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MLS Week 20 - Let the fun begin - Match Previews

It is a good weekend when you get 7 MLS matches, it is a great weekend when the top 4 teams in MLS face off in two of the biggest matches of the season.  #1 LA Galaxy vs. #4 New York Red Bulls and #2 Columbus Crew vs. #3 Real Salt Lake are the two key matches of the weekend, but several other teams are fighting to keep pace with the top 4 and a few are fighting to keep their season and playoff hopes alive. 

OK, unlike most weeks I am just going to do really brief previews of the weekend matches (sorry it is a busy week)

First up due to the wonders of the MLS TV contracts is:

Colorado Rapids (7-5-6 27 pts) at Philadelphia Union(4-10-4 16 pts) - 2pm MT - Telefutura

Well the Rapids won their first match in two months last weekend and have a fairly impressive 3-4-2 road record, I think the most confusing thing about the Rapids is that 1/5 of their goals have come from the PK spot.  Yes 4 of their 20 goals scored have been the result of the official pointing to the spot, one has to wonder what their record would be without those goals?  They are lead by Conor Casey, who is still recovering from "head trauma" but is listed as probable for the match.

The Union have been very busy boys of late as this will be their 4th league match of August already, they got a good result against RSL on Wednesday at PPL Park to up their home record to 3-2-3.  The expansion side play an entertaining brand of attacking soccer, and are lead by MVP candidate Sebastien Le Toux with 9 goals and 8 assists and Rookie of the Year candidate Danny Mwanga with 6 goals and 3 assists.  The down side is that beyond those two there is little offensive punch on this team, and their defense is still making a lot of mistakes.

I think this one ends up in a 2-2 draw

more after the jump:

Los Angeles Galaxy (12-3-4 40 pts) at New York Red Bulls (9-6-4 31 pts) - 4pm MT - Fox Soccer Channel

The Red Bulls will trot out their 3 DP's (Angel, Henry, and Marquez) and try to get a more impressive win than Wednesday's 1-0 win over Toronto FC.  I know they have given Henry assists on every goal the Red Bulls have scored since joining the team, but the 3 goals in 3 matches isn't exactly the offensive onslaught that most experts predicted when TH14 joined the team.  For me the most impressive thing about the Red Bulls, other than their incredibly deep pockets, has been Bouna Coundoul, yup he may be as unpredictable as they come but the reality is that he has 7 clean sheets in front of a back line that features rookies and other teams cast offs.  

Oh how it must be biting David Beckham in the ass that he isn't fit and ready to play, I mean good god this is the type of match he lives for, big names, big media, a brand new stadium (all of which he likely would claim credit for) but no he is still recovering from an injury but he made sure to get to practice this week so his name would have to be mentioned.  I think LA would be stupid to bring him back at this point, yes they have struggled a bit in recent weeks as they took their eyes off the prize and got worried about things like Real Madrid, and allowed themselves to get embarrassed by the Islanders of the USL in Champions League play.  Yes they have lost a couple matches as the reality of their aggressive style have come back to bite them, but with Buddle and Donovan on the pitch this team can score goals, and their defense has been solid (just 13 goals allowed in 19 matches) in front of Ricketts.  I do believe that "Golden Balls" would be more of a distraction than a help at this point.

I just get a feeling that this one will not come close to living up to the hype, and end is a blah 1-1 draw.

Houston Dynamo (5-9-5 20 pts) at New England Revolution (5-9-3 18 pts) - 6pm MT - Direct Kick

The Houston Dynamo have clearly suffered from injuries, retirements, and the loss of players this year and the end result has been what would have to be considered a disappointing season for them.  Last year no team won more matches on the road than Houston's 6, but this year on the road they are 1-6-2 with 18 goals allowed and just 7 goals scored and their 29 goals allowed in their 19 matches so far equal the number they gave up all of last season. It is the 3 B's that lead the Dynamo on offense with Brad Davis (4 goals, 6 assists), Brian Ching (3 goals, 2 assists) and Brian Mullan (3 goals, 2 assists) and beyond that there simply isn't a lot of production from any one player but a lot of guys with one goal each.  Matters only get worse on defense where their old man reliable Pat Onstad is still listed as out and Tally Hall will be in net with his 1.75 GAA.

The Revolution are almost a mirror image of the Dynamo, having to deal with injuries, retirements, and other player issues, and while their success in SuperLiga might allow them to salvage something this season, it is clear that this is a team in crisis.  How about this list of your top goal scorer's: Zack Schilawski (5 goals), Marko Perovic (4 goals), Sainey Nyassi (2 goals, 1 assist), Zak Boggs (2 goals), Kenny Mansally (2 goals), and Pat Phelan (1 goal). That simply isn't the New England that most of their fans expected to see this year, and 8 times they failed to find that back of the net at all.  The upside this week is they are at home where they are slightly better than average with a 4-3-2 record with 12 goals scored and 11 allowed.  At 32 years old, you have to wonder how long Shalrie Joseph will want to hang around the rebuilding project that is New England?

This could actually be an entertaining match, I am going with 2-1 New England.

FC Dallas (7-2-9 30 pts) at DC United (3-13-3 12pts) - 6pm MT - Direct Kick

Has any team had as bad of a season as DC United? Nope, it is clear that this team is in the rebuilding stage and while their owners didn't dig as deep as some others they have added a couple DP's that they hope will be able to get the team back on the right track heading into 2011 (oh yeah and in the US Open Cup).  Branko Boskovic, and Pablo Hernandez have been brought in to start building a core for DC United, and along with 17 year old Andy Najar (3 goals), there might be something there.  It is simple no team has scored fewer goals than DC's 12, only the expansion Union have allowed more goals (33 for the Union, 32 for United), and no team has a worse goal differential -20.  The issues aren't going to be solved by Ben Olsen, there really need to be some major changes made in our nation's capital.

