Major League Soccer Week 18 Match Previews (everyone plays)

Well now that SuperLiga is over (OK, not over but no more 4 teams off limit for MLS action) and the midweek dismantling of the MLS All Stars by ManU, we can get back to what matters.  The Major League Soccer regular season is back and every team will play this weekend (7 matches on Saturday, 1 on Sunday).  

Some great matchups are on the schedule but we know that most of the attention will be focused on the MLS debut of TH14 (Thierry Henry) as the New York Red Bulls will face the Houston Dynamo, but I will get to that one, lets take them in order:

New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union - 1:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Both of these teams are looking to establish something positive this season, each have just 4 wins and both want to stay in front of DC United in the Eastern Conference table.  Philly this week added Justin Mapp from Chicago and he should help boost their midfield on both offense and defense.  New England continue to fight the injury bug, here is the list of the casualties: OUT: GK Preston Burpo (R leg surgery); FW Edgaras Jankauskas (L adductor strain); FW Taylor Twellman (concussion); DOUBTFUL: FW Zak Boggs (concussion); QUESTIONABLE: MF Nico Colaluca (R ankle sprain); DF Cory Gibbs (L quad strain); MF Jason Griffiths (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: DF Chris Tierney (rib contusion).

So how exactly can the Rev's take the momentum of their last MLS match, a July 10th 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy, and their recent form in SuperLiga (3-0-0) into PPL Park and come out with some kind of a result?  Their only road win of the season was a 2-0 win over DC United (a great 3 minutes by Mansally), they have scored just 4 goals on the road in 7 matches while allowing 15.  The only real chance that I think they have will be to leverage the possession battle using Sharlie Joseph, they aren't a deep squad with the injuries and to be honest their trade with Colorado that sent both Wells Thompson and Jeff Larentowicz packing has hurt their ability to control the ball and thus the matches.  If they can find a way to get Zack Schilawski to add to his 5 goals or get more from Mark Perovic (3 goals) and Sainey Nyassi (2 goals, 1 assist), they might have a chance but with just 5 players to have found the back of the net this year it is no surprise that they are looking to bring in some new strikers.  They have to find a way to score because they leak goals (despite their 3 shutouts in SuperLiga), their 26 allowed is 2nd worse in MLS.

The Union have lost just once at their new home stadium, a last second heart-breaker to San Jose, and they will look to take advantage of New England's woes and notch their 5th win of the season.  If they are going to get a win you have to think that it will likely involve Sebastien Le Toux (7 goals, 7 assists) who has established himself as a MVP candidate this year, or Danny Mwanga (5 goals, 2 assists) a real rookie of the year contender.  They will also need to come up with a solid defensive effort, in recent weeks they have shown improvement by allowing just 5 goals in their last 4 matches, down from their 1.86 GAA.  I do think they will miss Shea Salinas, but the pick of Justin Mapp should help them out in the midfield.

Should be an entertaining match, look for a Philly win 2-1.

more previews after the jump:

FC Dallas at Colorado Rapids - 2pm MT - Direct Kick

A huge 6 point match for these two teams as they look to try to keep themselves in a playoff spot. Colorado started hot but haven't gotten a win in their last 6 matches (0-2-4), while FC Dallas haven't lost in their last 7 matches (4-0-3), both teams are looking to keep pace with the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake who occupy the top two spots in the Western Conference.

For the Rapids playing at home helps (3-1-3) with 9 goals for and just 6 allowed, but all time the Rapids have only won half (12-7-5) of their matches against FC Dallas and hold just a 36 to 34 goals for advantage, and when facing Western Conference teams at home they are 1-1-0 this year (2-3-1) overall.  While the Colorado fans are still quick to sing the praises of Conor Casey (7 goals (3PK's), 3 assists) anyone who has watched their matches lately know that he has missed more chances than he has converted and he has just a single goal in their last 4 matches.  In fact the Rapids have just 3 goals scored in their last 4 matches while allowing 5 in that same time period, in fact their last clean sheet came back on June 5th against Columbus.  That streak has moved them from a top 3 defensive side to number 5 in goals allowed with 16.

