Robert Warzycha's hot seat then nothing will. The Crew suffers from too many defensive lapses, have no creativity going forward, struggle to finish what few chances that are created, and seemingly have no plan for mid-game adjustments.

About six weeks ago, Guardian writer Richard Whittal wrote: "Columbus' problems are ordinary, MLS problems. Fleeting. Fixable". Well, over a month later the Crew's problems still linger. If the problems are so "ordinary" and "fixable" but the situation is only getting worse, one can only assume the man charged with fixing the problems simply cannot get the job done. And, as all of Crewville seem to be on the "Sack Warzycha" bandwagon (a chant that was very audible in stadium and on television last week), the man himself feels that the Crew are "playing the best soccer in years".

Not all hope is lost, however. The Crew travel to Kansas City this weekend, and they've played better on the road this season. A victory would see Columbus tied for a playoff position at the exact mid-point of the season. But to get all three points, the Crew will actually have to play their best soccer in years.

Chivas USA vs New England Revolution

Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center

Alicia Ratterree, The Goat Parade, Chivas USA:

This week, Chivas USA appear to be trying to establish some kind of new routine with coach Jose Luis Real. Although Chivas have lost both games for which he has been in charge, including a 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy last week, the team look like they are playing better overall than they had been for some time. With a new formation and tactical system, it is necessary to give the new coach time to implement his vision before truly rating him as a coach. Since the change came midseason, Real won't have much time to show if he can hack it in MLS, unfortunately, but hopefully he can lead the team to some positive results soon.

The other topics around the club include the protest initiated by MLS fans and carried out with the support of Chivas USA supporter group Black Army 1850 at Sunday's game. The protest involved hiring a plane to fly over the stadium at halftime with a scrolling LED sign that said "Fuera Vergara! #VergaraOut." The Spanish-language broadcast discussed the protest, and from what I've heard some fans noticed it in the stands, but the bigger impact may be that it has become a talking point this week. I think a great deal of the perceptions surrounding Chivas USA and their fans remain "somewhat" to "grossly" mistaken, but this was an occurrence when a portion of the fanbase was joined by the larger MLS community to protest mismanagement at the club, and that sense of community is certainly good to see.

Christopher Camille, Midnight Riders, author of NE tactics blog Soccer Theory:

The Revs have reached an interesting time in their season. Following a stellar run that saw the club make it's way back into the MLS playoff picture, the Revs dropped a strange one to Vancouver on the road and lost to DC United in the US Open Cup. Now they have a cross-country road trip to LA.

Any team that thinks of itself as a "playoff team" needs to get a result on the road against Chivas. Really, the same thing can be said about the Open Cup loss to United. That's a result that a quality team grinds out. It's not that the Revs didn't play well or crashed out due to playing a severely weakened side, they just didn't impose their style of play on the game and allowed DC to dictate the tempo (Supposedly, anyways, since the webcast that DC United put on offer was completely useless and unwatchable. Seriously, when will US Soccer and MLS figure out a way to give this great tournament the respect it deserves?)

If the Revs hope to keep their playoff aspirations they need to go to Chivas, keep the ball, work their combinations and defend with high pressure. If Chivas USA can find a way to knock them off their game, then the Revs really haven't built a squad ready for the playoffs. This Saturday will say a lot.

Final note: The Midnight Riders and the Rebellion will be duking it out before the Revs match on the pitch of Gillette Stadium, in the second annual Supporters Cup. As a member of the Riders squad I am really looking forward to this match and hopefully drinking a beer out of the cup for the second straight year!

San Jose Earthquakes vs LA Galaxy

Sat 10.30pm, Stanford Stadium

Nerdy Gales, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:

So here we are, 'Quakes fans, one year removed from the thrilling, epic Gooniest of all Goonie comebacks against Beckham and the LA Galaxy in front of 50,000 voices at Stanford University's massive stadium. The ultimate California Clasico, that MLS Game of the Year was the pinnacle of the 2012 Earthquakes' season.

