MLS Previews

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MLS Preview: Conference clashes set up intriguing Week 8

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With the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders still struggling to find their way in the new MLS season, both sides will look for some stability in their respective conferences.

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That’s right, Week 8 is about conference matchups, except for Columbus-Houston. With no Friday night game on the docket, let’s take a look at what the weekend has to offer.

Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC — Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

The Union have been one of the more surprising teams in MLS through seven weeks. Unfortunately for NYCFC, there haven’t been many surprises in terms of improvements from a season ago. Despite David Villa’s offensive firepower, New York City continues to struggle in front of goal, with very little to no support for the Spaniard. Since their opening match against the Fire, which saw them score four goals, NYCFC has tallied just five goals in as many matches since.

Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

Already atop the Eastern Conference, the Impact can now add Didier Drogba into the mix. The ex-Chelsea forward scored just minutes after being substituted on for Montreal last weekend against the Fire, giving the team another dimension. Add him in with Ignacio Piatti, already with four goals on the year, and you have a very dangerous tandem. Toronto is still figuring things out, on the other hand. In a competitive East, TFC sits fourth on the table, but is still searching for assistance up front. Sebastian Giovinco’s four goals and two assists lead the team, however, the Atomic Ant appears to be their only option when getting forward.

D.C. United vs. New England Revolution — Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET

Neither team has started the season the way that they would have liked to. Both D.C. and New England have one win each though the opening month-plus of the season. Goals have been hard to come by for both teams, so maybe facing one another will be the key to breaking out.

Columbus Crew vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

As a team that played for the MLS Cup in 2015, expectations for the Crew were much higher than what they have met so far. Five points in six games isn’t good enough for an attack that boasts the likes of Kei Kemara and Ethan Finlay. For the Dynamo, scoring goals hasn’t been the issue. Keeping them out has been though. Houston has scored 13 goals in 2016, while allowing the same number, which will always be a recipe for failure.

Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

The new-look Rapids continue to impress this season under Pablo Mastroeni, sitting third in the Western Conference. While Mastroeni’s side doesn’t score a lot of goals, their defense is among the best in MLS, making it very difficult for opposition to break through. The Sounders have begun to string together a nice run of results, unbeaten in three straight games, although the team is still lacking substance in the midfield. Marco Pappa’s arrival in Colorado has given the Rapids a huge lift, while also breaking the back of Seattle.

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

In a battle of two of the West’s best teams, RSL looks to remain unbeaten against the Galaxy. Real Salt Lake is the only team that has yet to lose this season, and head coach Jeff Cassar has a lot to do with that. The squad has brought back many key players from previous seasons, while adding a few pieces here and there to solidify their weaknesses. The Galaxy will be missing Nigel de Jong as par of his suspension, but Gyasi Zardes and crew should be game to take on RSL. The Galaxy are tied for first in goals allowed with Toronto and the Rapids, conceding five goals.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

This match is a tale of two very different sides. Dallas is undoubtedly among the hottest teams in MLS through almost two months of play, holding 17 points and topping the West. The side’s attack features countless players that can break a game open at any moment, including Michael Barrios and Max Urruti. The Whitecaps are led by Pedro Morales offensively, but it has been their defense that has raised questions so far, giving away 11 goals in seven games. Vancouver has gone three straight matches without scoring a goal, so they’ll be hoping to end that trend at BC Place.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Sporting Kansas City — Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET

This could very well be game of the week based off of what the two sides have shown through seven weeks. Both teams have more than capable attacks, as well as quality defenses. Chris Wondolowski leads the charge for the Earthquakes, having netted six goal in seven games. With each side coming off of a loss, two straight in the case of Sporting KC, look for them to get after one another early and often. Dom Dwyer can add to his goal total of four on Sunday, especially with the team’s service from the wings.

New York Red Bulls vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET

The question isn’t what has gone wrong for the Red Bulls thus far in 2016, but instead what has gone right? Other than their four-goal outburst against the Dynamo, New York has scored just one additional goal. Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls attack have struggled mightily in front of net, despite having numerous opportunities to get on the scoreboard this season. Orlando City is having no such difficulty when it comes to finding goals, with Cyle Larin picking right up where he left off in his rookie year. The second-year forward has three goals thus far, while Kaka has added an additional two.

