Major League Soccer Week 8 - The Weekend Edition

Well the MLS week kicked off with a couple of matches on Wednesday and both ended up in what has to be considered upsets as DC United found a way to get a 2-1 win at home over Seattle, and Colorado battled to a 2-1 win over the Dynamo at Houston.  All 4 of those teams will be in action again this weekend, but the weekend will kick off with the newly launched "Soccer Night in America" on Fox Soccer Channel, which appears to be a major upgrade to the production but again suffers by the lack of FSC being a premium sports channel and with a very small HD footprint. They do have a great match scheduled for Friday night:

Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers - 8:30pm MT- Fox Soccer Channel

Well you  have to consider both of these teams a bit of a surprise at this point of the season, most thought that the Whitecaps would have the better team of the two new expansion teams but the Timbers would find themselves in the playoffs if they started today.  The Union may not be as much fun to watch in 2011 as they were last year, but their grind it out style has gotten results as they are 4-1-1 and a win would put them at the top of the Eastern Conference.

I find myself kinda missing the Union of last year where it was a bunch of young kids with a couple of veterans working their butts off trying to play an attractive attacking style that made Sebastian Le Toux a legit MVP threat.  Of course that only got them 8 wins last year and they gave up 49 goals, so I understand the change and this year while they have only scored 5 goals (Le Toux got his first of the year from the PK spot last weekend), they have only given up 2 goals and Faryd Mondragon has 4 clean sheets and a 0.33 GAA average.  I think this team wants to play a more offensive style but are still looking for that creative midfielder who can drive that style.

Oh the Timbers, how they must really be enjoying their start 3-3-1 and unbeaten at home in MLS action with a huge win over RSL last weekend.  It was the first time this team has shown the ability to play defense and they did so at a cost of having very few offensive chances after they went into a 9-10 man behind the ball and try to counter attack style, but for them it worked and against the low scoring Union it may work again.  Can they find a way to get their Columbian connection of Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza going, will they be able to leverage one of the better target forwards in MLS Kenny Cooper?  Their defense will be improved as Troy Perkins gets back into form, I have a feeling this match will be about not making mistakes, and I think it will end in a 0-0 draw.

the rest of the weekends action after the jump:

Saturday will get started early with a 2pm MT matchup and end let as the last match of the day won't kick off until after 9pm MT, but 7 matches to keep you busy all day:

Chivas USA at Real Salt Lake - 2pm MT - Telefutura

This match preview will be coming shortly on it's own post.

Houston Dynamo at Toronto FC - 5pm MT - Direct Kick

Well the Dynamo had a chance midweek to take the top spot in the East but couldn't get the job done against the Colorado Rapids, now they leave home and will head north of the border to face a TFC team that is 0-2-3 in their last 5 matches.  Toronto has looked like a team that simply is lacking direction and leadership on and off the pitch, they have turned their home pitch advantage into something less than what it used to be.  13 goals allowed against just 7 scored and just a single win out of 8 matches.  For TFC I think their are more questions than answers, do they really think Alan Gordon is the answer up top, can Maicon Santos be the creative force in the midfield, can their defense find their way after giving up 7 goals in their last 3 matches?

For Houston everything was going well, they hadn't lost a match since the opening weekend and on Wednesday they took a 1-0 lead over Colorado in the 71st minute, but then gave up two goals in 10 minutes on a long range shot by Jamie Smith that found Houston's Tally Hall wondering out of his net and then a failed clearance that Scott Palguta put in the back of the net to give the Rapids a 2-1 win.  Will Bruin who had looked great against DC United, looked more like an average rookie, and while both Brad Davis and Collin Clark looked dangerous it just wasn't their night.  I expect an improved effort against a team that they should be able to handle with relative ease, Houston wins 2-1 at BMO Field.

Colorado Rapids at New England Revolution - 5:30pm MT - Direct Kick

After a huge road win for the Rapids, they now head to the Northeast to face a New England team that was left reeling after a 3-0 loss at Chivas USA last weekend.  Neither of these teams has been a model of consistency this season and both have 3 losses in their last 4 matches. I am still thinking that New England will get better, as they figure out how to get the most out of Benny Feilhaber and Rajko Lekic both who have just a couple matches with the team.  I do think that the Rev's will also need to find some help on their back line, there is little depth and not as much quality as there should be back there.

For Colorado finding a way to get back on the winning path at Houston on Wednesday was huge, the 2-1 win moved them to a 4-3-1 record and back into second place in the Western Conference standings, there are still a lot of question with injuries up top for the Rapids, but if Jamie Smith can continue to launch shots like he did against Tally Hall well the Rapids should be just fine.  The Rapids have just a single clean sheet this year and if they want to repeat their championship run of last year, they will need to figure some things out on defense.  I just am not sold on Kosuke Kimura or Scott Palguta on their backline, they will need some depth or have to hope that players don't get hurt.  I think this match is going to be interesting, New England has had 3 players sent off with red cards this year and their opponents have had it happen 5 times against them, so this one could see one team get a man advantage, I am going to pick that it ends 1-1 with just one player sent off.

Seattle Sounders at Columbus Crew - 5:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well The Sounders have to already be upset at the results on this road trip as I doubt many thought they would lose to struggling DC United, now they head to Columbus to face the Crew who have just a single loss this year and are 3-1-3 overall and 3-0-1 at home with just a single goal allowed at Crew Stadium.  I have made fun of Columbus as being one of the most boring teams in MLS this year, along with the Philly Union, but like the Union they are getting results.  At the start of the year most people thought the Crew would struggle as their clear rebuilding project was underway but by focusing on defense and taking advantage of opponents mistakes they have kept themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference. Only 4 players have found the back of the net for the Crew, lead by Emilio Renteria with 3 goals, Robbie Rogers with 2 goals and both Eddie Gaven and Andres Mendoza have a single goal. One has to point out that 3 of the Crew's 7 goals have come from the PK spot.  Solid defense is the name of the game the Crew are offering and while everyone expects it from Chad Marshall, I say that Julius James may be their best off season pickup.

