It’s the last weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is almost complete. All five postseason spots in each conference have been clinched, except for fifth place in the West. The Vancouver Whitecaps will try to save that spot, and the Portland Timbers, only a point behind the Caps, will attempt to surpass Caleb Porter’s side.
Here’s a quick preview of each match.
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo: Both teams are out of the playoffs, so there are zero postseason implications. But it will definitely be interesting to see how these two teams close out the season. Houston and Chicago both regressed from a year ago, with encouraging play coming from young Fire midfielder Harry Shipp and the Dynamo’s 26-year-old goalkeeper Tyler Deric. It will be Dominic Kinnear’s last game after eight years as Houston’s manager.
Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy: Two of Major League Soccer’s best teams with some of the best attackers in the league will continue their showdown on Saturday. Last week, the Galaxy gained a 2-0 lead at the StubHub Center, but Dempsey and Co. stormed back to salvage a 2-2 draw. The Supporter Shield is at stake, though for unbiased viewers, interest will arise from watching Clint Dempsey combine with Obafemi Martins for Seattle, or the wizardry of Robbie Keane and burgeoning talent of Gyasi Zardes on LA.
Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United: The East’s first-place squad, D.C. United, will face the conference’s last-place team, the Montreal Impact, in what will be Marco Di Vaio’s last competition for the Impact prior to his retirement at the end of the year. United never has any tricks up their sleeve; they just play fundamentally-sound soccer, and they should extend their unbeaten run to six matches.
New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC: A very disheartening season (missing the playoffs) for Toronto took place following their signings of two marquee Designated Players—U.S. international Michael Bradley and former Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe. On the other side, the Revolution will make the playoffs for the second-straight year, and the combination of MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones, a mid-year acquisition, have propelled the Revs to second place in the Eastern Conference.
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers: The Timbers have a lot more at stake in this scenario than the Toros do, as Portland sits in tight contention for the West’s last playoff position. If they grab three points on the road, Vancouver must draw or lose to keep the MLS Cup dream of Porter and Co. alive. Nevertheless, the magnificent performances of Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo have bolstered Dallas’ attack and carried the squad to the playoffs on the heels of a weak 2013 campaign. Diego Valeri has been a key component to the Timbers, and his play will certainly help decide the result.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids: Vancouver’s wealth of attacking players hasn’t made the biggest of impacts this season, but the Canadian crew has managed a four-game unbeaten run that has guided it into strong playoff contention. The Rapids, meanwhile, haven’t won since July, and having one of the worst statistical defenses in MLS moved Colorado in the wrong direction. Deshorn Brown, who leads the Rapids in goals with 10 scores, has been the only player to supplement their offensive end.
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: The Union beat the reigning champion Sporting Kansas City last week, 2-1, but that victory wasn’t enough to keep them in the race for fifth place in the East. With interim manager Jim Curtin supposedly staying in Philly for the long run, there won’t be any efforts from players to retain his job. Columbus is secure for the playoffs, and has lost only two our of their past eight competitions. For purely the spectacle, let’s hope Federico Higuain buries a well-taken free kick for the Crew.
Chivas USA vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Chivas and San Jose just didn’t have the magic this season, and we’ve come to expect the poor record from the Goats. In 2013, however, the Quakes almost slid into the playoffs. Chris Wondolowski has scored more goals this season, too, but his supporting cast hasn’t contribute much on the attacking side. The same goes for Chivas. Erick Torres is surely a top striker in MLS, but once he stopped putting the ball in the net, he had no secondary support in addition to a dreadful defense.
Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls: To cap off the series of MLS contests this weekend, Sporting KC will enjoy home-field advantage when the Red Bulls, coming off a tough 3-1 defeat to the Crew last weekend. All eyes will examine Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips, as the dynamic duo is set to face the strongest defense in league anchored by U.S. center back Matt Besler. Dominic Dwyer will look to overshadow the Red Bulls’ stars and snag a win that prevent the Red Bulls from overtaking KC in the standings.