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Major League Soccer’s Week 3 preview: Surprising strugglers, Cali Clasico and more

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Every team has a bad week and, given the unpredictable nature of Major League Soccer, most teams will experience back-to-back clunkers at some point in a season.

But three? Three usually leads to panic (at least a little).

Several teams with promising offseasons are scratching their heads after two weeks of MLS 2016. As Week 3 takes hold on Friday, which ones might have to worry if their struggles trend into a third week?

[ MORE: Man Utd-Liverpool recap | 3 things | Europa roundup ]

New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps are all 0-2. All could remain winless after the weekend, though it’d be shocking if the first two fail to get at least a point from their matches.

Two of those teams square off, headlining our Week 3 preview.

Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

Washington will be the venue for this pair of Cascadia Cup rivals, both hoping to halt tough runs to start the season. While the ‘Caps lost to 3-2 Montreal and 2-1 to Sporting KC, Seattle has scored just one goal in season-opening losses to KC and Real Salt Lake.

It’s been a bit of baptism by fire for Jordan Morris, who is shouldering more responsibility than expected after the departure of Obafemi Martins. He’s looked lively, but has yet to dent the score sheet.

As for Vancouver, they sent mercurial attacker Darren Mattocks packing this week and will hope that’s a bit of addition by subtraction. Both teams know a rivalry win could trigger the good vibes they so badly want to reclaim. The visiting team in this series went 3-0 last year. We’ll be watching to see if that improbable trend continues, or if Carl Robinson will be further vexed by his charges.

Prediction: 2-2.

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Get multiple screens ready, or at least your recording device, as the California Clasico takes its first strides in 2016. L.A. is smarting after a shocking road defeat to Colorado that set them back to 1-1, while Dominic Kinnear’s Quakes are feeling good with a 2-0 start to the season.

On paper, the Quakes will like their chances after beating the same Rapids team that topped the Galaxy last weekend, but not only does this match carry rivalry stakes, L.A.’s massive star and veteran qualities should have them raring to get back on the home — or any — pitch.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-1

Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler, left, vies for the ball with Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore as Sporting KC's Jimmy Medranda, right, chases during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Toronto on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015. (Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
(Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press via AP)

Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC7 p.m. ET Sunday

Through two weeks, this bad boy looks like an MLS Cup final preview. KC has beaten a pair of decent opponents in Seattle and Vancouver, while TFC cruised past New York Red Bulls before picking up a point at Yankee Stadium.

Both of those came without Jozy Altidore, and Toronto may have to live life without the big USMNT striker again this week (though he’s expected to be named to the U.S. roster for this month’s World Cup qualifiers).

TFC is again dealing with stadium expansion, and this is match three of an eight-match road swing to start the season. This one would have tough night written all over it in the past, but their veteran additions — especially goalkeeper Clint Irwin — could hold sway here.

Prediction: 1-1.

The rest
New York City 2-1 Orlando City
Chicago Fire 0-2 Columbus Crew
New York Red Bulls 2-0 Houston Dynamo
FC Dallas 2-2 Montreal Impact
Portland Timbers 1-0 Real Salt Lake
Philadelphia Union 1-1 New England Revolution
DC United 3-1 Colorado Rapids

MLS Season Preview: Toronto FC

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How will Toronto FC follow-up the shiniest offseason in Major League Soccer since David Beckham signed with Los Angeles?

That’s the major question ahead of the Reds as their now-star-studded roster prepares for a playoff push in 2014 with their sights higher, at within reason, than ever before.

If you missed what went down this winter — there’s a solid documentary on the web — the club managed to add arguably the United States national team’s most important player (Michael Bradley), a prolific Premier League striker (Jermain Defoe) and a former UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year (Julio Cesar).

And yes, we’ve made it this far without mentioning the return of franchise leading scorer and Canada’s most famous player, Dwayne De Rosario.

Wow.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

source: AP
A new era is being ushered in at TFC, Bradley is delighted to be part of it.

Players in: Bradley (signed from AS Roma), Defoe (signed from Tottenham Hotspur), Cesar (loan from QPR), De Rosario (re-entry draft), Bradley Orr (loan from Blackburn Rovers), Gilberto (signed from Internacional), Jackson (trade with FC Dallas), Justin Morrow (trade with San Jose).