The Sounders looked the better team for long stretches against DC United, but they simply couldn't convert their chances.  Even with Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White on the shelf, this team has a number of really good offensive players, Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez should be able to get good balls to Fredy Montero and Brad Evans up top.  I do think that they need to find a way to help Osvaldo Alonso do the defensive work in the midfield.  The Sounders have never lost to the Crew, and in fact they have never allowed the Crew to score a goal when they have played in Columbus where the team beat the Crew 4-0 last year.  That means I am going to pick this one to end up as a 0-0 draw.

FC Dallas at DC United - 5:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well here are two teams with a lot to prove, FC Dallas were a top team in 2010 but they have struggled a bit at the start of 2011 and DC United have been one of the most up and down teams in the league so far this season as they continue the rebuilding of their team.  Both sides have 10 points, but it has taken DC United an additional match to get there, DC has scored 12 goals this year, FC Dallas have found the back of the net 10 times.  On the other side of the ball Dallas have allowed 10 goals in their 7 matches while DC United have the worst goals allowed in the league with 17 allowed in 8 matches.  United continue to move people around in front of Bill Hamid, but this back line lacks a veteran leader that is so important to solid defense and communications, one has to believe that they will be looking to fill that gap this summer.  Charlie Davies has given fans someone exciting to watch in the black and red, and Josh Wolff seems to be playing with more energy than in recent years at KC.  Still there are way more questions than answers for Ben Olsen.

A late goal last weekend by Brek Shea on what may have been a cross but looked like and scored like a shot for me and that was the difference between a lighting delayed draw against LA and the final 2-1 win.  The Hoops will still be looking to figure out how their offense will function without MVP David Ferreira to run it, but Dallas have managed to scored multiple goals in each of their last 4 matches.  On defense there are some questions as FCD have just a single clean sheet on the season and have given up 5 goals in their last 3 matches, I think part of that has been caused by their inability to control possession in the midfield.  It looks as if they move Shea up to the midfield to boost their offense but without possession they allow other teams to create a lot of chances.  This match is likely going to have some goals scored and be entertaining to watch, I see it ending in a 2-2 draw.

Vancouver Whitecaps at Chicago Fire - 6:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well the Whitecaps are 0-3-0 on the road and while they are entertaining to watch at home, on the road they play every bit the expansion team role.  Lots of mistakes, little possession, and a lack of on field leadership have left them winless in their last 5 matches.  If there is an upside they will be facing the Chicago Fire who are just 1-1-1 at home and also haven't won a match in their last 5 matches.  Both sides have some talented players and both can score goals (Chicago has 10 in 7 matches, while Vancouver has 11 in 8) but neither are at the top of the defensive head, as the Fire have given up 13 and the Whitecaps 14.  I do find some humor in the fact that the Whitecaps have 18 yellow cards so far this year and 3 red cards, perhaps nothing is more indicative of a expansion team than undisciplined play.  Their start DP Eric Hassli is a prime example, he has 3 goals but has been kicked out of matches twice with red cards and served 3 suspensions for cards.  They will need to get their act together or this could be a very long year for them.

The Fire show moments of great play, but far more often they look like a group of school kids playing, you know where everyone chases the ball around but don't know what to do when they get it.  They have a real scoring threat in Diego Chaves, and I believe that Marco Pappa is the guy to run the team in the midfield, but when I look at their lineup and formation I am left wondering who is really in charge on the pitch?  Far too many new guys in far too many slots for this team to have time to have figured it all out, and so like the Whitecaps they are very inconsistent in how they play.  This could be either a very ugly match to watch or one of the more entertaining ones of the weekend, I am going with my first impulse that this ends a ugly 1-1 draw.

New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy - 9pm MT - ESPN 2

Well you have to think that the guys at ESPN hoped they could get an earlier start time for this one as this is one of those matches they love that feature the big names like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and such.  On paper this is a great matchup as both teams top their conferences, but LA has taken 9 matches to get their 2 point lead over Colorado (8 matches played) or 3 point lead over RSL (5 matches played) and even the Red Bulls have a match in hand over second place Philly.  I think the biggest difference in the match will be the ability of the Red Bulls to play defense, they have given up just 2 goals in their 7 matches this year and even on the road they have been good with a 1-1-1 record.  Now this is a big match for New York and on national TV, so I expect big things from Thierry Henry as he seems to be a player who has learned to turn it on when he is on the big stage.  With Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez in front of Bouna Coundoul, it has allowed Jan Solli to be a bigger part of the offense, they are a tough unit to get past.

I really believe that LA could be in trouble this year unless they find a way to get Juan Pablo Angel and Chad Barrett into their overall offensive scheme, I doubt that David Beckham will stay healthy all year, and Landon will be gone with the USMNT for most of June.  Barrett has shown up over the last few matches but I still have more questions than answers about him, that same can be said of Juninho, there is talent there but I just don't know if it enough to help carry a team.  Now LA was smart to get a bunch of their matches out of the way early this year, they have just 11 matches over the final 3 months of the season with just 3 each in Sept and October.  Smart to adjust for their CCL schedule in advance.  Their defense has allowed a goal per match this year, and while there is a lot of talent on their back line, there is also a lot of youth.  I think this one will likely end up a fairly close match with a 2-1 result, and I am going to pick the Red Bulls to be the winner.

There you go all the weekend action in MLS previewed and picked for you.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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