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Major League Soccer Week 8 previews and picks

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Well the 8th week of the MLS season got underway as Real Salt Lake defeated the Houston Dynamo 3-1 on Thursday, and the win bolted RSL up to 2nd place in the Western Conference and 3rd best in all of MLS.  Of course some of that could change with the weekends action as 7 matches will take place involving the other 14 MLS teams.  The action will start off early in the afternoon with:

FC Dallas at Philadelphia Union - 2pm MT - Telefutura

For Philly they are hoping that there is no place like home as they play just their second home match of their season on Saturday, will they be able to repeat the win over DC United in week 2?  FC Dallas did something last week that they had never done before, they got a win at Houston on Wednesday night and then followed it up with their second win of their season on Saturday with a 1-0 win over DC United.  So something is going to give as one team looks to extend a winning streak, the other looks to stop the early season bleeding of a 4 game losing streak.

Kevin Hartman, a cast off from Kansas City who has found a home in the net for Dallas.  Two starts, and two clean sheets, now Kevin will be the first to admit that he doesn't do it alone.  The backline has looked more solid when Heath Pearce is back there, Ugo Ihemelu has improved his form greatly, George John is a decent central defender, but perhaps there has been no bigger surprise than rookie Zach Loyd.   Of course the offense has gotten a lot of help as 3 of their 9 goals have come from the PK spot, but with the size of Atiba Harris, the developing skill of Brek Shea, and the speed of Jeff Cunningham opponents have to be prepared for to withstand a dynamic attack.

Being an MLS expansion team isn't easy, being one that has to play 8 of their first 10 matches on the road is brutal, and then losing your most lethal offensive weapon to an injury, well it just doesn't seem fair.  Well nobody ever said professional soccer would be fair, and Peter Nowak knows it, yet his team is a combination of youth (4 players born in the 90's) and veterans (7 players with 50 or more MLS starts).  It would be easy for a new team to play a conservative, defensive style, but that isn't what Philly is doing, nope they are playing an attacking possession based style and while they are still learning to play as a team, they are showing signs of progress.  Will it be enough, the home crowd will be huge, over 30,000 are expected and I think they can help the expansion team out but not enough to get a win against the talented Dallas side. This one ends 1-1.

More previews and picks after the jump:

San Jose Earthquakes at New England Revolution - 4pm MT - Direct Kick

This one is a matchup of teams that would appear be heading in different directions, San Jose have won four of their last five matches, while New England who won two of their first three now have failed to get a win in their last 5 matches and have settled for a single draw with four losses.  Injuries are still the biggest part of the story for New England, 5 players listed as out and 3 more listed as questionable means that 1/3 of their 24 man roster is unlikely to be available.  San Jose is getting back towards being fully healthy as they have just Eduardo listed as out and 3 listed as questionable.  One has to wonder if anyone in Boston will be paying attention, they are averaging under 10,000 for their home matches and most will be preparing for Sunday's Celtic playoff match.

New England have given up more than 2 goals in 4 of their last five matches, while only scoring two once.  You know that the Rev's are flying under the radar when their top goal scorer is rookie Zack Schilwaski with 4 goals, but their number two guy is Zak Boggs.  Boggs is such an unknown that he isn't even listed on the MLS's still dysfunctional website that shows the New England stats, this despite playing in 4 matches and having two goals.  It is caused by the fact that Boggs is actually on their supplemental roster, but still come on MLS.  The problem isn't offense for New England it is their 14 goals allowed, only DC United has allowed more (15), it is clear that they miss the midfield bite of Shalrie Joseph who is still out in rehab, and nobody has been able to stabilize their midifield leaving a back line that is relying on Pat Phelan, Kevin Alston, and Seth Sinovic (another supplemental roster guy) to play next to Cory Gibbs.  Then toss in Preston Burpo and his 1.75 GAA so far this year while they wait for Matt Reis to recover.

San Jose has looked good since their opening day loss to Real Salt Lake, and honestly they looked good then.  Joe Cannon has played well with 3 clean sheets and a 1.17 GAA, their defense has gotten a great boost from my early favorite for Rookie of the Year Ike Opara (he is questionable for this match) but along side Chris Leitch and Jason Hernandez they have been solid.  I have been surprised with Joey Gjertsen in the midfield, but their rockstar there is Bobby Convey who has had 5 assists so far this year.  Chris Wondolowski leads the team with 4 goals and when Ryan Johnson gets back to form, their offense will be tough to control.  I think San Jose will be able to take advantage of the confusion that is the New England Revolution, this one ends up 2-1 San Jose.