Players out: Stefan Frei (rights traded to Seattle), Matias Laba (loan to Vancouver), Danny Koeverman (out of contract), Robert Earnshaw (option declined), Jonas Elmer (released), Richard Eckersley (traded to NYRB), Bobby Convey (traded to NYRB), Darel Russell (option declined), Michael Thomas (option declined), Justin Braun (out of contract)

Key player: Michael Bradley

I’d like to apologize to all the other writers on staff who had a more difficult task in choosing a key player, as TFC’s massive money man will unquestionably be the key to its success in 2014. Frankly, it would be shocking if the bulldog of a midfielder isn’t immediately a Top Five player in the league, regardless of any perceived adjustment period.

He’ll have weapons at his disposal and Bradley won’t even turn 27 until after this summer’s World Cup in Brazil (By the way, TFC is reasonably equipped to deal with his absence for the Earth’s biggest tournament).

source:  Manager: Ryan Nelsen enters his second year in charge of the Reds after a tough 7W-11D-18L campaign, and the roster turnover isn’t shocking for anyone paying attention to the way he ran his ship in 2013. There were plenty of whispers that Nelsen had to rearrange the club’s entire on-field ethos and training habits, almost like a college coach taking over and needing to “get back to basics.” This will be a year to actually judge the New Zealand legend and he certainly shouldn’t mind that the massive influx of talent will shift the expectations to his managerial skill.

OutlookBright, even with the season-ending injury to depth forward Dike. As TFC prepares to take BMO Field to the next level, their team should be there in plenty of time for the enhanced facility’s completion. In terms of team selection, the Reds have plenty of choices and the addition of Orr shores up one of their biggest holes. They’ll have Cesar and Joe Bendik battling it out for net time and Steven Caldwell anchoring the back line while Bradley orchestrates the attacking, spraying the ball to any number of options.

Keep in mind the Miami Heat corollary — it could take some time for so many stars from so many backgrounds to find their role — but by the time TFC is rolling along, a playoff spot will be certain… and CN Tower beware, because the sky is the limit.

MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Montréal Impact

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  • Montréal’s regained first place in the Eastern Conference
  • Philadelphia coming off a 5-1 loss; Impact coming off 5-0 win
  • Amobi Okugo suspended; Sheanon Williams to play in the middle

Sporting Kansas City. New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia Union. They’ve all had their chance to take control of the East, and to this point, they’ve all fail. After Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Houston, Montréal’s regained the conference’s top spot.

Throughout the summer, as the Impact struggled to keep up their torrid spring pace, the East was there for the taking, yet over the last two weeks — with the conference’s other contenders failing to impress — Marco Schällibaum’s team has regained control. Back-to-back league not only have Montréal two points clear in the East but back on pace for the Supporters’ Shield, the team holding the highest points-per-game mark in MLS.

It’s no coincidence this minor surge has coincided with Argentine midfielder Hernán Bernardello settling into Montréal’s starting XI. As Schällibaum tried a two-striker system through much of the summer, it was unclear why his team had moved away from their effective three-man midfield. Davy Arnaud’s fitness was an excuse, but even after the captain came back, the Impact seemed intent on getting Daniele Paponi to work up top with Marco Di Vaio. In the meantime, the rest of the East caught up and passed Montréal.

Bernardello’s acquisition has moved Montréal back to three in the middle, and although the Impact lost their first match with their new Designated Player in the starting XI (2-1 at Chicago on Aug. 10), they’ve won their last two, with last weekend’s thrashing of the Dynamo portending a possible return to form. Replicating their spring formula, Montréal has lost the possession battle in each of their last two games, relying on a strong defensive shape and opportunistic attacking to reclaim their spot atop the East.

This Jekyll and Hyde, good versus bad Montréal makes the teams’ early meeting that much more instructive. In late May, the Impact scored five times at Stade Saputo, never trailing during their 5-3 win over the Union. That game, however, saw Montréal use their less-effective two-front, starting Andrew Wenger up top with Di Vaio. The Impact handled the Union while using their less effective setup, one they’re unlikely to employ Saturday at PPL Park.

It won’t help the Union that they’re set to be without starting central defender Amobi Okugo, suspended for Saturday’s match. An injured Ray Gaddis may also miss the game, while John Hackworth’s midfield could be without Keon Daniel. Coming off a 5-1 thrashing last week in New England, the Union are destined to have momentum, fitness, and suspensions working against them against Montréal.