FC Dallas is a unique team this year, they lead the MLS with 8 draws and are tied with LA with just 2 league losses and they are an impressive 2-1-5 on the road with 9 goals scored and just 8 allowed.  One has to credit the recent form, unbeaten in 7, to the improved performances from David Ferreira and Brek Shea on offense and the defensive efforts of George John, Heath Pearce, Ugo Ihemelu and Kevin Hartman.  Dallas has allowed only 2 goals in their last 4 matches, while scoring 5, their two clean sheets in that stretch dropped Hartman"s GAA to 0.67.  The Dallas defense know what they have to do against Colorado, stop Casey and Cummings, 12 of their 16 goals have come from those two players.

Listen this FC Dallas team is tough to beat, they may not win as many as they would like but they simply don't get beat often, a 1-1 draw for these two teams.

New York Red Bulls at Houston Dynamo - 6:30 MT - Direct Kick

So the first question is why is nobody (ESPN or FSC) covering the MLS debut of Thierry Henry?   Well ESPN is covering the X-Games on their main network and the Nationwide Series of Nascar on ESPN2, and FSC is showing a replay of last years match between Arsenal and Man U.  Yup we have some quality partners, sign some more 10 year deals Don.  So Houston hasn't won since beating DC United back in May, 0-4-3 in their last 7, while the Red Bulls are coming off a loss to Columbus on the 17th and are 3-2-2 in their last 7.

Perhaps the only upside for Houston is that this match is at home, where they are 4-3-2 so far this year.  It does seem amazing to me that the Dynamo have scored 21 goals this season (only 3 teams have more), but what is more amazing is that no player has more than 3 goals for them and that 14 different players have found the back of the net.  11 players have at least 1 assist for Houston, their goals and assists have come from everywhere but their keepers.  They are lead by Brad Davis (3 goals, 2 PK's, and 6 assists) and Brian Ching (3 goals, and 1 assist), and then 3 players have two goals and too many to count have added at least one.  The problem is that the Dynamo have allowed 25 goals this year, only 3 teams have allowed more and last season Houston allowed only 29 all year.  It is clear that without Clark and Holden in midfield, and Cameron on defense that this team simply isn't as good as they used to be, and their defense takes even another hit as Bobby Boswell is suspended for a red card against Columbus.

It is strange how two teams can really trade places in one year but Red Bulls are sitting with a 8-6-2 record and have already won more matches in 2010 than they did in all of 2009.  Their defense is much better with the additions of rookies Tim Ream and Roy Miller to go with their new keeper Bouna Coundoul has turned the team that allowed 47 goals last year to the team that has allowed just 19 in 16 matches.  Of course up to this point in the season their offense has been all about Juan Pablo Angel (9 goals, 2 PK's, and 2 assists) who accounts for over half of the teams offense.  All of that is likely to change as the biggest DP signing of 2010 Thierry Henry will take the pitch in his first ever MLS match.  The question that remains is can Joel Lindpere provide them with enough quality service to keep them both happy, I don't think he can alone and it will require more out of Seth Stammler and Dane Richards.  If Richards can find a way to deliver the ball better, his speed could really give New York one of MLS's most lethal offenses.

If New York can keep the hype in check, maybe they asked for no national TV, then they should come out with a tough fought 2-1 win.  Houston is a tough place to play, at the end of July it is brutal as Saturday's forecast of 97 degrees with 50% humidity and bad air quality all attest to.

Toronto FC at Kansas City Wizards (?) - 6:30 MT - Direct Kick

You would think that KC would welcome the chance to face a 1-5-1 road team in the cozy surroundings of CommunityAmerica Ballpark, but given their 3-3-2 home record, I doubt it.  Now they might be flying high from their win over Man U last weekend, but the hard reality is that the Wizards have won 2 matches since April 10th.  Yes they found a way to beat Columbus in Columbus and they got a 1-1 draw on the 17th at Colorado, but they still aren't an impressive team.  Toronto on the other hand are very impressive, when they play at BMO field, on the road they have just one win, their May 29th 3-1 win at San Jose.  The upside for TFC is they have only lost once in their last 10 matches (4-1-5).

