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Picks and previews: Looking ahead to the weekend in MLS

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Do you feel like you’re starting to get a feel for the 2014 edition of your favorite MLS team? Good for you, because frankly I’m having a whale of a time figuring out who might be for real, let alone who’s going to make a run at things.

There are several teams I’m very comfortable saying will be making playoff appearances provided World Cup rosters don’t sap their strength: Toronto and Real Salt Lake. Then there’s a muddled middle of teams that have looked great and defied expectations (Dallas and Columbus) or left us scratching our heads at their slow starts (Portland and New York).

So where are we? Besides Tiesville, where winners and losers are ostracized. Seriously, there have been 3-4 deadlocks in every weekend excepting opening weekend.

As for the picks, I’m not allowing myself to pick ties. If they tie, I tie.

All records W-L-T

Real Salt Lake (2-0-3) at Philadelphia Union (1-1-3), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: RSL, 2-0-4
Record at Philadelphia: 0-0-3
Outlook: Tough matchup for a Union team trying to learn their game without Philly mainstay Jack McInerney. Long trip out East, but RSL is up for it. RSL, 2-1.

Colorado (2-1-1) at Toronto FC (3-1-0), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: Toronto, 7-4-1
Record at Toronto: Toronto, 6-0-0
Outlook: For a club that hasn’t been a power, how about that unblemished mark against the Rapids in Toronto? Colorado has won an MLS Cup in the building, though. I like the Reds to build off the Columbus win and move to 4-1 with a 2-0 win.

Chicago (0-1-4) at Montreal (0-3-2), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: Chicago, 2-2-1
Record at Montreal: Montreal, 1-0-1
Outlook: Since we’re not picking ties, someone’s gotta get their first win this weekend. I like the McInerney/Di Vaio combination to find some instant chemistry, but can the Impact defend? Quincy Amarikwa has been a revelation for Chicago, but will he — or a jacked-up new-contracted Mike Magee — be enough for a W? Montreal, 3-2.

Houston (2-2-0) at New England (1-3-1), 5pm ET Saturday
Series: New England, 7-4-6
Record at NE: New England, 2-2-5
Outlook: Forecast calls for a chance of rain and 68 in New England, and it’ll take inclement weather and bad travel for Houston to be slowed by the Revs. Both teams are coming off bad losses against longtime rivals. I like Houston’s chances to rebound on the road, 2-0, on Will Bruin’s boots.

New York Red Bulls (0-1-4) at DC United (1-2-1), 7pm ET Saturday
Series: DC, 31-22-9
Record at DC: DC, 18-10-4
Outlook: Surely this rivalry match is where New York gets off the mat after a miserable, miserable start, correct? The only thing that could work for DC United is some more good vibes from Chris Rolfe and NY’s impending Wednesday date with the Union. NYRB, 3-1.

Seattle (2-2-1) at Dallas (4-0-1), 8:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Seattle, 6-2-4
Record at Dallas: Seattle, 2-1-3
Outlook: Which Sounders team will we get? That inconsistency alone is enough to pick a Dallas squad that is humming under Oscar Pareja, who has picked up big wins over Houston and Portland in recent weeks. Can it continue? I think so, though here’s where I’d call a 2-2 tie if allowed (that’s called “hedging”). Dallas, 2-1.

Chivas USA (1-2-2) at Portland (0-2-3), 10:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Chivas USA, 4-3-1
Record at Portland: 2-2
Outlook: I felt like the Timbers were a little over-appreciated coming into the season, but this is a spot that screams Portland. Wilmer Cabrera was frustrated by his club’s attitude in a 3-0 loss to L.A. last week, and I’m not sure they build up quick enough to perform well here. Portland, 4-1.

Vancouver (2-1-2) at Los Angeles (1-1-1), 10:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Galaxy, 5-2-1
Record at LA: Galaxy, 4-0
Outlook: Carl Robinson brings the Caps on the road to try and do something they’ve done at LA… win. The Galaxy looked dangerous against Chivas USA last week for nearly 90 minutes and form says… L.A. 2-1.

Columbus (3-1-0) at San Jose (0-2-1), 3pm ET Sunday
Series leader: Crew, 18-13-7
Record at SJ: Quakes, 10-6-3
Outlook: Is it an upset special given Columbus is coming off a loss, wasn’t expected to be a stronger team than San Jose and the Quakes are weeks free from CONCACAF Champions League schedule congestion? Chris Wondolowski keeps his US form rolling. SJ, 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)