MLS preview: Whitecaps vs. Galaxy, Timbers vs. FC Dallas headline Week 5 as int’l stars return

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Congratulations to any and all Major League Soccer teams daring and innovative enough to sign good soccer players with an international career still in progress. Because FIFA’s international window has concluded, you’ll be allowed to use all your best players for Week 5 of the 2015 season.

That is, of course, assuming you’re not one of the four teams with a bye week this week, while all 20 teams played during the international window last week. (Four teams had bye weeks during Week 3, but who’s even keeping track at this point?)

Predictions record through Week 4: 11-10

If you’re to watch just five games this weekend — not that you’re limited to five, of course — might I recommend the following five:

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MLS Live)

No one creates more chances than the Whitecaps (54 shots, T-1), the only problem is, they’ve got a bit of a finishing problem (five goals). For the Galaxy, it’s a long road until Steven Gerrard arrives in July and Bruce Arena can finally insert the big piece of the puzzle that’s been missing.

Until Gerrard arrives, the Galaxy’s safest bet to stockpile points is a pragmatic approach that frustrates opponents who thrive in the open field — the Whitecaps. Juninho is likely to receive some deep-midfield help from Mika Vayrynen, otherwise best of luck slowing down the Pedro Morales-to-Octavio Rivero connection.

Prediction: Whitecaps 1-0 Galaxy

Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

Draws — it’s what the Timbers do (13 in 2014, already three in four games in 2015), so don’t be at all surprised when they start this game the aggressor, take a one- or two-goal lead, only to give it away on frustratingly preventable goals inside the final 20 minutes.

FCD should drop Tesho Akindele to the bench with the return of Blas Perez and look to crowd out the injury-depleted Timbers midfield, putting a stranglehold on possession and pinning the Timbers adventurous full backs inside their own half. Only a man-of-the-match performance from Darlington Nagbe can upset the FCD applecart.

Prediction: Timbers 2-2 FCD

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San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 5 pm ET, ESPN2)

The Earthquakes are my where’d they come from? team for the 2015 season. Dominic Kinnear already has his new, old side more organized and picking up surprising results. RSL are a team in serious transition — 4-4-2 diamond, to 4-3-3 — and they’re struggling at the moment, despite backing into a 2-1 victory over a star-depleted TFC last week.

Chris Wondolowski, Innocent Emeghara and Matias Perez Garcia are going to be an absolute nightmare for Kyle Beckerman — a stranded-on-an-island Beckerman — to singlehandedly track and confront. This is your “surprise”-not-so-surprise upset lock of the weekend.

Prediction: ‘Quakes 2-0 RSL

Orlando City SC vs. D.C. United (Friday, 7 pm ET, UniMas)

By the end of the season — or perhaps just three weeks from now when Fabian Espindola returns from suspension — United will be a vastly improved team capable of frustrating and shutting down any attack in the league. So it’s probably fair to say that now is the time to play them if you’re a pesky expansion side that’s managed to put together three solid performances in a row.

The attention Kaka will receive from Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen is likely to be suffocating, so it’ll be up to someone else to be the difference maker for Orlando City.

Prediction: Orlando City 1-1 D.C. United

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 3 pm ET, MLS Live)

Chicago finally looked like a professional soccer team last week, grabbing a 1-0 victory over a hapless Union side. This week, they’ll have a fairly greater challenge in the midfield, with Michael Bradley returning for TFC, oh, and Sebastian Giovinco pulling the strings behind Jozy Altidore.

The partnership between center backs Jeff Larentowicz and newcomer Adailton is still a work in progress, and the long and short service of Bradley and Giovinco, respectively, will test the defensive duo every time the touch the ball.

Prediction: Fire 0-2 TFC

As always, we’ll have full coverage of all the MLS action, all weekend long, here on PST.