We have an exciting round of MLS matches this weekend, many of them having heavy playoff implications considering the proximity to the playoffs at this point in time.
Tonight, the New England Revolution downed the Houston Dynamo 2-1, with a brace from MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen. The Revs have clinched a playoff spot, but their contention for the No.1 spot has improved, as Jay Heaps’ squad is now three points back from D.C. United.
Here’s a quick preview of each game this weekend.
Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake: Currently sitting just outside of the fifth-place playoff spot one point behind Vancouver,Portland could definitely use a win in this match, while Real Salt Lake has already clinched a postseason birth. The Timbers are coming off back-to-back wins against the San Jose Earthquakes, and Real Salt Lake broke their two-game losing run last week. This year, the series between these two teams is tied at 1-1.
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact: The good news for the Montreal Impact is that Marco Di Vaio should be available in this match after a journey to Italy this week. But the Impact are completely eliminated from the playoff race, so they don’t have huge implications riding on this game. Toronto FC is still alive at sixth place in the East, but stands six points back from the Columbus Crew in fifth place. In order to rescue themselves from a severely disappointing season, the Reds will necessitate a playoff appearance.
Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas: Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas have definitely enjoyed a successful MLS season. After falling to eight place a year ago, the Toros have already clinched the playoffs. The Rapids lost to Chivas USA 2-1 last week, seeing their winless streak extend to a massive tally: 12 games. All signs point to an FC Dallas victory, but Colorado still has a great chance to end their streak on home turf.
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City: The reigning champions unsurpsingly find themselves as an MLS Cup contender once again, and Peter Vermes certainly isn’t setting his sights low as his squad has secured a postseason opening. The Union haven’t lost to Sporting this year, managing a victory and draw in two 2014 contests, but a five-game winless stretch buried their playoff aspirations.
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire: There’s no better Cinderella story in MLS this season than D.C. United, the team that has literally gone from first to worst. Fifty-five points is the third largest point total in the league, behind both the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy. Players like Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, Chris Rolfe and Perry Kitchen have done their jobs wonderfully, and the Chicago Fire haven’t won since Aug. 30 against FC Dallas. If United puts forth an effort consistent to their performances this season, expect at least a draw.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s side has an ideal opportunity to get ahead in the playoff race with a win against the ailing San Jose Earthquakes. Opposing teams always have to be wary of Chris Wondolowski around the net, but the Whitecaps boast offensive firepower that has surfaced a bit during their current three-match winning streak. And fortune just hasn’t favored San Jose in 2014.
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew: Bradley Wright-Phillips and the ageless wonder Thierry Henry have catapulted New York to fourth place in the East. The Columbus Crew have also found themselves in strong contention for the playoffs, and compared to last year’s eight-place finish, Columbus’ improvements are numerous. This game is steeped in postseason implications.
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders: This game is not only a clash between two top Western Conference teams, but it is also Landon Donovan’s last home regular-season match. The best forward duo in MLS, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins will take the field at the lively StubHub Center in a match that will look to strengthen both squads’ playoff rank. The LA Galaxy are, of course, star-studded as well, with youngster Gyasi Zardes breaking out this year and veteran Robbie Keane constantly displaying his magic.
MLS Week 12 preview: First place on the line for New England, DC
As teams begin to establish whether they are for real or just pretenders, we take a look around the MLS matchups for this coming weekend and how they could have serious impact not just on standings next week, but give us a glimpse into how serious teams are.
Shockingly powerful #3 New England Revolution vs #4 DC United Well, these weren’t words I would have expected to type a few months ago.
New England and DC United will battle for first place in the East tomorrow at Gillette Stadium at 7:30pm.
With the Revs in first place and DC behind by a pair, a win for either club either gives them the lead or extends it.
