MLS Week 13 previews
It's week 13, and that can only mean more action... and Concacaf Champions League draws... and Canadian Championships... and we are also contractually obliged to point out that other tournaments are available.
Admittedly most of those alternatives are at the preamble stage, where 23 men are being wheeled around compounds wrapped in cotton wool trying to avoid last minute cruel wounds. Sadly for RSL's Alvaro Saborio, and Costa Rica, he was one of the unlucky ones, as a metatarsal injury suffered in training will not only keep him out of the World Cup, but out for the next four months for his club team. Given the injury to Luis Suarez of Uruguay, another England opponent, if I'm Mario Balotelli, I'm sitting really, really still right now.
Anyway, World Cup or not, we've got plenty of local intrigue here in MLS this weekend, and as usual we've asked some of our regular fan reps and bloggers to
pad the copy give us their take on some of the key games. See what they have to say, add your predictions and local moans below and join us on Monday morning when we find out what, if anything we learned, and which Guardian writer had a freak accident involving a Q-Tip, that will keep him from liveblogging the World Cup...
Seattle vs Real Salt Lake
Sat 4pm, CenturyLink Field (CW30, Q13 FOX)
The weekend gets off to a marquee beginning with the two league frontrunners up against each other, though not with their own marquee names in the line-up. We wondered which of these two teams was best equipped to deal with the World Cup absences, and not wanting to guess, put it to the experts. Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart, and Denzel Eslinger of RSL Perspective. Here's Dave first:
“I think from Seattle’s side the Sounders are the team best equipped to deal with World Cup absences, mainly because of the two guys one, DeAndre Yedlin is directly replaceable by the guy whose right back spot on the World Cup roster he took — Brad Evans. Evans hasn’t played right back a lot for Seattle, but it’s something we know he can do at international level, and for the options to replace Yedlin at right back he’s the one who offers the most continuity of style.
Losing Clint Dempsey on the other hand, is a big deal. Both as a creative player and as a goalscorer he’s an MVP frontrunner. The goals side is perhaps less of an issue with Kenny Cooper sliding into the offense and Obafemi Martins there as well — the latter’s goals and assists this season mean he’s an MVP candidate too. But without Dempsey it’s a good rather than great attack.
That said, looking at RSL, they’re without the best goalkeeper in the league, without one of the two or three best defensive midfielders in the league, and without Saborio — who’s a game-changing forward, once linked with Seattle before RSL got him. From our fans’ perspective this is a significantly weakened RSL team, and given that we’ll probably be dueling at the top of the standings later this year, I’m going to have to use a phrase I usually hate but which really applies here — this is a six-pointer.”
And here's Denzel's take on RSL:
So a great question: which team is best equipped to deal with this absences and how do you see this game going? I think one of the strong points of RSL for the last couple years has been depth, last year it was 27 guys with MLS minutes, this year it is already 24. It isn't just the depth but the quality of the depth, for example Nick Rimando is off the the USMNT for the World Cup (something he deserves) but up steps Jeff Attinella who not only does well but has save of the week kinda stuff.
However with so many key pieces missing due to call ups and injuries (Rimando, Beckerman, Saborio, Plata, and others) it was clear against FC Dallas that building a rhythm on the pitch could take some time as guys like Cole Grossman and Devon Sandoval get into the regular mix of things. I expect we will see a team better than last week, for both RSL and Seattle, but the difference will be who can punish the other for their mistakes, with so many changes to the rosters, lineups and/or formations mistakes will happen but only if you can take advantage of them do they impact the outcome of the match. I think this one is likely a 1-1 draw in a match of two great teams who without their best players are still two of the very best teams in MLS.
And of course if RSL remain unbeaten on Saturday they'll break the MLS record for unbeaten games to start a season.
Toronto FC vs Columbus
Sat 5pm, BMO Field (TSN, TWCSC-OH)
Toronto are coming off a midweek Canadian Championship game against Montreal, that left both teams tied, and playing for a spot in a Champions League group that also includes New York Red Bulls. A couple of younger fringe players showed well in midweek, and as the season digs into summer that's food for thought for Ryan Nelsen. They'll face Columbus, who ended their own run of indifferent results with a fairly comfortable win over Chicago last week — in turn ending the Fire's attempts to build on recent wins. Toronto will have to think about pushing up a little to thwart the supply to Higuain, so how that fits with their preferred counter-attacking style will go a long way to determining what the outcome is this weekend.
