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Major League Soccer Week 9 - previews and picks

Well it is time to kick off another weekend of Major League Soccer action, and the great part of this weekend is that all 18 teams will be in action, 8 matches on Saturday with 2 on National TV.  One match on Sunday and it will be on Galavision.  My midweek picks were good, I hit the draw in the LA vs Philly match and the San Jose vs Vancouver match, and I had FC Dallas winning, so I got all the results right.

This weekend will also see the first of the Cascadia Cup matches as the Portland Timbers will head to Qwest Field to face the Sounders on Saturday night, but lets start with the first match of the day:

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC - 5pm MT - Direct Kick

Well these two teams really need some help, TFC have just one win in their last 5 matches, while Chicago has just one win on the season, both of them have negative goal differentials (-6 for TFC and -3 for the Fire).  So which team can turn it around on Saturday?  Probably neither, both teams have talented players but lack consistency or a real on the pitch leader, so they flounder and make a number of mistakes each match and just hope that it doesn't cost them in the end.  

For Toronto FC it comes down to figuring out who will lead them on the pitch, is it Julian de Guzman or Maicon Santos?  Will they feature a leader who is more defensive minded or one who is all about the offense?  Can they really count on Alan Gordon to be their main target forward?  What is really going on with Nana Attakora?  You can see with TFC it is all about the questions and so far there have been few answers from Aron Winter.

The Chicago Fire have just as many questions as do their opponents from the north, but for head coach Carlos de los Cobos the answers seem even further away.  For the second year they are again rebuilding the team and while players like Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari have shown flashes of talent there simply are too many mistakes.  There are only 3 players on their roster with at least 100 starts in MLS and 20 players with under 20 MLS matches under their belt. I said it last year and I have said it several times this year, and I still believe that with this roster the key to their success id Marco Pappa, who has played every minute for them this year but seems like he is on a very short leash. 

 I think this one likely ends up a 1-1 draw and not a particularly well played match.

the rest of the weekends action after the jump:

Vancouver Whitecaps at New England Revolution - 5:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well the Whitecaps are still looking their first win away from Empire Field, heck they don't care where they get it, they would just like to get win number 2. While New England has just one win in their last 7 matches, the Revs were able to get a draw when these two teams faced off in Vancouver and will look to add a win at home to their record. The Whitecaps are clearly an expansion team, and more often than not they look like it with scoring late goals and giving up late goals.  On Wednesday they got outplayed for the entire match but found a way in the final minutes to get a goal against San Jose to earn a 1-1 draw.  After looking like a real game changer (both good and bad) DP Eric Hassli has cooled off from scoring goals, but he also didn't get sent off on Wednesday.  It has been Chiumeinto who has been the creative force with a goal and 5 assists and he will look to be that guy again on Saturday.

The Revolution have added two players in recent weeks that I believe will be the difference on their season, striker Rajko Lekic has just 1 goal in his first 4 matches but I think once he adjusts to the team and they adjust to him that he will provide the first real target player at New England since Twellman left the team.  Then there is Benny Feilhaber, who has just 3 teams with the match but he looked more dangerous last weekend but the Rev's were unable to get a goal against Colorado.  In fact with the exception of their 3 goals against Sporting KC, New England hasn't found the back of the net in over a month.  I think that the Rev's will be able to find the back of the net on Saturday, I look for a 1-0 win.

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

This could be a real interesting match as both sides have shown moments of really good soccer, but both have also really struggled. DC lost 2 of their first 4 and they have lost two of their last 4, and Colorado won their first 3, then lost their next 3 and then got results (1 win and 2 losses) in their next 3.  Yup that is the level of inconsistency that these two teams have shown.  The question is can the guys in black and red find a way to play some defense, they have given up a league worst 17 goals, but their 12 goals scored is tied for second best in the league.  Their offense is lead by Charlie Davies who has 6 goals and 1 assist, and they are still trying to figure out who to partner with him up top.  Their defense is simply unimpressive, they have two clean sheets so far this year, but 3 times they have given up 4 goals, keeper Bill Hamid has a 1.67 GAA since coming back from injury and sending Pat Onstad back to his role as keeper coach.

