[TV PREVIEW] An clash of two of the Eastern Conference leaders and a Texas showdown in the West highlight the ninth week of MLS play. A few teams have already lost players to international duty and many more will join the U.S. team on Monday, so this will be the last chance for coaches to field their strongest squads for quite a while.
TORONTO FC (2-5-1) vs. COLORADO (4-2-3)
(Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, Direct Kick)
The BMO Field crowds have proven to be a most rambunctious 12th man, but the onset of the Gold Cup and other international commitments - this is a FIFA international week and players must be released, even for friendlies -- has left Coach Mo Johnston scrambling to field 11.
Four of his players, including keeper Greg Sutton and three of his defenders, have joined the Canadian team for a match against Venezuela, and midfielder Carl Robinson is with Wales.
But Johnston will have Jeff Cunningham, who started last week against Columbus and picked up an assist in the 2-2 tie despite not having trained with the team after arriving in a trade from Real Salt Lake. Captain Jim Brennan has elected not to play in the Gold Cup to stay with TFC, defender Andrew Boyens has returned after playing for New Zealand against Wales, and rookie midfielder Maurice Edu will have a lot of ground to cover.
Panamanian forward Roberto Brown was not selected for the Gold Cup, and MLS players such as Pablo Mastroeni don't report to the U.S. camp until Monday, so the only likely Colorado absence is defender Greg Vanney, who is questionable with a sprained ankle. The Rapids flubbed a lot of chances last weekend against a 10-man Galaxy before netting the winner, and if they start fast against undermanned TFC they can minimize the effect of the noisiest fans in MLS.
NEW ENGLAND (5-2-2) vs REAL SALT LAKE (0-3-5)
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick, HDNet)
Monumental mismatch here, and just the kind of game the Revs, with three players bound for the U.S. camp, might be distracted enough to struggle with, especially after being lit up by Kansas City last week in a 4-3 home defeat.
RSL stunned New England, 3-1, at Gillette last year, with now-coach Jason Kreis getting one of the goals, and played a tough defensive game last week in Chicago to grind out a 0-0 tie. Chris Klein can stretch any team with his power and workrate, but there needs to be cohesion between he and Freddy Adu, Mehdi Ballouchy, and Alecko Eskandarian to push up and through New England's three-man back line. Atiba Harris has been quiet this season and with Cunningham gone, Kreis is searching for alternatives.
Getting thumped at home last week will no doubt sharpen the Revs' focus. Home matches against weak teams are not to be fiddled with.
KANSAS CITY (5-2-1) vs. RED BULL NEW YORK (5-1-2)
(Saturday, 8 pm ET, Direct Kick)
A week after stamping themselves as bonafide by belting the Revs on the road, the Wizards take on the league's best defensive team. NYRB comes into the game with shutouts in the last two games and six on the season. The game also matches up KC coach Curt Onalfo with his former college coach, Bruce Arena, who employed Onalfo as an assistant with the U.S. team.
Defenders Nick Garcia and Jose Burciaga are doubtful, and Jimmy Conrad is questionable, so Kansas City's own defense is a bit suspect. Tougher flank defending will be needed as well, since that's where many Red Bull attacks originate from speedster Dane Richards and savvy Dave van den Bergh. And nobody yet has found out how to contain Juan Pablo Angel and Clint Mathis for 90 minutes.
Eddie Johnson is in sharp form and so is Davy Arnaud. Johnson scored three and Arnaud netted a goal and an assist against New England. Carlos Marinelli has come into the last two games as a substitute; if he starts, he'll have a few opportunities find the seams in a tightly woven RBNY defense.
LOS ANGELES (1-3-2) vs. D.C. UNITED (3-3-1)
(Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol)
Galaxy coach Frank Yallop has to replace defender Ante Jazic and midfielder Kevin Harmse, who are with the Canadian team, and injured Chris Albright. Kyle Martino is suspended. Yallop is still without probable starters Troy Roberts and Alan Gordon, so he has few weapons.
He does have Landon Donovan to score and set up goals and keeper Joe Cannon to stop them, but the Galaxy has looked disjointed most of the time this season and are facing a team that can not only knock the ball around but in recent weeks has remembered it has to occasionally knock people down as well.
D.C. has straightened out a rocky start to the season by winning three in a row. It all worked last week in a 2-1 win over Houston: Christian Gomez scored with a great free kick and set up Ben Olsen for a second goal, Troy Perkins saved a penalty kick. Jaime Moreno will return after missing the Houston game to play for Bolivia.
HOUSTON (2-5-1) vs. FC DALLAS (5-4-1)
(Sunday, 5 pm ET, TeleFutura)
till no Paul Dalglish, out with a sprained ankle, and midfielder Dwayne DeRosario is with Canada, so if something is to spark Houston's anemic attack, it may have to be midfielders Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, and Brian Mullan.
All have played reasonably well this year and they may have to take on some of the shooting load with Brian Ching laboring through the worst slump of his MLS career. Ching will break out it sooner or later, but it might be with the U.S. team, which he joins Monday, so the Houston midfielders will be called upon. They're facing a tough FCD quartet of Juan Toja, Pablo Richetti, Ramon Nunez and Dax McCarty, who can control games, even on the road.
Dallas is missing Carlos Ruiz and left back Chris Gbandi to international duty. Dave Wagenfuhr will likely take Gbandi's place in the back and both Abe Thompson and Dominic Oduro can stretch the Dynamo back line with their pace
CHICAGO (3-4-1) vs. COLUMBUS (1-2-5)
(Sunday, 7 pm ET, Direct Kick)
Having failed to win its-must win home game last week against Real Salt Lake, the Fire tries again.
Top scorer Chris Rolfe (four goals, three assists) is expected back after missing three straight games. Chicago has been blanked in its last two and will be missing Thiago. Chad Barrett nearly won the RSL match in stoppage time but was stopped by Nick Rimando. The Crew defense was lauded early in the season but has given up six goals in the last two games.
Andy Herron came back from suspension and scored both Crew goals in a 2-2 tie with Toronto yet still the Crew has scored only six goals in eight games. Watching Guillermo Barros Schelotto take on Chris Armas, et al, will be an interesting subplot to this one.