Montreal vs New England
Sat 7pm, Stade Saputo (TSN, RDS, CSN-NE)
Montreal have that draw against Toronto in the Canadian Championship to build on, but not a lot else. The results just aren't coming for them in MLS, despite strong individual turns by Felipe, Mapp et al at different stages of this season. Their seriously wobbly back line will not be thrilled to be facing the freescoring Revs (for whom last week's 2-1 win over DC represents a goal drought on current form...) and in particular the inspired wide play of Diego Fagundez. The wunderkind is back in the sort of form that captivated the league last season, and at least right now, he and the other Revs attackers have found a perfect spearhead in Patrick Mullins. A great chance for New England to add to their swelling total of wins.
D.C. United vs Sporting KC
Sat 7pm, RFK Stadium (CSN-Washington, KMCI-38)
DC's own recent abilities to at times grind out wins came to a halt against New England last week, and now they're looking to bounce back against Sporting KC. Sporting are slowly getting men back — Aurelien Collin arrived back to reinforce the defense in midweek, and CJ Sapong has been able to come off the bench up front. But they're still badly hit by World Cup, suspension and injury woes and were under pressure for long spells at home to New York in a 1-1 draw the other night. Dom Dwyer is on a hot streak in front of goal, but for once in recent memory this is a game against Sporting that DC may be looking forward to.
FC Dallas vs San Jose
Sat 8.30pm, Toyota Stadium (UDN, CSN-Bay Area, TWCSN-TX)
Dallas performed creditably enough against RSL last week, a few days after a midweek loss to LA. The goalless draw in Utah wasn't enough to end a seven game winless steak for Dallas, though they certainly had their chances in the second half to end that record-equaling RSL unbeaten start to the season. Instead they come home to face San Jose, with the Earthquakes, even without Chris Wondolowski, beginning to rumble ominously (possible mixed earthquake/volcano metaphor alert). That's largely due to a retooled midfield that for now, surprisingly, has left the once solid starter Sam Cronin as the odd one out. Dallas of course are still slowly adjusting to a missing starter of their own in midfield, in these post Mauro Diaz days, but look to have steady if not inspired themselves. This one looks evenly balanced.
Chivas USA vs Philadelphia
Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center (CSN-PHI)
Chivas have shown a few signs of life recently, only to slip to a rather tame 2-0 defeat to a second string Portland in midweek — this despite the Timbers having to travel "fresh" from a game in New York last weekend, and the Goats coming off an off week. But if there's any team you want to play at home to get back in the winning habit, it's the current Philadelphia Union and their incredible melting midfield. The Union were cut apart by last week, on the same field they'll face Chivas on this weekend. They do have Maurice Edu as an unexpected bonus, after he missed the USA World Cup squad, and he did get a goal last week, albeit a penalty, but the Union generally look like a side bereft of confidence right now.
Chicago vs LA Galaxy
Sun 4pm, Toyota Park (My50 Chicago, TWCSN-LA)
So just as Chicago looked to be building some momentum, just as Mike Magee appeared to have won the internet, they were disappointing against Columbus last week. We asked Dan Martin what went wrong:
It could be that the Fire was weakened by the absences of starters Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko, and Lovel Palmer... or it could be that the Fire just isn’t very good. The truth is probably a little from column A, a little from column B on that one. The wins in the previous two matches were not without their shaky moments, but in both instances there were enough Fire goals to make up the difference.
Against the yellow team that wasn't the case. Defensive goofs by Greg Cochrane and Patrick Ianni both led directly to Crew goals and second-half subs weren’t able to mount any kind of comeback – there wasn’t even a forward on the bench to sub in. The very minor bright spots were Harry Shipp and Quincy Amarikwa working hard and Tottenham loanee Grant Ward showing decently in a half-hour cameo, his first MLS action.
It's clear that the puzzling defensive moves made during preseason haven't made much of a difference and with Technical Director Brian Bliss opening up a bit about summer signing possibilities Fire fans have to wonder whether we'll be seeing more new faces in the back. Bliss’ hint of talks with former Fire star DaMarcus Beasley is tantalizing for sure, but is Run DMB what the Fire really need, and how much of a price would he exact?