Colorado Rapids at DC United - 5:30 MT - Direct Kick

DC United is simply a mess, their 1-6-0 record is the worst in MLS, as is their -11 goal differential and -5 goal differential at home.  While DC holds a 10-2-4 home record against Colorado, this year they are 1-3-0 at home and while they have had moments of solid play, they have suffered from lapses that have cost them.  Colorado was an early season surprise with results in their first 4 of 5 matches, including 3 road wins but they have dropped back to back 1-0 decisions to LA and San Jose.

DC United's lapses have cost them, against New England it was two goals in 3 minutes in a 2-0 loss.  Against Chicago it was two goals in the last 10 minutes of the match in a 2-0 loss, then two goals in 10 minutes against New York in another 2-0 loss.  It is the failure to play 90 solid minutes that has cost DC United, the root cause is likely the numerous injuries and changes to their lineup.  Burch, Jakovis, Namoff, Pontius, Quaranta, and Quin are all listed as out, other injuries have also causes issues.  Consider that MLS Original and the league's all time leading scorer Jamie Moreno has only 3 starts and just a single goal, I said it before and I stick with it "as Moreno goes, so goes United".

Colorado looked like something special early on but the reality that half of their 8 goals have come from either the PK spot (3) or from direct kicks (1), the reality that their leading scorer last year Conor Casey hasn't scored a goal other than PK's.  Their defense and ability to control in the midfield is what is keeping them in matches, the additions of Larentowicz, Thompson, Wynne, and Moor at the end of last season has paid huge dividends for the Rapids who are allowing just one goal per match.  I have to worry that the Rapids will once again be in a match that is decided from the PK spot, Jorge Gonzalez issues a red card in 25% of the matches he is in charge of, and has the same percentage of matches that he points to the PK spot.  Colorado should get a win, but after DC's home win over KC, I expect they will provide more of a fight at home for the rest of this season.  This one ends 2-2.

Chivas USA at Columbus Crew - 5:30 MT - Direct Kick

Well last week many people thought the loss by Chivas to Houston was a defining moment of the early season for Chivas, who have shown a lot of promise in recent weeks but the inconsistency of a team with a new coach and a lot of new players cost them.  Columbus is undefeated but no team has played fewer matches, they are undefeated at home but it was a last minute goal that lifted them over lowly New England last week.  If Chivas can put together a solid effort, they could pull of a huge surprise this weekend.

So this match should mark the return of Chad Marshall to the Crew lineup, only to see him leave for the USMNT camp along with teammate Robbie Rogers.  The reality is that for the last couple years the Crew have depended on GBS to either score or create scoring chances, if he can find a way to get forward in dangerous positions he can win a match for them.  I am still waiting for Lenhart to start performing up to expectations, if not we will likely see either Jason Garey or Emilio Renteria step up and take his spot.  I still think that Eddie Gaven could be the real difference maker in this match, he has the ability to create and score and with attention being paid to GBS and Rogers, he should find plenty of chances.

Chivas is an interesting team, a combination of known quantities like Kljestan, Bornstein, and Thornton and new faces like Jesus Padilla and Ben Zemanski.  It is clear that there is quality on their roster, but growing pains and adjusting to a new head coach have clearly caused issues for Chivas.  They need a proven leader to take charge on the pitch, I like Sacha and Bornstein but they both are simply too young to lead a team with this many new players.  I have a feeling by the end of the season that Chivas will likely be in contention in the West.  The Crew were the 2nd best team at home in 2009 and they will be able to pull out a victory over The Goats, this one ends 2-1.

Seattle Sounders FC at New York Red Bulls - 5:30 MT - Direct Kick

If in mid March you had told people that the Red Bulls would be 5-2-0 and Seattle would be 2-3-3 in mid May, they would have doubted you.  It looked as if the Sounders were poised to repeat their great 2009, but so far they have struggled, their solid defense has allowed in 12 goals so far this year and last year's superman Kasey Keller is looking like Rave Green is kyptonite with a 1.47 GAA.  On the other end of the pitch Bouna had a 0.67 GAA going into last weeks match, but then they gave up 4 goals and he too is looking more human with a 1.14 GAA, so who will step up on Saturday?

