By Ridge Mahoney
(Fox Soccer Channel & Fox en Espanol, Saturday, 7 pm ET , kickoff 7:30 pm ET)
A 3-0 roasting of FC Dallas last weekend and the signing of Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel has the Red Bulls (1-0-1) brimming with, uh, well cautious optimism as it hosts the defending champion. Claudio Reyna, who sat out the Dallas game with a hip contusion, is questionable, and with Markus Schopp out because of a sports hernia, the Houston (1-0-1) midfield - to which ex-San Jose stalwart Richard Mulrooney was added this week in a trade with Toronto FC - may hold the edge, though Dwayne DeRosario's contract issues have impaired his play. Dave van Den Berg and Dane Richards can test the Dynamo on the flanks and suppress the eagerness of the two Brians, Mullan and Davis, to get forward. The midfield battle may come down to whether Ricardo Clark's grace and speed can be contained by the grit and power of Dema Kovalenko and Seth Stammler. Clark and the Dynamo back line will also be wary of Clint Mathis, whose fine individual play has demonstrated the ease and effectiveness he's been able to connect with his new teammates.
(HdNet, Saturday, 8:30 pm ET/6:30 pm CT.)
Fresh off their 4-2 thrashing of D.C. at RFK, the Wizards (1-0-0) face another Eastern Conference test against the first-place Fire (1-0-1). Chicago forced Rapids keeper Bouna Condoulinto just two saves and scored one goal while playing 11 against 10 for 85 minutes, which shows forwards Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe aren't yet in sync with midfielder Justin Mapp. They need to make runs and look for diagonal balls and crosses when Mapp pushes forward on the dribble. Kansas City probably won't be gifted the turnovers and errors that D.C. so generously provided last weekend, yet their pressing, aggressive style is a marked change from the more controlling style played under former coach Bob Gansler. Eddie Johnson looks like a new man, Scott Sealy is out to prove his 10 goals last season wasn't a fluke, Sasha Victorine and Kerry Zavagnin are gamers, and Jimmy Conradisn't initialed J.C. for nothing, so Chicago needs a sharp effort to stay unbeaten, even though only once in its history has Kansas City won in the Windy City.
CHIVAS USA-REAL SALT LAKE
(Direct Kick, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 pm PT).
The dead ducks of their 2005 expansion seasons flapped their wings last year, yet both face a tough slog to reach the playoffs this season, so if a game on the third weekend can be dubbed crucial, this is it. RSL (0-0-2) beat Kansas City, 2-1, in the Open Cup during the week to give their confidence and sharpness a boost. The HDC surface is of sufficient width to provide Chris Klein, Medhi Ballouchyand Freddy Adu all the space they could want to stretch Chivas USA (1-1-0), which has conceded just one goal in its first two games. Andy Williams came off the bench to score the winning goal in overtime against KC and might be needed in that role again. For Chivas USA, Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo are finding the same wavelength and to date, Amado Guevara has yet to really impose his talents. Francisco Mendoza has been sporadic on the left flank but he can get past people, which may leave gaps for Sacha Kljestanto score from distance, as he did in the opener against Toronto FC.
(Telefutura, Sunday, 3 pm ET/1 pm CT)
Both teams have had a full week to stew over last Sunday. The Rapids (1-0-1) fought from the sixth minute a man down and took the lead on a great goal by Herculez Gomez, only to surrender to the Fire a late equalizer and a 1-1 tie. Dallas (1-1-1) was blasted by NYRB, 3-0, in an icy rainstorm in which defender David Wagenfuhr was removed from the game after being struck in the face with a shot and Clarence Goodson came down with hypothermia. Dallas has also had six months to seethe over being eliminated in the playoffs by the Rapids for the second straight season. FC Dallas's revamped midfield is still sorting things out, but there's talent and guile in the feet of Juan Carlos Toja and Ramon Nunez. FC Dallas coach Steve Morrow handing the captaincy to Carlos Ruiz has imbued the fiery striker with a disquieting focus. Ruiz and Kenny Cooper present a severe test for a Rapids back line that added Greg Vanney, formerly of Dallas, and Ugo Ihemelu, ex-Galaxy, during the offseason. There could be confusion in both back lines and that could mean goals.
(Homes team listed first)