Week 21 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and thankfully — mercifully — the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup is almost over, which means the teams that had the audacity to go out and sign good players from the region will once again be able to use those players in league games. This weekend’s action is highlighted by rematches of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 MLS Cup finals, as well as my pick for this year’s Eastern Conference final.
So, if you’re to watch just four MLS games this weekend — who am I to tell you to watch only four games? — might I suggest the following four:
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City (Friday, 11 pm ET, UniMas)
[Insert requisite “these teams really hate each other” diatribe here] But really, they do hate each other. Every time they play each other, something memorable occurs. Last time, it was this. A couple years ago, it was an epic 10-round penalty kick shootout in the MLS Cup final. In preseason 2011, it was an all-out brawl between the two sides.
No team in MLS has a higher points-per-game total than Sporting KC (1.83), while RSL broke a four-game winless streak with their most convincing win of the season (2-0 over the Houston Dynamo) last weekend. Three points could vault Sporting as high as first in the Western Conference; three points could vault RSL to within three points of the sixth and final playoff place in the West.
Prediction: RSL 1-2 Sporting KC
Columbus Crew SC vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, MLS Live)
Crew SC finally got their first road win of the season, and while it took them until mid-July to do so, they remain devastatingly dominant at home, from where 23 of their 30 points have come (a +11 goal differential in 11 games at MAPFRE Stadium). Meanwhile, no team in the Eastern Conference is better away from home than TFC (14 points from 11 road games).
The leaders in goals scored (Kei Kamara – 14) and assists (Ethan Finlay – 11) take on the leader in goals scored and assists combine (Sebastian Giovinco – 21). With both sides’ defenses still a work in progress as the season wears on, expect goals galore in a wide open, end to end game that leaves you saying, “Don’t blow the whistle, referee.”
Prediction: Crew SC 3-2 TFC
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 9 pm ET, MLS Live)
1st in the West, versus 6th in the West — meaning if the playoffs started tomorrow, these two teams could meet in the conference semifinals. FC Dallas have won four in a row (most since 1999), in a part of the season in which they usually wither and fall away after a strong start, while the Timbers have won six of their last nine — most of any team in the league during that span.
When these teams last met, back in April, Portland won 3-1. They were also without Diego Valeri and Will Johnson at that point. FCD were without Mauro Diaz, the league’s most influential midfield maestro, though. FCD have lost at home just once this season (4-0 to Colorado Rapids in April).
Prediction: FCD 1-0 Timbers
Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy (Saturday, 9 pm ET, MLS Live)
Steven Gerrard looked pretty good on his MLS debut last weekend, didn’t he? Yes, he did, but the inevitable bedding-in period still awaits Mr. Liverpool (though, it probably really only begins once Giovani dos Santos arrives next month), who plays his first game away from the friendly confines of the StubHub Center Saturday night.
The Galaxy have won four of their last five games by a combined score of 19-3 (19-3!!!), while the Dynamo have won just once in their last five games. Everything about this one screams, “Galaxy blow them away,” but we must remember the No. 1 rule of MLS — the second you think you know something about MLS is the moment you find out you know nothing.
Prediction: Dynamo 1-1 Galaxy