New England, winners of four in a row and undefeated since April 5, will take on a team that’s played a midweek game for the third straight week. And for DC United, they will be playing for the third time in eight days.
However, relief is on the way for the visitors, who get Eddie Johnson back from suspension. He wasn’t needed as they downed Houston on Wednesday 2-0 with goals from Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola, who leads DC with five goals and five assists, the latter of which is among the league leaders.
“I was happy I got a chance to play a little higher,” Espindola said after the match. “I think in a way Eddie and I are similar like that. Rolfe is a very technical player, highly skilled, so I think we worked well together.”
It will be interesting to see who head coach Ben Olson decides to select up top with so many players in good form.
For New England, they became just the third team in MLS history to score five goals in back-to-back matches last weekend, and are destroying anyone and anything in their path. The high-powered matchup could either give the hosts plenty of room at the top of the table, or make things that much tighter.
Fulfilling high expectations #10 New York Red Bulls vs. #18 Portland Timbers
Portland looks to end their draw-happy stretch that has them in last place as they travel across the country to Red Bull Arena in New York. The Timbers have drawn their last three matches and seven of their eleven total this season, and their failure to hold onto three points is threatening to doom their season.
The hosts have also struggled to live up to last season’s expectations, with the defending Supporter’s Shield winners dropping their last two matches in completely opposite fashion, proving this season’s inconsistencies are a serious issue. They fell just short in a barn-burning comeback against Chicago 5-4, and followed it up a week later by getting shut out at the hands of Toronto.
In order to follow up last season’s success with more, the Red Bulls are going to need to find ways to beat the top teams, but taking advantage of a struggling Portland side would do just as well. They’ll hope first to hold off on conceding an early goal, like they have in the last few games, dooming them to come from behind most of the match.
#8 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #1 Seattle Sounders
The first place Seattle Sounders are headed north of the border to take on the surging Vancouver Whitecaps, in fifth place and climbing after finding themselves undefeated in their last four.
The Sounders have – for now – proven that their demolition at the hands of the Revolution was just a blip, but will have to be up for the match against a team brimming with confidence.
As some added importance to the match, Vancouver has never defeated Seattle since coming to the MLS, with two losses and three draws in the last five.
#19 Montreal Impact vs. #9 Colorado Rapids Striker Marco di Vaio will return for the Impact as they take on Colorado. They sure as heck need him, as di Vaio has missed five matches this season, and Montreal has lost four of them. When he’s in the lineup, they’ve lost just one out of five.
While di Vaio has just one goal, he certainly makes an impact on the game…yea that definitely wasn’t supposed to happen. Sorry.
#11 Columbus Crew vs. #13 Chicago Fire It’s been yet another season of fighting from behind for Chicago and Columbus, as they look to climb the East despite poor results.
Columbus has yet to win since March, but Chicago has already begun that climb. After failing to win their first eight, they’ve got six points in two impressive results back-to-back.
Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson said the team appreciates that they “know how to win again,” while Columbus just enjoys knowing how to score again, killing their 335-minute goalless streak, but it will take much more than that to beat a surging Chicago team.
#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #6 FC Dallas This high-powered matchup takes unbeaten Real Salt Lake and a not-so undefeated FC Dallas.
With five losses and a draw completely scuppering the visitors’ flaming start, it’s essentially back to the drawing board for Oscar Pareja. Center-back Matt Hedges said it best after their loss last week to LA Galaxy: “We have to figure out what was going on and why he was so open.” The key there is they have no idea what’s going on.
With Dallas spiraling out of control, it’s a perfect opportunity for Real Salt Lake to pounce and jump on any potential Seattle slip-up.
#12 Los Angeles Galaxy vs. #15 Philadelphia Union A handy little west-coast road trip for Philadelphia begins in Los Angeles, and that would have been great except for one thing: an angry Landon Donovan isn’t going to be a fun Landon Donovan.