The Sounders have had to fight injury issues all year and now with a second player on the IR list, they lose Alonso for the match.  They did finally sign Jeff Parke this week, but I am not sure if he will be eligible to play but Pat Noonan should be back from his injury.  One has to wonder what the issues are for the Sounders, I believe a part of the issue is that they can't surprise anyone this year.  I also believe that the individual players and the staff need to find ways to vary their styles both on offense and defense, Sigi is too good of a coach and there are too many talented players on this team for them to be playing as poorly as they have in recent weeks.

New York is the surprise story of 2010 so far, they haven't won pretty, but they have won.  They have Juan Pablo Angel and he is still one of the best finishers in MLS, newcomer Joel Lindpere has filled the creative vacuum left last year when Dave van den Bergh left.  The Red Bulls have lived or died this year by their keeper and when Coundoul is on, they win and until their 4-0 loss last weekend, they had allowed just 4 goals.  It will be interesting to see how their outside backs deal with the speed of Zakuwani.  I am going to do something against my better judgement and pick the Sounders to get revenge for their 1-0 loss at Qwest field in April and this time they beat the Bulls 2-1.

Chicago Fire at Kansas CIty Wizards - 6:30 MT - Fox Soccer Channel

Two teams that will not only be battling each other on Saturday, but they will be battling mediocrity.  Both have two wins, both have two losses, KC has a 0 goal differential and Chicago is -1.  When these teams play in KC, it is as even as two teams can be. 7-7-5 with Chicago scoring 34 goals and KC 29.  I haven't watch many matches of these teams, so this will be a very brief look as both sides are very similar.  Each cast off one of the top keepers in MLS for unproven ones, each team has a new coach and many new faces.  I have a feeling that this one ends up a 1-1 draw.

Toronto FC at LA Galaxy -  8:30 MT - Direct Kick

Wow this one is easy best home team (and team in general) against the worst road team.  TFC is 0-4-0 on the road with just 3 goals scored and 11 goals allowed, while LA is 4-0-0 at home with 8 goals scored for and two against.  Listen I think Toronto has some talent but it is clear that there is a lot of chaos around the organization, from the front office power struggle, to a team that is learning how to play together.  

You simply can break TFC apart by where they play, 3-1 loss at Colorado, then home and a 2-0 win over Seattle, on the road a horrible performance in a 2-1 loss to RSL, and then home and a 4-1 win over Chicago.  When they came to Salt Lake they tried to play a defensive first half with only Barrett up top and it failed, they kept de Guzman and De Rosario on the bench until the second half and they still could only score on a questionable PK call.  I thought the best player in most of the TFC matches I have watched has been Nick LaBrocca who played with a great deal of energy and was very effective both offensively and defensibly out of the midfield.  OF course you have to pay attention to De Ro, he is good in fact he has been involved in 9 of the 11 goals TFC have scored this year.

For LA this year the talk has been about one thing Edson Buddle, well until last week that was the case and now with him heading to USMNT camp with Landycakes it is a good thing that some other players got their offensive mojo going last week in their 4-0 thumping of Seattle.  The story should have been their defense, only two goals allowed so far this season, is simply amazing.  Donovan Ricketts in goal was has been impressive and the backline despite injuries to Franklin and DeLaGarza has been solid in every match.  The move of Bryan Jordan to the back line has given them a play who has the speed and ability to move forward to support the attacking efforts. Chris Birchall has been a unsung hero in the midfield, but he has really helped them to maintain possession of the ball and give Landon the time to be creative. LA is really that good and with this being their last match for a while with both Landon and Edson, look for them to put on a show for their fans. This one ends up 3-1 LA.

My Picks

Philly 1- FC Dallas 1
San Jose 2 - New England 1
Colorado 2 - DC United 2
Columbus 2 - Chivas 1
Seattle 2 - New York 1
Chicago 1 - Kansas City 1
LA Galaxy 3 - Toronto 1

OFF MY SOAPBOX