With Conor Casey up top and the sometime susceptibility of the Impact’s central defense, Philadelphia have a route to victory. But they are underdogs. Given the state of the conference, the Union should be happy to get a stalemate in lieu of the three points they need to bridge the gap between themselves and Montréal.

What they are saying

Montréal forward Marco Di Vaio: “The next two games won’t be easy, but we have to do more if we want to make the playoffs. We have to pick up points away like we did early this season. It’s very important: it might be the difference between fifth place leading to the wild card game and the top of the table sending us directly into the playoffs.” [source]

Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth, on last week’s result: “It’s tough to move on from that, but we do our video and then our process is that we do move on. So I think from a coaching standpoint and from our staff and from our players, what we’ve all said is that we have to move on, we have to move on.” [source]

Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams, on playing center back: “I’m comfortable doing it. I’ve done it before and it’s not something that doesn’t come natural. Regardless of where you are on the back four, you should be ready to play all of the positions.”

Prediction

Based on the teams’ first meeting, form, the injury and suspension status of both teams, everything points in Montréal’s favor. Hackworth may have to significantly change things up to protect an already suspect defense from the East’s most prolific attack, potentially slowing the game down to make set pieces decisive. But the pick: Montréal, 3-2.

 

MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

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  • Teams tied for third in Western Conference
  • Portland’s 15-match unbeaten run snapped last week
  • Donovan out, Johnson unlikely to play

Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers appear to have taken their streak-snapping result in stride, their 1-0 defeat in Columbus putting an end to their 15-game unbeaten run. Though they were four games short of history, Portland had yet to become preoccupied with their streak, all of coach and players insisting the run wasn’t a point of conversation within the team.

That they played last Saturday’s game down a man for nearly 80 minutes made the loss that much easier to take.

“It’s not a bad thing to taste defeat,” Porter explained, “we haven’t in 15 games. We’ve had a great run of results, and now that it’s midseason, it’s not all that bad to get bloodied and taste defeat. This team will respond positively from defeat, like good teams do, and I’m looking forward to seeing their response [this] week.”

There is no better test than the defending champs, with the teams meeting Saturday night (11:00 p.m. Eastern) at JELD-WEN Field. Even with Landon Donovan away at the Gold Cup, LA serves as a type of de facto standard. They’re still the team you’d least want to see when they’re in big game mode, as FC Dallas found out on Sunday. If Bruce Arena asks his team to hit fifth gear, the Timbers will face their stiffest test of the season.

Last month, Porter got his first glimpse of the defending champs, Portland getting a 0-0 draw in Carson on June 19. Omar Gonzalez was still away with the U.S. national team, though it didn’t matter. The teams played to a relative stalemate, the Galaxy able to offset the Timbers’ possession game while creating the match’s best chances.

You’d think things would improve for Portland in the snug surroundings of JELD-WEN’s field, but without Will Johnson, the Timbers will be missing their best player. The Timbers captain was back in Portland on Friday, no longer with Canada at the Gold Cup, but he along with Frédéric Piquionne, back from duty with Martinique, look unlikely to play (Rodney Wallace remains with Costa Rica). That means another start for Ben Zemanski beside Diego Chará in midfield, the duo tasked with protecting a central defense that will be without the suspended Pa-Modou Kah.

It’s more opportunity than Robbie Keane, our mid-season MVP, needs to be effective. He and Gyasi Zardes could be more than Futty Danso and Andrew Jean Baptiste can handle, if Portland loses the midfield battle. And with Marcelo Sarvas (who missed the teams’ first meeting) and Robbie Rogers seemingly getting better as their summers progress, LA should be even more formidable through the middle than they were at StubHub Center.

If that midfield holds up and LA gets their second straight win in Portland, the Timbers will have their first major setback of the season – a result that will be a clear indicator of where Porter’s project sits in the Western Conference’s pecking order. A Timbers win, however, will provide validation for the streak they lost, giving them a valuable three points against the standard-bearers in Major League Soccer.

More: LA and Portland each have 30 points, four points behind Real Salt Lake for first in the Western Conference … The Timbers have played one fewer game … Of LA’s seven losses this season, six have come on the road.