The Union will have to contend with the US icon who failed to make Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup roster, and he clearly isn’t too happy about it. He will be involved the match, Bruce Arena confirmed, which isn’t good for Philadelphia.
Between a Donovan with a chip on his shoulder and an in-form Robbie Keane, it will be hard for Philadelphia to swing their penjulum back to the good side. It’s been swinging back and forth all season, and they would like it to come back up after a hammering by New England.
#16 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #7 Houston Dynamo Speaking of pendulums, Sunday’s late game features a Houston Dynamo squad that has gone win, loss, win, loss in their last four, which in all honesty is an improvement from the beginning of the year. With a chance to put their dud against DC United behind them, the Earthquakes won’t let it come easy.
San Jose was downed by that goal by Obafemi Martins. You know, THAT goal, that chip goal. They lost to the first-placed team on that, Mark Watson’s gang certainly won’t be taking Houston lightly, especially in front of the home fans.
On Saturday, two USMNT stars will be pitted against one another, with Seattle’s Clint Dempsey facing off against Toronto’s new acquisition, Michael Bradley as the two sides go head-to-head at CenturyLink Field (Watch live on NBCSN, 4:30 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).
Seattle will be looking for a second straight win to start off their season. Last week, the Sounders had to wait until injury time before they were finally able to break down Sporting KC. Substitute Clint Dempsey saw his header rebound off the crossbar and Chad Barrett pounced, putting in the winner.
It’s Toronto’s first match of the season, and they’ll be hoping that a revamped squad gives them enough of a boost to overcome Seattle – and its 12th man present at all home games. At least six new players could feature in the visitors’ starting lineup. Bradley Orr, Justin Morrow, and Jackson are all expected to be in coach Ryan Nelsen’s plans. Dwayne De Rosario could get his (re)debut. Jermain Defoe could start. And of course, there’s Bradley.
The extra week of rest certainly benefited Toronto, particularly since Bradley had been nursing a foot injury. However, the midfielder may not get as many minutes as fans would like, as Nelsen is concerned about the poor turf in Seattle. The visitors will be without new forward Gilberto, however, who didn’t make the trip due to injury.
As for Seattle, well, it’s nearly certain that Dempsey will be more than a mere substitute this time around. The hosts will be hoping he gives their offense a boost, as Kenny Cooper and Obafemi Martins looked rather ineffectual last time around. And, of course, Stefan Frei will be in goal to face his former side, with Sigi Schmid confirming that he’s the Sounders’ first-choice keeper.
What they’re saying
Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer on Clint Dempsey: My expectations are that he’s going to win a bunch of games. That’s all he can do. I don’t really care if he scores goals or makes assists, as long as he helps us win games. Having him be here from the first game of the year is going to be a big benefit. I expect Clint to be a big part of a winning team this year.
Ryan Nelsen on the problem with Michael Bradley: “The problem with Michael is kind of stopping him from doing stuff, he’s so keen and so eager, over-keen and over-eager, which is why he’s such a good player. It’s more holding him back and pulling on the reigns is my biggest problem with Michael.”
Seattle claim another three points. Toronto have made some smart acquisitions in the offseason, but they may not have all gelled together just yet. At least, not enough for them to defeat the Sounders. Besides, Frei is going to be pulling on some otherworldly strengths to make sure his former side don’t put any balls in the back of the net.
This World Cup business is awfully inconvenient. Here’s Major League Soccer, turning its wallet inside out, embarking on its first major spending push since the 1990s, and FIFA has to throw this huge party in Brazil – in the middle of the MLS season! Then they go and invite all of the league’s best players, some of whom MLS just paid big bucks to bring back? World Cup, your timing couldn’t be worse.
Entering its 19th season, Major League Soccer is starting to transcend mere stability. Under commissioner Don Garber, the league now has a national footprint of viable teams, one that’s allowed it to become ambitious. Those days of contracting teams in Florida? Dead, gone, irrelevant.