The question for KC is simple, where do the goals come from? Only DC United have scored fewer than the Wizards 13, and for KC half their goals have come from Kei Kamara who has 6 goals and 0 assists.  The only other KC player with more than a single goal is Davy Arnaud with 2 goals and 2 assists, I think everyone who has seen KC play has wondered when newcomers Teal Bunbury and Ryan Smith will start to shine.  Both have shown great promise, but each just have a single goal so far this year, Ryan does have 6 assists to lead KC.  If KC want to start winning they will need more than 4 goals (the total in their last 7 matches), of course their defense will also need to improve its performance they have allowed 7 goals in their last 5 matches and 20 on the season.  While their fans may be impressed with Jimmy Nielsen in net, the reality is that his GAA is 1.25, they guy their FO dumped was Kevin Hartman who has a 0.67 GAA for Dallas.

TFC is an impressive team at home, but to really make themselves a playoff contender they will need to find ways to get wins on the road.  They have the offensive weapons to do so in Dwayne De Rosario (8 goals, 3 PK's, and 3 assists) and Chad Barrett (5 goals, and 1 assist), beyond that they will be looking for help and they believe that new DP Mista is just that player.  Their defense has been solid with just 18 goals allowed, which is second best in the East, where they are the only team other than Columbus to have a positive goal differential.  Cann and Attakora are a good set of center backs, and Dan Gargan is OK on the outside, I am not a fan of Nick Garcia who is a bit of a hack.  I think TFC's defense is about their midfield where they do a good job of controlling possession and making opposing teams chase them.  They may struggle a bit to move the ball on the small pitch at CAB, but it will be interesting to see if they can change their road luck.

I have a feeling this match could get really ugly in a hurry and it will likely end up with at least one team playing shorthanded, end result a 1-1 draw.

DC United at Real Salt Lake - 7:00 PM MT - No Local Coverage - Direct Kick 

On paper this is a mismatch of epic proportions, DC United have won just 3 of 17 matches, they are 1-5-2 on the road.  RSL is 9-4-4 overall and 6-0-3 at home.  DC United have scored just 12 goals all season, RSL has allowed only 14 goals to be scored against them.  DC United have allowed 28 goals (worst in MLS), while RSL has scored 29 goals (tied for best in MLS).  On paper you think RSL could just dial this one in, but then you have to remember the first week of June, see RSL spend a few days in our nation's capital, a trip to the White House was the only highlight of the trip.  It was that trip that saw DC United eliminate RSL from the US Open Cup, and then fight them to a 0-0 draw in league play.

You can read the full match preview here.

Seattle Sounders at San Jose Earthquakes - 8:00 PM MT - Direct Kick

Just like the FC Dallas match at Colorado, this is a huge 6 point match between Western Conference foes.  Seattle is enjoying back to back league wins for the first time this year (2-2-1 in their last 5), while San Jose has to be happy with last weeks 2-2 draw at Los Angeles.  While the Sounders have played 18 of their league matches, San Jose has only played half of theirs, the two sides are separated by a single point in the Western Conference standings. San Jose has 23 points with a 6-4-5 record with 20 goals scored and 18 allowed, while Seattle has 22 points with a 6-8-4 record and 20 goals scored and 25 allowed.

San Jose was able to get a 1-0 win earlier this year when the teams faced off at Qwest Field on May 22nd, since then they have just one league win.  The San Jose side that pitched 4 straight clean sheets in May, has added just a single one to that total since then, allowing 7 goals in their last 5 matches.  One positive is that their last 5 goals have come from 5 different players (Opara, Glen, Alavarez, Convey, and McDonald).  Their offense is still lead by Chris Wondolowski's 6 goals (1PK) and 1 assist, and Bobby Convey who got his first goal of the season in the LA match but leads the Quakes with 8 assists.  They also get some quality goals from Ike Opara and Arturo Alvarez, who both have 3.  Their defense has recently been boosted by a change in goal as Jon Busch hasn't lost a match in his 4 starts (1-0-3) and has just a 1.00 GAA, of course their other keeper is Joe Cannon who is one of the best ever in MLS history.  I think Ike Opara is giving Philly's Danny Mwanga a real run for rookie of the year, and when he can learn from the likes of Jason Hernandez and Ramiro Corrales he could be a top defender for years to come.