Perhaps there is no bigger surprise in MLS this year than the fact that FC Dallas have lost just 2 matches, fewest of any team.  They have a decent goal differential with a +8 and are sitting on 30 points, which is good enough for 3rd place in the Western Conference.  Now if they can just find a way to get more wins, they could establish themselves as one of the elite teams in MLS this year.  This team plays very solid defense in front of KC cast off Kevin Hartman who has a 0.71 GAA and 5 clean sheets since taking over in net, and they have allowed just 16 goals all season, only LA has allowed fewer.  Their offense keys around David Ferreira (5 goals, 6 assists), Brek Shea (4 goals, 3 assists), Atiba Harris (3 goals, 1 assist), and while they brought in Milton Rodriguez to boost their offense, he has 1 goal in his first 4 matches, that may have been enough to light a fire under 2009 Golden Boot winner Jeff Cunningham.  Jeff came on at the half last weekend and scored two goals to give FC Dallas a 3-1 win over the Philly Union, and upped his total to 6 goals on the season.

Don't be surprised if DC United look good for 75 minutes only to blow it at the end of the match, they have allowed 13 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, but I am going for an upset pick here as I think a 1-1 draw will be the final result.

Columbus Crew (11-4-4 37 pts) at Real Salt Lake (10-4-6 36 pts) - 7pm MT - Direct Kick

Well I did a complete in depth preview of this match, read it here.

Kansas City Wizards (5-8-5 20 pts) at San Jose Earthquakes (6-6-5 23 pts) - 8pm MT - Direct Kick

San Jose was one of the hot teams at the start of the season, but injuries and a short roster have really hurt them as they just one win since the middle of May.  Their list of injuries explain a lot: OUT: MF Andre Luiz ; FW Eduardo; DF Chris Leitch ; DF Ike Opara; DF Ramiro Corrales; QUESTIONABLE: FW Scott Sealy; PROBABLE: MF Steven Beitashour; DF Bobby Burling.  With so many injuries on defense it will be up to their offense to try to keep them in the match, and one has to wonder when or if Ryan Johnson will return to his 2009 form when he lead the team in goals with 11, so far he has just 1 goal on the season.  Chris Wondolowski has 6 goals and 1 assists, while Arturo Alvarez has 3 goals, and Ike Opara has 3 more, but after that no player has more than a single goal for the Quakes, who have been held scoreless 6 times this year.

The Wizards are hardly offensive threats themselves, having been held without a goal 8 times so far this season and only three times have they scored multiple goals in a match.  In fact only DC United have scored fewer goals than Kansas City, but only one defense in the Eastern Conference has allowed fewer goals.  The Wiz are riding a 4 match unbeaten streak, which must bring great relief to their fans after the team won only a single match between April 10th and July 14th.  Their most recent result was a 1-1 home draw against Real Salt Lake, but away from their "cozy" little home pitch, the Wizards are just 1-5-2 with only 4 goals scored and 12 goals allowed.  They are still trying to figure out formations and lineups in KC, but with their recent hot streak, you have to believe they will come out and look to take advantage of the beaten up Quakes.

This one has 0-0 draw written all over it.

Seattle Sounders (8-8-4 28 pts) at Chivas USA (5-10-3 18 pts) - 9pm MT - Direct Kick

If you go back to July 3rd, most people would have told you after the 1-1 draw at home against expansion side Philly, that Chivas USA was done for the season with a 3-9-2 record, but then in their last 4 matches they have pulled out a 2-1-1 record and started to look like a team that might have a little life left in them.  Their 18 points put them at the bottom of the Western Conference but they would be in 6th in the East.  After months of adjustments and changes it seems as if new head coach Martin Vasquez has his team playing much better and a big part of it comes off the boots of Justin Braun who leads the team with 7 goals and 3 assists.  Braun was playing community college soccer when discovered by Chivas a couple years ago and he has quickly become a raising star in MLS, of course Jesus Padilla has added 4 more goals, and Blair Gavin has added 3 more but after that there are a bunch of guys with one goal each.  Most of the names on their roster are fairly unknown to MLS fans but if they can turn their season around, who knows how long that will be true.

The Sounders have one upped the rebound of Chivas, if you go back to July 4th the Sounders had just lost a 3-1 match to the LA Galaxy and were 4-8-3 and most of their fans were ready to toss the MLS season away.  Then they lost their big name DP to an "injury" and then transferred him to Chicago, and all of a sudden they got a draw against a good FC Dallas team, and followed it with a 4 game winning streak.  That streak included 3 wins over Western Conference foes, that has bolted them up to 4th place in the West and right back into the hunt for a playoff spot.  It has been a combination of defense, 3 clean sheets in their last 5 matches, and the rebound of both Steve Zakuani (7 goals, 3 assists) and Fredy Montero (8 goals, 9 assists) have got their offense back on track.  All of this despite the huge injury issues that the team still faces with names like Evans, Hurtado, Vagenas, Estrada, and Noonan all listed as out.  The Sounders also have qualified for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, and are still alive in the US Open Cup so they will have a very busy couple months, but they seem to have righted their ship and should be considered a very dangerous team.

This could actually be a good matchup, and I think it will be a high scoring one as well.  I am going to say 3-2 for Chivas in what some would consider an upset, but both sides are playing well right now.

OK there you have my weekend preview and just in time to go watch some matches on TV.