With signings like Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey, MLS is reaching out to the casual fans, I really only watch the national team follower and saying “then watch your national team with us.” Dear mainstream sports fan: Drop on by; hang out; beers are on us.
But for the first three months of the 2014 season, those casual and mainstream fans are going to be all about the World Cup. The U.S. plays an exhibition against Mexico on April 2. They’ll call their preliminary roster into camp mid-May. Then the send-off tour begins. Even before festivities in Brazil kick-off in mid-June, the national team pops onto the radar just enough to keep MLS’s breakout season in the shadows.
At least, this is supposed to be MLS’s breakout season, what with all the Bradley-ness and Dempsey-ness happening. Former Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe’s in Toronto, Philadelphia brought Maurice Edu back from Stoke, and and teams’ new ability to use “retention funds” have kept the likes of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and Diego Fagundez in the league. If Garber’s goal is to make MLS a “league of choice,” recent choices say Major League Soccer’s climbing the ladder.
The real breakout, however, won’t happen until next year. That’s when New York City FC comes in. Along with Orlando City SC, the Manchester City venture will push the league to 21 teams, starting an era that’s sure to see even more spending. With a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, the league will have a new set of rules meant to cultivate its new, dramatic growth.
2014 will be the end of an era, albeit a short one. Starting with Seattle’s move to MLS in 2009, the league welcomed a new identity, one that embraced the virtues of their new, ready-to-go markets. Major League Soccer was no longer picking spots on a map and hoping things work. Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Montréal were all to go from day one.
Their effects could even be seen on last year’s champions. The story of Sporting Kansas City’s success goes beyond the maturation of Zusi, Besler, and head coach Peter Vermes. It’s about a brand whose success has hinged on creating an exciting product that could capture imaginations in a competitive market. Part of that was a new name. Part of that was a new look. A great stadium had something to do with that, too. When the team claimed their second MLS title last December, that whole new, MLS 2.0 package came together.
That’s where we stand, one day ahead of 2.0’s last season. This time next year, we’ll have fully embarked on a new, more ambitious era of Major League Soccer – a period that will couple ambition’s excitement with endeavor’s risk. Whereas the last five years have been defined by stability new teams brought, MLS 3.0 will see the league try to claim the ‘major’ status it’s sought for so long.
Sporting Kansas City finished second in last year’s regular season but went on to claim the title. If they falter before playoffs this year, it will be because Zusi and Besler will be gone for the World Cup.
New York is coming off their first major honor, having won the Supporters’ Shield. As a result, they’ve elected to roll with the team that worked, bringing in only two new starters.
Contrast that with D.C. United, who have completely made over a team that set an MLS record for fewest wins in a season (three). Toronto FC also engaged in an overhaul, albeit a more expensive one. With Bradley, Defoe, and Brazilian attacker Gilberto, Ryan Nelsen has a new set of Designated Players in a team that’s expected to make its first postseason.
Juan Agudelo’s gone, but New England remains young and talented; Columbus lost Chad Marshall but still has the criminally overlooked Federico Higuaín; Chicago needs Mike Magee to continue to be an MVP to replicate last year’s mid-table performance; Houston will be looking to move past a season of chronic absences and sporadic scoring; Philadelphia’s hopes rest on Conor Casey and Jack McInerney producing a viable attack; while Montréal looks in flux, with Plan A on the verge of becoming plan AARP.
Favorites: Sporting KC, New York Contenders: Toronto FC, Houston Playoff hopefuls: Everybody else No chance: I’m being nice here
Portland and Real Salt Lake, last year’s top two finishers, look as strong, but whereas the Timbers have brought in Argentines Norberto Paparatto (defense) and Gastón Fernández (attack), last year’s conference champions lost head coach Jason Kreis.