Meanwhile the Galaxy had somewhat mixed emotions last week as Landon Donovan returned early from international duty, and promptly became the highest scoring MLS player ever. Just as importantly the Galaxy got back to back wins. IS this the start of another summer awakening? We asked Josie Becker:
The LA Galaxy under Bruce Arena had that great peak period in 2010-11 where the team was essentially in first place for an entire two years. It was a great time and there was much rejoicing, but despite a second MLS Cup since then it's been up and down in the regular season. A big reason for that is the same thing causing ups and downs this year: trying to keep a consistent starting XI.
Getting Donovan back was big in getting the Galaxy past the double match week hump. However Omar Gonzalez is still out, Robbie Keane is leaving in a week, Todd Dunivant has been injured half the season, his backup had to have major surgery, Marcelo Sarvas suffered a training knock. It's been rough.
The good news is post-World Cup the Galaxy should be back to full strength ready to make a playoff run. Sadly, this is the third straight year LA has to wait until after summer to have the whole squad together.
Colorado vs Houston
Sun 8pm, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (UDN, Altitude, CSN-Hou)
So much for slow starters — the Rapids had only one first half goal in their first eleven games this year, before last week's demolition of Montreal was kickstarted by an early penalty. From there, the Rapids were quick to seize the opening from their hapless visitors — scoring four on the day and revitalizing what was in danger of becoming a somewhat moribund attack. Houston meanwhile were finding that without Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia they had no answer to San Jose's gelling midfield. They also, as has been par for the course when Davis has been out of late, had no goals — and that's likely to continue to be a problem with the wide player's immediate absence in Brazil.
Portland vs Vancouver
Sun 9pm, Providence Park (TSN2, ROOT Sports)
So suddenly the team that couldn't win at the start of the year has two wins in the past week and are going for a third in Cascadia Cup action this weekend. We asked Michael Orr to catch us up on how Portland are doing right now:
Portland took an unusual route to Sunday's Cascadia Cup game against Vancouver by using a mostly reserve line-up on Wednesday night at Chivas USA. Having come from behind against Red Bull last weekend, thanks to a Maxi Urruti brace, Caleb Porter's Timbers arrived in Los Angeles with eight changes to the starting XI. Though the game took a while to get going, Porter's gamble paid off as on-loan striker Fanendo Adi scored twice in the second half to give Portland its first ever back-to-back road wins in the four-year MLS era. Meanwhile, the 2-0 win represented the Timbers' first clean sheet of 2014.
Porter will transition back to the regular starting group, including Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri who made substitute appearances against Chivas. Valeri assisted on Adi's second goal and is finally rounding into form. Defensive issues persist and there is a chance Norberto Paparatto, back in the starting XI for the first time since early April, could miss the game due to a suspected concussion. But the team is riding high after winning its second and third games of the season and are ready to get themselves back above the playoff line.
Meanwhile Vancouver's good league form should have seen them grab a win against the Sounders last week, behind an exciting Whitecaps attack. It's still not quite clear whether they're for real. Brenton Walters has some thoughts on that:
We was robbed. In their last game the Whitecaps dominated the best team in the league (Seattle) and should have won, but the softest of penalties left us with a draw.
And while that isn't typical of our recent games, the result is. The Caps have been playing very well, getting some results, haven't lost in five, and yet... And yet we're not moving anywhere in the table, some rivals in the West are also doing well of late, and our backline is giving up goals. It's going to be a tough season.
What is working for the Caps is the attack. Pedro Morales is as good a passer as this league has, Erik Hurtado is finally banging in goals (and what a nice one that was against Seattle), and Manneh, Fernández, Mezquida, and even Koffie are all contributing. It's all still a bit chaotic at times, but when it clicks, when they're stringing passes together at speed and making runs into space, it's a joy to watch.
Which brings us to Portland's shambolic backline... It would be easy to predict that the Whitecaps' attackers will feast on an unsettled and injury-ridden defence. And so I will - the Whitecaps will score goals, multiple, against Portland. We may also give up a couple, so bet on an exciting game.