Seattle seem to have found their "mojo", or perhaps it was the change in lineups after their 3-1 loss to LA on the 4th of July, but since then Seattle is 2-0-1 and started to look like the team most of us expected at the start of the season.  Steve Zakuani (7 goals and 3 assists) has looked very dangerous, Fredy Montero (6 goals and 8 assists) seems to be more focused, now with the addition of Blaise Nkufo and Miquel Montano getting playing time you expect that the departure of Freddie Ljungberg to Chicago will be less impactful.  Of course Seattle still has a laundry list of injuries to deal with: UT: MF David Estrada (R hamstring strain and R first toe sprain); MF Brad Evans (R knee meniscus); FW Michael Fucito (R knee contusion); DF Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (L ACL); DOUBTFUL: FW Pat Noonan (adductor strain), but help is on the way as the Sounders just added Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez to their roster and he should be joining them soon.  So while their offense and midfield are looking up, I still have huge question about their defense, Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni just don't seem the right pair to play in front of Kasey Keller, Riley is OK and knows how to move forward with the ball and has become a quality crosser of the ball.  It will be interesting to see how the Sounders finish out their season.

I think this is going to be one of the best matches of the weekend, and for some reason I think the Sounders pull out a win 2-1.  Don't be surprised if this one looks a lot like the match in which San Jose got a stoppage time goal to get a 2-1 win over Philly a couple weeks ago.

Columbus Crew at Chivas USA - 8:30 PM MT- Direct Kick

Much like the RSL vs DC United matchup, on paper this is one looks very onesided, as Columbus is 10-3-4 with 34 points and sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, while Chivas USA is 4-9-3 with 15 points and are at the very bottom of the Western Conference.  It gets worse for Chivas, they are 2-4-1 at home with a -2 goal differential, while Columbus are 2-1-4 on the road with a +2 goal differential. There is an upside for Chivas, they are 4-1-0 against the Crew at the Home Depot Center, Chivas also battled to a 0-0 draw with Chivas on May 15th, until a questionable 90th minute PK gave the Crew the 1-0 win.

Chivas have actually been playing a bit better of late, in fact they are 1-0-2 in their last 3 matches, the Crew are 2-1-0 in their last 3.  If you look at the lineup for Chivas USA you will likely not know many of the names, as most of their players are either new to MLS, or new to starting roles.  This isn't unexpected when a team gets a new coach, and Martin Vasquez is quickly rebuilding his team.  17 players have fewer than 40 MLS matches on their resumes, only one of their projected lineup have more than 65 MLS matches on their's and that is newly resigned Pablo Nagamura with 132 matches.  This lack of familiarity has lead Chivas to tend to play a very tentative style, where they look to counter attacks and long balls as their primary attacking tools, which often has meant long balls to Justin Braun who leads the team with 6 goals and 3 assists.  It is almost too late for Chivas, as each of their remaining 8 home matches are must wins if they want to get back into the playoff mix.

The Crew have been one of the most consistent teams in MLS over the last 3 seasons, they won the last two supporter shields and are just 6 points behind LA in the race for the 2010 version.  They are almost the polar opposite of Chivas, their lineup looks a lot like the won that won the MLS Cup in 2008 and 10 of their projected starting lineup has seen action in at least 10 MLS matches this year. It is no surprise that their offense revolves around GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) who has 5 goals (2 PK's) and 6 assists, but recently it has been Emilio Renteria that appears to be claiming the second forward spot for the Crew, he has 4 goals, including 3 game winners.  Of course you also have to always keep an eye on Eddie Gaven (3 goals and 3 assists) and Adam Moffat (2 goals and 1 assist).  The key to their success this year is their defense, second best in all of MLS with just 13 goals allowed, it is anchored by Will Hesmer who has a 0.76 GAA in goal and 8 clean sheets.  He gets a lot of help from names like Chad Marshall, Andy Iro, Franki Hejduk, and Danny O'Rourke.

There is little question in my mind that the Crew will come out on top, but expect Chivas to give them a real fight and if they can sneak in a goal, they might just get a result. 1-0 Crew.

Chicago Fire at Los Angeles Galaxy -  Sunday 5:30 PM MT - Fox Soccer Channel

coming as soon as the match guide is published.

I will update the post with the others shortly.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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