Week 7 Preview: Fire look for first win vs. Revs; Dallas gets its crack at Toronto

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Week seven of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Chicago and Philadelphia, with Saturday’s nine-match slate also featuring a battle of early season upstarts at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex. Here is our quick look at the coming weekend of MLS action.

Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.

#14 Chicago Fire vs. #11 New England Revolution (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Live Extra)
Last week: Chicago drew in Montréal, 1-1; New England beat visiting Houston, 2-0

I don’t know if the Chicago Fire are better than last year, but through six weeks of the season (five of which have ended in draws), they’ve been more interesting to watch. Quincy Amarikwa’s brought some energy to the striker position, rookie Harry Shipp has added skill to the midfield, while a new central defense of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (pictured) and Bakary Soumaré are good for some fun, random mistakes. They seem to be driving drive Frank Yallop nuts, but the miscues also make for some really competitive matches.

Against a struggling Teal Bunbury, the Fire defenders are less likely to get burned, and with 2013 Defender of the Year José Gonçalves potentially sidelined, the Revolution may have trouble keeping track of the hyperactive Amarikwa. Players like Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, and Saer Sene would still test the Chicago defense, but the Fire are favorites. It’s just a matter of converting their underlying play into three points instead of one.

#7 FC Dallas vs. #3 Toronto FC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Dallas suffered its first loss of the season, 3-2 to Seattle; Toronto lost to Colorado, 1-0

I’ve been cautious about hopping on the Dallas bandwagon (hence that number seven ranking), but the idea of Steven Caldwell and Bradley Orr being turned, left to chase Je-Vaughn Watson and Fabian Castillo as they run onto Mauro Díaz through balls, should give Ryan Nelsen nightmares. Then again, he just looks at the team’s payroll, sees “BRADLEY – $6,500,000,” and says “That’s why we give Mikey that money.”

Bradley’s health still makes him iffy for Saturday’s game, but it seems like Nelsen’s being coy in describing him as a doubt. He also seems lest optimistic about Jermain Defoe, who’s missed two in a row.

Regardless, let’s get tactical: If the Reds have to ask Bradley to watch Díaz, are without Defoe up top, and have to get fullbacks Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom to be more conscious of helping with Dallas’s quick wingers? It could be “stay back and pray,” particularly with Dallas’s two defensive midfielders (Hendry Thomas; Michel) helping destroy Toronto’s counters.

#10 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #6 LA Galaxy (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Vancouver lost in Los Angeles, 1-0, while LA defeated the visiting Whitecaps, 1-0.

For the second time this season, LA has a home-and-home, with the four-time champions having opened the season with two games against Real Salt Lake. Last week’s first leg broke their way, with Robbie Keane’s early second half opener holding up, but the Galaxy are unlikely to see such a conservative Vancouver. In Carson, Calif., the Whitecaps sat deep and compact, trying to beat LA on the counter. On the faster track at BC Place, the Whitecaps may try to outrun one of the league’s slower squads.

#4 Columbus Crew vs. #17 D.C. United (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Columbus drew in San Jose, 1-1; D.C. United defeated New York, 1-0

If Columbus doesn’t get cocky and read too much into its 3-0, opening day win at RFK, this will be the team’s easiest game since. D.C. United may be on a two-game winning streak, but they those games were at home against New England and New York. Columbus is on a whole different level. Unless we see a new D.C. United, this one should go the way of the Crew.

#8 Colorado Rapids vs. #13 San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Colorado won in Toronto, 1-0; San Jose drew with the Crew, 1-1

Two decent teams — two teams that should compete at the edge of the Western Conference playoffs — have gotten off to divergent starts. Colorado rides a two-match win streak into their home return, while San Jose is one of the league’s four remaining winless teams.

Despite those records, this should be a relatively even matchup, though the Rapids’ Saturday win gives us a hint as to how things could go down. Toronto and San Jose set up nearly identically, though the styles of the teams’ forward tandems are different. If Shane O’Neill (if he gets another start in the middle) and Drew Moor can handle Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski, the Earthquakes will likely remain winless.

#15 Chivas USA vs. #5 Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Chivas USA drew at Portland, 1-1; Seattle won in Dallas, 3-2

Rosales’s three-year run in the Emerald City made him a huge fan favorite, but as Seattle reconfigured its team in the wake of last fall’s disappointment, the Argentine winger was forced to move on. He’s quickly found a home in Carson, where his leadership and constant effort have instilled a belief in the previously wayward squad. The Goats aren’t setting MLS on fire, but as last week’s result at Providence Park showed, they’re far more capable this year under Wilmer Cabrera.

Seattle’s attack, however, threatens to make this one a lopsided result. While teams like Portland and Dallas could keep up, it’s unclear how Chivas USA can do so. Where the Goats have relied on Erick Torres opportunism during their 1-2-3 start, they may need their only scorer to explode if they’re to keep up with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. A defense where only Carlos Bocanegra is playing his natural position will have trouble with Martins’ movement.

#9 Philadelphia Union vs. #12 Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Philadelphia drew with RSL, 2-2 (but lost at New York on Wednesday); Houston lost at New England, 2-0

Ricardo Clark versus Maurice Edu in the middle? I’m in. Two strong, experienced, potentially destructive players, both of whom can cover acres in midfield? First one to five tackles wins (though Edu, at 3.3 per game, is averaging nearly double Clark’s surprisingly low 1.6).

The better issue, though, is whether either team can bounce back from its last result. Houston failed to put a shot on target in its 2-0 loss in Foxborough, while Philadelphia couldn’t match the Red Bulls’ persistence mid-week in Harrison. Houston is 0-2-0 on the road this season.

#1 Sporting Kansas City vs. #18 Montréal Impact (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Sporting had the week off; Montréal drew with visiting Chicago, 1-1

Ike Opara is out (for the year) and Oriol Rosell is suspended, but as long as Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi, and Sal Zizzo are pressing up against that Montréal defense, this one’s going to be tough for the Impact. Maybe Frank Klopas will drop Jack McInerney, rely on Marco Di Vaio alone up top, and add a third midfielder, hoping his team can actually hold the ball a while before punting it. Even then, this looks like reach for the Montréal.

#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #16 Portland Timbers (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Salt Lake drew in Philadelphia, 2-2; Portland were held by Chivas USA, 1-1

  • Portland’s all-time record against Real Salt Lake, having joined Major League Soccer in 2011: 1-7-3.
  • Games without a Timbers win vs. RSL: 10.
  • Caleb Porter’s career record against Salt Lake: 0-4-2.
  • Number of videos RSL has posted flaunting its success against Portland: Unknown, but I found this one, advertised as “So intense it will make you to tears”:

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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

Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]