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MLS Week 19 match previews (Sunday Matches)

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While MLS fans will be unable to catch any of Saturday's action on the leagues partners (FSC or ESPN2, FSC will cover the friendly between LA and Real Madrid and the PDL Championship match, while ESPN2 will cover the Legg's tennis tournament and replays of poker).  Both networks have chosen to cover the league on Sunday, when there are 3 matches on the schedule.  First up will be Fox Soccer Channel, who have left their equipment at Pizza Hut Park from the Inter vs FCD match, and will cover FCD's Sunday match as well.

Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas - 4:00pm MT - Fox Soccer Channel

Well FC Dallas has the longest undefeated streak going in MLS at 8 matches, but like most of their season it has been about the draws, as they are just 1-0-3 in their last 4, but their 6-2-9 overall record this year is impressive as this is a team that has the fewest losses in the league.  For the Union their long road trip to start the season is over and with 5 of their last 6 at home they have improved their record to 4-9-3, but now they find themselves back on the road where they are just 1-7-1, and not any road match, the forecast in Dallas is for 100 plus at match time.

The Union have been an interesting team to watch, not the runaway expansion success that the Sounders were last year, but an entertaining team with Sebastien Le Toux as the cornerstone, with 9 goals and 7 assists you have to wonder what Seattle was thinking leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft.  Le Toux may be the MVP of the league this year if Philly can find a way get some more wins.  They also have the number one draft pick, Danny Mwanga who has looked like he may be able to live up to the hype.  Of course with expansion teams there are always struggles, for the Union it is the 29 goals allowed (only DC United have allowed more), and I believe a majority of their defensive struggles come from a weak backline, a lack of both a quality defensive midfielder and creative midfielder.  I look for them to continue to make changes in their midfield as they look for a combination that can not only provide offensive chances to Le Toux and Mwanga, but one that can control possession and set the pace of matches.

It will be interesting as the weakness in the midfield of Philly is the strength of FC Dallas, solid defensive midfielders in Daniel Hernandez and Dax McCarty and what has become one of the leagues most dangerous attacking units with David Ferreira (4 goals, 5 assists), Atiba Harris (3 goals, 1 assist), and Brek Shea (4 goals, 2 assists), and now they have Milton Rodriguez up top who should be able to finish the chances they create.  You also have to remember that they can bring a player like Jeff Cunningham off the bench, not bad when you have a mutli time Golden Boot available to take advantage of tired defenses at the end of matches.  Their defense has become a solid unit as well with just 15 goals allowed, improved play by George john and Jair Benitez and the resurgence of Kevin Hartman (0.69 GAA and 5 clean sheets) have made FC Dallas a very dangerous team.  How else can you explain a team with just 6 wins from 17 matches being in the top 3 of the Western Conference. 

The heat will play a role in this match, I have no doubt, but can FC Dallas find a way to win instead of getting a draw?  I think they will in a 2-1 match that should be entertaining.

more previews after the jump:

New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire - 7:00pm MT - ESPN2

Oh the match that ESPN actually cares about in MLS, not because they care about anything but their ability to create some hype out of the potential of the 5 DP's being on the pitch at once.   The real shame of it all is that the player most likely to make a huge impact in the match has been here for years and one of the leagues best for years, yes Juan Pablo Angel.  His 11 goals and 2 assists are the engine of New York, and while the attention will be focused on the handball king of France or Rafa Marquez, who just joined the team this week, it is JPA who is the real star of the 8-6-3 Red Bulls.  Before the big names hit it was their real stars that took the team with the worst record in MLS last year and have turned them into a playoff contender this year.  Chicago, well they picked up Ljungberg, who had wore out his welcome in Seattle (didn't he do that in West Ham before coming to MLS as well?), and perhaps we will get to see Nery Castillo get some time in the midfield.  The Fire to this point have been a very average team with a 5-5-5 record and 21 goals scored and 21 allowed, their averageness continues at home where they are 2-2-3 with 9 goals scored and 8 allowed.

This year the Fire have been only as good as Marco Pappa has been, and his 7 goals and 4 assists has been good but not great and thus the Fire are good, but when I see their projected lineup without Pappa, it makes me wonder. He isn't listed as injured, and with Patrick Nyarko (7 assists) listed as doubtful with concussion symptoms, I wonder exactly who head coach Carlos de los Cobos is going to be counting on in the midfield?  It would seem that he may be looking at both his new DP's to make a big splash on national TV, I know he made a big splash this off season letting Jon Busch go in favor of unproven Andrew Dyksta, who has been benched in favor of Sean Johnson. One thing is for sure, there will be a couple surprises in the starting XI for the Fire tonight.