The defending MLS Cup champions are finally looking better after their 3 match losing streak, they faced DC at home back on April 3rd and put 4 balls into the back of the net in their 4-1 win, but they now are dealing with a rash of injuries at forward, Conor Casey has only played 124 minutes this year, both Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan are listed as out for the match.  Which means it is likely they will go with Quincy Amarikwa and Andre Akpan up top, each has two starts this year and a single goal.  The rash of injuries could explain why the Rapids have just 3 goals in the 6 matches since that 4-1 win over DC United back in April.  The upside for the Rapids has been that only once this year have they given up more than a single goal (their 3-0 loss to FC Dallas), and if you can keep your opponent from scoring you have a chance to get results.  I think it will be interesting as both of these teams are really trying to establish where they belong in the league, unfortunately between injuries and other issues this one will likely end up a 1-1 draw.

Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas - 6:30pm MT - Direct Kick

This could be one of the matches of the weekend, both teams sit on 14 points, both teams have a positive goal differential (+1 for FC Dallas, +2 for Philly), Dallas has the better form of late having won 3 of their last 4 matches, while the Union have just one win in their last 4.  So when the Union picked up Carlos Ruiz in the off season, I scratched my head, yeah the guy used to score a lot of goals in MLS, but he has a bad reputation and why with a club so young that played such entertaining soccer last year would you bring him in?  Then you look at the fact that the Union have just 6 goals from their 8 matches so far this year, and a guy last year who looked like a MVP type player (Sebastien Le Toux) has just 1 goal (PK) and 1 assist and I scratch my head again.  Listen I love that the Union have learned to play defense, I love that Faryd Mondragon is doing good work in goal for them, I love that Danny Califf got rid of the mohawk and has started playing better defense, but how long with the grind it out and hope for a goal tactic work?

FC Dallas started the season with just a single win in their first 5 matches, but they finally got some things figured out and now haven't lost in their last 4 matches, after giving up 8 goals in their first 5, they have given up just two in their last 4.  I believe some of their defensive struggles is the failed move of Brek Shea to defender, since he has moved back into the midfield the team has played much better.  The shame is that move was caused by the likely season ending injury of David Ferreira, I still question if Eric Avila can be the creative midfield player they need or if their creativity will come from Shea and Marvin Chavez on the wings of their midfield formation?  It will be interesting to see how these two teams battle but I have to believe that this one will likely end up a 1-1 draw, unless one team ends up getting a player sent off (both have had that happen twice this year already).

Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake - 7pm MT - Fox Soccer Channel

My full match preview is here, spoiler alert I pick RSL to win 2-1

Sporting Kansas City at Los Angeles Galaxy - 8:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well the Sporting KC road trip continues with a stop at Home Depot Center to face the Galaxy who find themselves at the top of the table with 17 points.  Not because they are the best team in MLS, but rather in large part because they have played 11 matches, while Sporting find themselves at the bottom with just 4 points but they have only played 6 matches and all of them on the road as they prepare for their new stadium (Livestrong Sporting Park) to open next month.  One thing about KC is that they are entertaining to watch, this team can score goals and score them in bunches, in their 6 matches this year they have scored 3 goals twice, scored 2 goals twice, and been shut out twice.  I have to believe they would probably have more goals if Omar Bravo hadn't gotten injured he had 2 goals in just 122 minutes of playing time, they also have offensive powerhouses Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury who both have 3 goals on the season.  The questions for SKC will be on the defensive side of things, gone are Jimmy Conrad (who now wears LA white) and others and so far their replacements have given up 13 goals, that is more than 2 a match on average.  Hard to win with those numbers.

The Galaxy have clearly front loaded their schedule again hoping they can get a bunch of points and then hold on at the end of the season, it worked for the Supporters' Shield last year but not in the playoffs and this year they will get those lovely trips around the region as they play in the CCL.  Any team with guys like Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel will be entertaining to watch but there are holes on this squad but they have proven if they can keep opponents from scoring that they can get results.  LA has only been held scoreless once this year, but they have kept a clean sheet 4 times, their most common result is a 1-1 draw which they have had 4 times this year including their last two matches.  Only once have they blown out an opponent a 3-0 win at home over the Portland Timbers, and only once have they been blown out a 4-1 loss at Rio Tinto.  I think that SKC will be an interesting foe for them, I can see this one ending up 2-2 or 3-2 with SKC pulling off a bit of an upset over a LA team playing their 3 match in 7 days.