Fast forward to the 2013 event – then again, maybe don't. The Quakes (4-7-6) are limping home, battle weary from a grueling series of away games and still stinging from a bewildering defeat at the hands of MLS's worst team: DC United.

The fans are still hopeful that the 2013 #CaliClasico will be a rousing gladiatorial stand, rather than a meek submission to General Maximus Keanius as he leads his squad into the arena. Senator Kavalius has addressed the assembled masses: "Can the Earthquakes dig deep and rekindle the magic from last season?" That all depends on what new coach Mark Watson will find when he evaluates his decimated squad, takes inventory of the armory and designs his battle plan to save the season.

And it will be a brutal, uphill battle. The Quakes will need every last cheer from their 12th man to sustain their warriors (I'm Chris Wondolowski!). A victory, thumbs up, and we'll fight on. Thumbs down, and the indignity of the exiting LA Galaxy fans renaming Stanford Stadium the Bruce Arena. If we die this Saturday, we're hoping for a worthy, courageous death – fighting to the end so that the playoff hopes of the 'Quakes fans can be carried off the field with somber dignity.

Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:

The LA Galaxy got Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez back over the last two weeks and on the one hand the defense is looking better, but on the other hand it hasn't resulted in more goals. Things improved against Chivas in that they took all three points, but they didn't in that offensive production continues to be a struggle.

It was Gyasi Zardes' coming-out party, rising up to head in a Landon Donovan free-kick for the lone goal. This got his picture floating around all over the internet, but it masked the fact that Zardes was careless with his shot selection. It'll hopefully improve the more experience he gets, but for much of the match Robbie Keane slotted behind Zardes. In the past two matches Keane has only taken one shot, that's going to have to change going forward.

Against San Jose, Zardes and Keane will have Robbie Rogers, Landon Donovan and Juninho in charge of getting them the ball. Rogers improves every week, but his time away from the game certainly shows. The Galaxy needed a player who could get crosses in and Rogers will eventually be that, but it's taking some time. Meanwhile over in Chicago, Mike Magee continues to be red hot. This has led to some reevaluation of the trade, but keep in mind that Arena was never going to make Magee the everyday forward. Free to roam around, Magee has been a different player.

New York Red Bulls vs Houston Dynamo

Sun 2pm, Red Bull Arena (ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Dep)

Dan Ryazansky, Editor, Metrofanatic, New York:

Disaster from the opening kickoff on. The game at Philly last weekend marked NY's first league game in three weeks … if only they waited four.

Already down 1-0 when Lloyd Sam decided to go studs up on Danny Cruz, NY could do little to fight back, ending at the wrong end of the 3-0 scoreline. So now, after a May without a loss, June sees a three-game losing streak in all competitions. But there is still hope.

That hope comes in the guise of Tim Cahill, who has missed each of the losses due to international duty. The Australian has become an immensely important part of NY's midfield, able to play whatever position needed. Jamison Olave, who missed the Philly match through suspension, will be back as well. The slump is disheartening, to say the least, but beating Houston would quickly flip the supporters' mood. Another loss? Well, let's hope we don't have to go there.

Stephen Eastepp, Dynamo Theory, Houston:

This week the Dynamo world is shaken by their recent form. Houston fans aren't used to being winless in six games, or being winless in three home games. Something just isn't right in Houston. Please, no "Houston, we have a problem" jokes, though.

Last week, the Dynamo played out to a scoreless draw with Toronto FC. The Reds sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and if Houston want to get back near the top of the conference, these matches are important to capture three points. Historically, Dynamo vs Toronto matches end in draws, but this game was an important one to win. That didn't happen, so now they move on to New York.

The Dynamo travel to New York for a big match against a team sitting above them in the standings. The positive thing for Houston is they will be closer to full strength after fighting many absences. National-team duty is done, and most players have recovered from injury – most notably Omar Cummings.

Brad Davis picked up a hamstring injury in practice and whether he'll miss the New York game is yet to be seen, but the rest of the regular starters should be good to go. Houston can't afford to continue to pick up a point or walk away with zero if they want to remain in playoff contention, so the club will be looking for the full three points.

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