Last year ESPN and the main sports media had a slobbering love affair with the Sounders, and rightfully so, a great team on the pitch, huge crowds, and a well run organization.  This year the love affair is clearly about the Red Bulls, who have put together a solid team, and in recent weeks they have pulled in the biggest names to join MLS since David Beckham in Thierry Henry, who had two assists (kinda) in his first MLS match, and now the addition of the Captain of the Mexican National team Raael Marquez.  It seems that the Red Bulls have become a retirement home for out of favor Barcelona players.  It will be interesting to see how the group of players who had worked so hard to get themselves into contention in the Eastern Conference will adjust to the spotlight not being on the team but now on their "superstars"?  I think that the Red Bulls were a solid team as their 8-6-3 record has shown and it is reinforced with their 3-4-2 road record, they play decent offense and defense and have one of the most exciting keepers in MLS with Bouna Coundoul.  No matter who plays for the Red Bulls tonight it should be an entertaining match, but I am thinking it won't live up to the hype and ends in a 2-2 draw.

Houston Dynamo at Seattle Sounders - 9:00pm MT - Direct Kick

A month ago this matchup looked like a real snoozer, but the Sounders have found their mojo and rattled off 3 straight wins, including 2 in a row over Western Conference foes an gotten themselves right back into the playoff hunt.  Their record is now 7-8-4 and their 25 points have them sitting in 5th place in the Western Conference and if the playoff started today, they would secure the final playoff spot.  They Dynamo have struggled all year and their 5-8-5 record is a bit misleading as they haven't had a win since May 22nd when they beat DC United.  They are 0-4-4 since then, including last weekends 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls, but it gets worse for the Dynamo as they are just 1-5-2 on the road with just 7 goals scored and 16 allowed.  Both of these teams have had huge issues with injuries this year, and both have made DP moves in recent weeks.  Houston sent their DP Landin, packing after he proved to be fairly disinterested in playing in MLS.  Seattle signed Swiss National Team player Blaise Nkufo, send Ljungberg to Chicago for draft picks, and then signed Alvaro Fernandez the 24 yr old player from Uruguay.

Houston has had to rely on depth for their offense, their 23 goals have come from 14 different players.  The top scorer is Brad Davis with 4 goals (3PK's) and 6 assists, followed by Brian Ching with 3 goals and 2 assists, Brian Mullen also with 3 goals and 2 assists.  Dominic Oduro and Danny Cruz have both added 2 goals each, and then a laundry list of guys have added a single goal.  The struggles for Houston have come on the defensive side, where they have allowed 27 goals to be scored against them, only two teams in MLS have allowed more.  Their injury issues have impacted them greatly and now Pat Onstad is out and Tally Hall will be taking over in net, like most teams with defensive issues Houston's issues start in the midfield where depth and quality are both lacking.  Their main defensive midfielder is Lovel Palmer who spends as much time suspended for Red Cards as he does making a positive impact in matches.  The upside for Houston is that Geoff Cameron is getting back in shape and could be available against Seattle.

About 6 weeks ago it was funny to listen to some Sounders fans online ready to "toss in the towel" on their MLS season, oh my how the young fans missed out on what a little winning streak could do.   I for one haven't doubted the talent on the Sounders roster, I have doubted their on field leadership and it is clear that Ljungberg wasn't the guy to lead this team in  2010.  So while the Sounders are still battling a long list of injuries, they have seen Montero (7 goals, 8 assists) and Steve Zakuani (7 goals, 3 assists) both step up and provide a great spark for the team.  I also have been very impressed in recent weeks with the performance of Sanna Nyassi whose runs up the sides have really helped to create open spaces for the rest of the Sounders to attack.  While their defense hasn't been keeping clean sheets (only 3 in their last 10), they have won matches by controlling the possession of the ball and pace of matches.  It will be interesting to see how their team who has been though so much already this year will react to some new blood and hopefully some renewed energy.  I still think the Sounders are one of the 3 best teams in the West, and they get another chance to prove it against Houston.  Sounders win 2-0.

OFF MY SOAPBOX