Columbus Crew at San Jose Earthquakes - 8:30pm MT - Direct Kick

Well here is my pick for the boring match of the weekend, neither side has been much fun to watch recently and I doubt that will change on Saturday, the difference is that the Crew are boring but getting results, while the Quakes are simply bad.  I really thought based on the changes made in the off season by both of these clubs that they would struggle at the start of the season, but that is only true of one side.  The Quakes have simply remained a one trick pony, it is still all about Chris Wondolowski, who has 4 goals and 1 assist (the team has 7 goals).  I held out hope at the start of the year as it looked as Simon Dawkins would add some much needed variety to the San Jose offense but he is out recovering from surgery after scoring 2 goals in his first 6 matches.  So after 8 matches just one other Quake has scored, that is Khari Stephenson, who has been one of the bright spots for San Jose.  They have given up 11 goals so far and I have no doubts they will give up more as head coach Frank Yallop continues to tinker with their lineup as he looks for results.

I thought the Crew would be awful this year like most people, but I thought like in 2010 that they would find a way to grind out results and sure enough that is what they are doing at 3-1-4 they sit in 3rd place in the East and could move to the top with a win and other teams losing.  The Crew have scored half of their 8 goals from the PK spot and their most common results are 0-0 and 1-1 draws (they have two of each). If you look at their last 7 matches it has been T-W-T-W-T-W-T, so you would have to think they are due for a win at San Jose on Saturday.  I think if they can score a goal that might be the case, but with no player having scored more than 2 goals in the run of play can they score?  Emilio Renteria has 4 goals (with two PKs) and even half of Robbie Rogers 2 goals have come from the PK spot.  I can see this match ending up a 1-1 draw.

Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders - 9:00pm MT - ESPN2

Now this is the match that not only has two teams and two sets of fans battling, but had even the mayors involved in the rivalry.  Oh I know Sounders fans don't consider it a rivalry as if Portland are below them, but heck a lot of Sounders fans feel that way about everyone.  This is the kick off of the much hyped Cascadia Cup, the rivalry that is so intense that if I were to tell you the rules and restrictions on away fans you might think you were in 80's England. I will avoid all of that to tell you that these are two good teams, not great, not exceptional, but good teams and I hope that we will get a good match.  

The Timbers have people believing after they have managed to get 4 wins in their first 8 matches, but all 4 wins have been at home and the last two they got by the skins of their teeth with 1-0 wins where they played very defensive minded soccer.  On the road the Timbers are well, like that poor tree by their fans getting cut apart, they are 0-3-1 with just 2 goals scored and 9 allowed.  I actually think the Timbers have some talent on their roster but I question their defense when they aren't playing 9 men behind the ball, as their outside back Rodney Wallace and Jeremy Hall have shown that they love to get forward to help the offense but aren't exactly shutting down counter attacks as well as they should.  Kenny Cooper is a huge target and always a threat to score goals and their Columbian duo of Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza have shown real potential, but this team still is prone to mistakes and to beat Seattle in Seattle they will need to play a perfect match.

Ah the Sounders, you know a part of me loves this team and a part of me loves the huge egos that some of their fans have, then there is the part of me that remembers this is a 3rd year team who have played well since joining the league but outside of the US Open Cup haven't won anything.  Still lifting that trophy each of their first two years in MLS has given them more than most teams have to brag about.  If you look at their results on the pitch this year you see they are a fairly average team, a 3-3-4 record with a +2 goal differential, but you have to give them credit for dealing with a number of injuries already this year. That has kept their lineup changing almost every week and it is hard to build consistency when that happens.  I think that had there not been the injuries to Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White that the Sounders may have 1-2 more wins this year, but beyond that as an excuse I think the arrival of Erik Friberg and Mauro Rosales will both pay huge dividends as the season progresses and if Brad Evans can continue to finish chances for them like he has so far this year he could be a real difference maker.

So a lot of emotions will be on the pitch and in the stands Saturday night in Seattle, it should be fun to watch but I think the Sounders will own the match and pull out a 2-1 or 3-1 win.

Chivas USA at New York Red Bulls - Sunday 5:00pm MT - Galavision

I can't write anything much about this match without swearing about Chivas USA, so I am just going to say that if the Red Bulls with all their talent can avoid injuries they should be able to get an easy 2-0 win.

OK, that is it for this weekend.  Enjoy.