Dallas also has a new coach, with former Rapids boss Óscar Pareja eventually bring Honduran destroyer Hendry Thomas to Frisco with him. Colorado replaced Pareja with nobody (yet) but still offers Major League Soccer’s best core of young talent (Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Shane O’Neill, Chris Klute, Clint Irwin).
Vancouver also switched coaches, swapping the youth and promise of Martin Rennie for the youth and MLS experience of Carl Robinson. A full year of Jay DeMerit and the acquisition of Matías Laba make then playoff contenders. San Jose is in that category, too, with Mark Watson hoping his first full year on the sidelines returns the Earthquakes to there 2012 selves.
LA Galaxy retained Omar Gonzalez with last year’s Designated Player deal and have added significant depth in attack and midfield. Their StubHub Center co-tenants, Chivas USA, were bought by the league in February and are set for another year of transition.
And then there’s Seattle, the league’s ultimate wild cards. Among MLS’s most talented teams, the Sounders face-planted at the finish line in 2013, sparking an offseason mark over. Still among the league’s most talented, they’ll start 2014 with the same problem that killed them last fall: A lack of familiarity with each other.
Favorites: Portland, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy Contenders: Seattle Playoff hopefuls: San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, FC … No chance: … Dallas (this conference is tough), Chivas USA
Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy – It may happen on Saturday, or we may have to wait until spring. At some point, the Galaxy legend is going to score his 135th career goal, leaving him alone at the top of MLS’s all-time scoring list. It you can’t love that, even for a moment, this list is not for you.
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC – Major League Soccer has no shortage of talented midfielders, but there are very few guys that can command games from box-to-box. Welcome back, Michael Bradley. Take this thing over.
Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers – One of a slew of talented playmakers in MLS, Valeri is a man of action. Whereas other trequaristas can be pensive, thoughtful on the ball, Portland’s Argentine import is the most decisive playmaker in the league, a quality that makes him easy to love.
Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution – The best young player in Major League Soccer and arguably the best 19-year-old to ever play in the league, Fagundez is coming off a 13-goal, seven-assist season … as an 18-year-old! Often a step ahead of the game, imagine what the Uruguayan-born attacker can do once he really hones his talents.
Aurélien Collin, Sporting Kansas City – When he’s on, he’s the league’s best defender, but he does so behind a mask that means he’s often the heel. Collin led the league in yellow cards last year, but watch what he does when he’s not drawing cards. You’ll come to love the duality.
DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders – If Fagundez is the best young player in the league, Yedlin is the best young defender. Only 20, even Yedlin’s faults are endearing. Ambitious going forward while still growing into his game in defense, Yedlin has already drawn the attention of the U.S. national team.
Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps – DeMerit missed most of 2013 recovering from an Achilles injury. Back, healthy, and looking as good as he did during his 2012 All-Star season, the former U.S. international can be one of the league’s best defenders. Welcome back.
Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – Don’t love him for his game breaking skill or a command of play that makes every moment of Columbus transition into must see TV. Love Higuaín because, despite his famous name and a year-and-a-half in the league, he’s still overlooked. Love Higuaín’s game because you can still get in on the ground floor. When people finally start seriously talking about All-Star and Best XI spots, you can say you were there all along.
Deshorn Brown, Colorado Rapids – The second year pro out of Central Florida is a handful, so much so that the Jamican national team has already brought him into the fold. Be it through the middle or out wide, Brown can tear you up with the ball or blow past you without it. If he wasn’t also 6’2″, his game might have a weakness.
Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia Union – This is his time. A natural midfielder, Okugo has been fully converted to central defense, a place where his intelligence and skill can thrive. Entering his second full season at the position, the 22-year-old is poised for a break through. Couple that with one of the more endearing personalities in the league, and Okugo’s game becomes easy to love.
You know the teams. You know the stars. Now, watch. The league season of Major League Soccer 2.0 kicks off Saturday, with Seattle hosting Sporting Kansas City, with coverage available on NBCSN and NBC Live Extra beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET.