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Major League Soccer Week 11 previews and picks

Well two matches went down on Wednesday night, with New York snatching victory away from a draw in stoppage time over Houston (who broke their streak of w-l-w-l-w-l-w-l-w-l) with another loss, and in San Jose's match against the Crew neither side could get the win, but the draw is better than last weekends losses by both teams.  So with the World Cup just a week away MLS is again having ever single team in action on one day.  8 matches on Saturday, so soccer fans can get ready for the excitement of the next month.

Kansas City Wizards at Toronto FC - 2pm MT - Direct Kick

Well we saw it last week that KC is awful on the road (0-4-0 with a -8 GD), while TFC not only showed with last weekends win at San Jose, but with their impressive (4-0-0 +7 Goal Differential) home record that they are a team to be reckoned with.  In the past the Wizards have actually been one of the teams to do well at BMO field, they are 1-2-1 in matches played in Toronto. The Red's have lost just once in their last 6 matches (4-1-1), while Kansas City haven't gotten a win since week 2 of the MLS season, and have lost 4 of their last 5 matches.  Both sides will be looking for 3 points as a win could move TFC into second place in the East if New York loses this weekend, while KC will be looking to keep themselves out of the cellar of the East (they are just 1 point ahead of Philly, and 2 ahead of DC United).

You have to wonder if this is the weekend that KC figures out a couple things, how to score, only one team has scored fewer goals in MLS this year than the 9 goals scored by the Wizards.  They are led in goals by Kei Kamara's 5, but he is far from a sure thing when it comes to scoring threats.  Early on many thought that Ryan Smith might be the next big offensive threat for KC, but his single goal came in week 1, and he has only been able to add 3 assists since then.  They will be without the player that I believe is the one to take charge of their offense, Davy Arnaud has, 38 career goals and 31 career assists but due to a red card last weekend he will be unavailable.  The other question facing KC, is what has happened to their defense?  They had just a single goal allowed in their first 4 matches, but 12 in their last 5 matches.  Jimmy Conrad used to be the baddest defender in all of MLS, but the cast supporting him this year, has left him alone on an island of bad defense.  KC will also be without Roger Espinoza who is at the World Cup with Honduras,  as well as Auvray who is listed as out with an injury.

Last weekend, no team made a bigger statement than Toronto.  They had been impressive in front of their loud and crazy fans at BMO, but on the road they had only one decent result a 0-0 draw against LA.  They had given up 11 road goals, while scoring only 3, but they went to San Jose and beat the Quakes 3-1 on a goal from Chad Barrett, who seems to have re-found his form with 4 goals in their last 4 matches, and a pair from Dwayne DeRosario. They no longer looked like the team that gave up 10 goals in their first 4 matches, as they now have only given up 2 in their last 4.  Stefan Frei has been a huge part of the reason the TFC defense has improved so much, they had 485 scoreless minutes (in all competitions) before giving up a single goal against San Jose.  There may be a little bit of fatigue for Toronto, as they had a midweek matchup in the Canadian Championship against Vancouver, and now will look to continue their perfect home form against the Wizards.  This one could be an upset in the making but I will go with TFC to pick up the 2-1 win.

more match previews after the jump

Chivas USA at New York Red Bulls - 5:30pm MT - FSC

New York started the season as one of the big stories of 2010, a brand new stadium, winning 5 of their first 6 matches, but then a 4 match losing streak brought them back down to earth.  They were able to snatch a last second win over Houston midweek (2-1), and now they will face the struggling Chivas USA.  The "Goats" have their own 4 match losing streak going on, including a loss last weekend to DC United.  Now each team will play their last match before their World Cup breaks and both will be looking to try to build momentum for the summer months.

Chivas was the only team in the West to make an off-season coaching change, they were also the only team to really make wholesale changes to their roster.  Only 6 of 24 players have seen action in more than 60 MLS matches, while 14 have seen action in 25 or fewer matches.  On field leadership has been given to Bornstein and Kljestan, both guys with more than 100 MLS matches, but both are still very young and inexperienced in leadership roles.  There issue has been defense, as only one team has allowed more goals than their 17 allowed, and their -4 overall goal differential is the 4th worst in the league.  They will need Justin Braun to find the back of the net if they want to have any type of a chance, he leads the team in goals and has scored in 3 of their last 5 matches (each one they have scored in).  Chivas will be missing a couple key players, Jonathan Bornstein is at the World Cup, Jazic is out with an injury, Zach Thornton is suspended for a red card and backup keeper Dan Kennedy is listed as questionable.

New York may have found their form again, as they scored first and last against Houston on Wednesday night, and by that I mean their lucky form.  Their opening goal by Ubiparipovic should have been waved off as he was clearly offside, but this is MLS and you have learn that sometimes calls just seem to go the way of some teams.  Injuries will really play a part in how New York can play as their list is fairly long:OUT: MF Giorgi Chirgadze (hip surgery); MF Austin da Luz (L foot fracture); DF Kevin Goldthwaite (adductor surgery recovery); FW Macoumba Kandji (R foot broken fifth metatarsal); MF Brian Nielsen (R knee pain); MF Carl Robinson (R knee swelling); MF Dane Richards (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Salou Ibrahim (R hamstring strain); MF Joel Lindpere (L calf contusion). They will also be without Andrew Boyens who is at the World Cup.  Their offense is as good as Juan Pablo Angel, and as poor as the lack of service that he often gets.  Their defense was stellar at the start of the season allowing just 4 goals in their first 6 matches, but in their last 5 they have allowed 12.  Rookies Ream and Miller have been great at times but you have to think their inexperience in MLS has hurt the Red Bulls.

This one ends in a 1-1 draw.

Real Salt Lake at DC United - 5:30pm MT - Direct Kick

This one will be coming up later tonight in detail

Houston Dynamo at Los Angles Galaxy - 6pm MT - Galavision

Well in the best match of the weekend, it is of course shown on a channel with crappy picture quality and in Spanish only.  Way to go MLS, but I will still end up recording this one as LA looks to continue their unbeaten run of 2010, while Houston will look to end their first 2 game losing streak of the season.  Houston was tied for the best defensive team in MLS in 2009 with just 29 goal allowed all season, so far they have allowed 15 already and only Chivas has allowed more goals in the Western Conference.  LA has simply been unbeatable, in large part to their incredible 2 goal allowed, in 11 matches they have allowed a total of two goals, simply amazing.  So can Houston do something at the HDC that they couldn't do at home, score against the Galaxy?

It looks like the panic is setting in a bit for Houston who with a 5-6-1 record find themselves looking at LA who is 13 points ahead of them in the standings with a match in hand.  I think everyone expected the Dynamo to have issues this year, you simply can't lose two World Cup level players and not struggle to fill those spots.  Then add in an injury to the main replacement player Geoff Cameron after 5 matches and you have to start relying on guys in their 30's (Robinson-32, Mulrooney-33, Mullan-32, Waibel- 34, Onstad-42, Ching-32, and Serioux-31) and when you core is that old and you have played the busiest schedule of any team in the league it wears on you.  Perhaps no team will play with more energy this weekend knowing they have 21 days until their next league match, but will it be enough to do what no other team has done this year?

Beat the LA Galaxy, 11 times this season teams have tried and each of them have failed.  Only twice has LA not scored a goal in a match, and both of those ended up in draws.  Only two teams have even scored a goal against the Galaxy, Philadelphia got a late goal in a 3-1 loss, and RSL got a goal from Kyle Beckerman to even up their match, but LA would get a late goal from Edson Buddle to get the 2-1 victory at the Home Depot Center.  Many of us thought that LA would struggle without Landon and Edson, but since Buddle got his two goals against Philly back on May 1st, it has been 8 different players scoring for LA.  Then there is the defense, take an impressive keeper in Donovan Ricketts and put a great mix of youth and experience in front of him, toss in a team that possess the ball very well and somehow you end up with a team 0.18 GAA and 9 clean sheets.  

Sorry Houston, there is nothing you can do to get the win over LA.  Galaxy 2 - Dynamo 1

San Jose Earthquakes at FC Dallas - 6:30pm MT - Direct Kick

The 5-3-2 San Jose Earthquakes have more wins on the road than FC Dallas has home wins (1-1-3 at home), both teams are coming off draws.  FC Dallas got a road draw against the Chicago Fire last weekend, and the Quakes got a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew, top team in the East on Wednesday.  This will be the final match for both sides heading into the World Cup break.  

FC Dallas has scored 11 goals, while allowing the same number.  They have still scored over 25% of their goals from the PK spot, as Jeff Cunningham has 3 times converted from the spot, he also has added another goal and assist to his total so far in 2010.  Another former RSL player, Atiba Harris, has added 2 goals and 1 assist and he is one of 4 Dallas player to have been on the pitch all 900 minutes of their league play.  For FC Dallas, the first and final 15 minutes have been when 6 of their 11 goals have been scored (3 in each), but on defense it has been the 15 minutes on either side of the halftime whistle that has been their weak spot, as 7 of their 11 goals allowed have been scored then.  FC Dallas may be the healthiest team in MLS, with just Dax McCarty listed as questionable. One of the big questions for FCD is can they begin to draw fans out to Pizza Hut Park, their home average is under 10,000 per match and second lowest in the league.  The only other teams under 10,000 average are teams that play in stadiums where that is the upper limit of capacity.  

San Jose is coming to town as one of the surprises of 2010, and with just 1 loss in their last 6 (a 3-1 home loss to TFC) the Quakes have proven themselves as a team to watch for the rest of the year.  They have established themselves as a solid defense team in most of their matches, 5 clean sheets to prove it, but they have had 4 matches where they have allowed multiple goals (3 against RSL, 3 against Chivas, 3 against Toronto, all those were losses, and 2 in their midweek draw against Columbus.  Their most lethal offensive weapon is Chris Wondolowski, who returned to the Bay Area after several unproductive years in Houston, and so far in 2010 he has already scored more goals than in the previous 5 years combined.  Will the FC Dallas have someone who can take Chris and his 6 goals (3 game winners) off the stat sheet?  If so don't be surprised if Ryan Johnson (1 goal, 4 assists) or Bobby Convey (0 goals, 7 assists) step up to provide some offensive firepower.  It is hard to pick against the home team, but given that FC Dallas have 3 draws already at home, I am picking a 2-2 draw in this one.

Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire - 6:30pm MT - Direct Kick

There is no history between these two teams, but between these two cities you have a lot of rivalries, including the current Stanley Cup playoffs between the Blackhawks and the Flyers.  I have a feeling there might just be some fireworks between the two sides as the aggressive, attacking style of the Union could take the Fire some time to adjust to.  In fact the Union have as many road wins (1, last weekends 3-2 win at Houston) as the Fire have home wins (1, 2-0 over Houston back in April), since then they have two 1-1 draws against Chivas and FC Dallas at Toyota Park.  Can the expansion side get another road win?

When the Union score more than one goal, they win, both of their wins came with a 3-2 scoreline.  With a healthy Sebastian Le Toux, the Union attack has some real teeth as he has provided 5 goals and 2 assists.  He isn't the only offensive weapon for Philly as 5 players have found the back of the net, they also have gotten good creativity from Alejandro Moreno who leads the team with 5 assists, and Roger Torres who has added 3.  On defense, Danny Califf finally seems to have calmed down and realized that he is the on field leader of this team and when you consider that his teammates on the back line have limited MLS action (Harvey -53 matches , Orozco -8 matches , and Arrieta - 7 matches) and they play in front of Chris Seitz who only has 15 matches under his belt in goal.  The experience that is missing has been made up by Peter Nowak's never say die, never quit, and if your not sure what to do, then attack mentality.  This team is road tough as 6 of their first 8 matches have been on the road, and after this match they will head to KC for a Thursday match before their World Cup break.

The Chicago Fire are better on the road than they are at home, again.  Last year they were 5-4-6 at home with a -1 goal differential, and so far this year they are 1-1-2 (they are 1-2-2 away from Toyota Park).  This team has been impacted by the fact that their new head coach, Carlos de los Cobos, who is trying to learn how to adjust his style to the MLS style of play.  One huge advantage he has is Brian McBride, who leads the team with 4 goals and 1 assist, but Collins John has been a bit of a disappointment with just a single goal and single assist.  Early on I was expecting big things this year from Marco Pappa in the midfield, since someone needed to step up as the lead playmaker after the departure of Blanco in the off season, but so far he only has the two goals he scored early in the season, but he has added 4 assists.  On defense perhaps no move was bigger than the decision to go with Andrew Dykstra in net and releasing Jon Busch, Dykstra has a 1.44 GAA so far this year so he will need to do much more to convince most people that the decision was the right move for the team.  I can pick Philly as my upset this week, but I am going to pick them to get a 1-1 draw.

Columbus Crew at Colorado Rapids - 7pm MT - Direct Kick

Colorado started the year 1-1-1, but since then they are 4-2-0 and while they haven't been an offensive powerhouse, they have just 10 goals in 9 matches, they have been a stingy defensive team, allowing just 7 goals (only LA has allowed fewer).  The Crew are the best team in the East and tasted defeat for just the first time all year last weekend as the Galaxy beat them 2-0.  Can the Rapids keep up their two match winning streak, and find a way to keep the Crew from getting a win for the third straight match?

It is hard for me to say anything nice about the Rapids, after all they are the Rapids, and we know that 'Nobody likes Conor Casey", but they have a very solid team and it starts in their midfield, the defensive bite of Pablo Mastoreni and Jeff Larentowicz and the ability to control the match and possession provided by Wells Thompson, Omar Cummings, and Medhi Ballouchy have kept them in matches.  Only once has Colorado allowed more than one goal in a match, a 2-2 draw with Chicago at home in week 2, but they have only scored more than 1 goals three times this year, and they have only two goals in their last 4 matches.  To beat Columbus they will need to score goals and they might just need Cummings to get back into his scoring grove, he has two goals this year but hasn't found the back of the net since week 2.

So for Columbus it is all about the final 15 minutes of matches, they have scored 5 of their 16 goals in the final 15 minutes, but they have allowed 4 of their 10 in the final quarter hour as well.  I think the injury to Frankie Hejudk, who is listed as Out for the match could be a huge factor, he is really the heart of the Crew defense and as important to the overall performance of the team as is GBS (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) is to the offense.  GBS has provided 4 goals and 3 assist so far this year, and they also get a great deal of offensive support from Eddie Gaven, who has 3 goals and 2 assists.  With Frankie out, there will be more pressure on Will Hesmer in goal and while he isn't on the injured list he has been battling a bad back.  I am going to pick this one as my upset of the week, as the Rapids get a 2-0 win over the Crew.

New England Revolution at Seattle Sounders FC - 8:30pm MT - Direct Kick

If you had told anyone that after 11 matches each, that these teams would only have 3 wins each, most people would have doubted you.  Yet the Sounders have a 3-5-3 record and have already lost 3 matches at home, which is more than they did in all of 2009.  The Rev's have struggled in large part due to the number of injury issues they have faced all year, and after getting two wins in their first 3 matches, it took them until last weekend to get their third win of the year.  Each side has just one win in their last 7 matches, so with just days to go before World Cup break, both of these teams will be looking to get something going their way.

For New England getting Sharlie Joseph back a couple weeks ago may have been the saving grace of their season, as without him they simply looked awful, but they are still battling a long list of injuries, including losing Preston Burpo for the season with a broken leg in last weekends match against New York.  Still on the injury list are: Darrius Barnes and Twellman are listed as out, while Matt Reis is back active but listed as doubtful, Gibbs, Dube, Colaluca, and Videira are listed as questionable, and Alston and Osei are listed as probable.  The upside for New England is that they have never lost to Seattle, the won both matches last year including a 1-0 win at Qwest field.  For New England to get a result they will need to play some defense, their 17 goals allowed is 2nd worst in all of MLS, the upside is that Seattle has struggled to score goals this year.

Last year the Sounders scored 1.27 goals per match, but so far in 2010 they have only 9 goals in 11 matches (0.82 per match). 6 of their 9 goals have come from Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani, who each have 3, while Evans, Marshall, and Fucito each have contributed a single goal.  The offense isn't the only issue for the Sounders, they have allowed 14 goals so far this year, and that compares to just 29 allowed in all of 2009.  A good portion of the Sounders issues can be contributed to injuries, they currently have 3 players on the DL, Michael Fucito, Nate Jaqua, and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Osvaldo Alonso and Pete Vagenas are listed as doubtful.  Listen I like the Sounders, but they need to deal with a couple real issues if they want to get their season back on track, first up is Freddie Ljungberg.  He is a DP, he is a creative force in the midfield and without him at top form, the Sounders lack on field leadership, he must step up and show the grit and determination he did last year, if he does then expect the summer to be very good for the Sounders.  The second thing, is they need to vary what they do on the pitch, last year they were able to sneak up on teams, but now everyone has played them at least twice and coaches have seen how Sigi uses his roster.  Adjustments both in the season and during matches were a strength of Sigi in Columbus, and even last year in Seattle, he needs to find a way to adjust quickly during matches in order to keep his teams efforts effective.  I think the matchup of Ljungberg and Joseph in the midfield will be incredible to watch, but beyond them, I think that Seattle has a better team and look for them to get the 3-1 win at home.

Toronto FC 2 - Kansas City 1
Chivas USA 1 - New York Red Bulls 1
LA Galaxy 2 - Houston Dynamo 1
San Jose Quakes 2 - FC Dallas 2
Philly Union 1 - Chicago Fire 1
Colorado Rapids 2 - Columbus 0
Seattle Sounders 3 - New England 1