[MLS] A full slate of eight Saturday games provides MLS fans with plenty of action, along with some subplots to keep an eye on.
TRI-TIPS. To facilitate a two-week break during the group phase of the World Cup in June, MLS is loading up the schedule with four games on Wednesday, the heaviest midweek slate of the season.
Six teams will play three games in the eight-day span of Saturday/Wednesday/May 8. Here’s a rundown on those itineraries:
New England – Dallas, Chivas USA, at Columbus*.
FC Dallas – at New England, at Houston, D.C. United.
D.C. United – New York, Kansas City, @ FC Dallas.
Los Angeles – Philadelphia, at Colorado, at Seattle*.
Chivas USA – at Chicago, at New England, Houston.
Houston – Kansas City, Dallas, at Chivas USA.
* Any team’s depth can be stretched by three games in eight days, especially since for the Revs and Galaxy that third game will be against a team that didn’t play in midweek, hence the asterisks.
Kansas City and Colorado drew the lucky straws; they play on Wednesday but not a week from Saturday.
None of these tasks can be described as leisurely, yet the Dynamo’s stretch is probably in the toughest, as it also has a game May 13 (Thursday), which just happens to be a nationally televised road contest at the defending champion, Real Salt Lake. With striker Brian Ching still hobbled, and midfielder Geoff Cameron out for the season with a PCL injury suffered last weekend, mere survival playing four games in 13 days can be deemed a success.
BERHALTER’S BACK. Stalwart defender Gregg Berhalter, who last season teamed with Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez to anchor one of the league’s best defenses, came back to the Galaxy lineup last weekend in a 0-0 tie with Kansas City after missing the first four games with a knee problem.
With that central pair back in place, Los Angeles posted its fourth shutout in five games, yet Donovan Ricketts had to bail out the back line with sharp saves on several occasions. The expansion Union has scored only two goals in two games since beating D.C. United, 3-2, with a Sebastian Le Toux hat trick on April 10, but any attack featuring the clever, mobile Roger Torres can cause problems. Road games against the Rapids and Sounders with just two days’ rest in between round out a very demanding week, especially for older players like Berhalter (36).
OPEN QUESTION. United got its first win of the season Wednesday by beating FC Dallas, 4-2, in the U.S. Open Cup. Some poor defending and shaky goalkeeping certainly assisted D.C. and the Open Cup is nothing like a league match, yet while a confident attack produced four goals United displayed a tenacity and commitment in all parts of the field that it had shown only sporadically in its four league losses.
The Red Bulls come to RFK holding first place in the Eastern Conference and very much attuned to the doctrine being taught by new Coach Hans Backe. The United injury list is still a long one, and the absence of Bryan Namoff and Dejan Jakovic on the back line is a concern even though blazing attacker Macounba Kandji is sidelined.
Not yet known is whether the paperwork for Luciano Emilio, whose return to D.C. on a three-month contract was announced earlier this week, can be completed in time for him to play. Perhaps his impending arrival also motivated the D.C. attackers just a bit against Dallas?
RSL GETTING REAL. The defending champion is 1-3-1 after playing four of its first five on the road; it kicks off a three-game homestand Saturday with a very winnable home game against Toronto FC, and hosts the Union a week later.
TFC posted its own midweek win on Wednesday, beating rival Montreal, 2-0, in the opening game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. But it lost defender Ty Harden to a lacerated knee, removing one option from a back line that has conceded 10 goals, second-worst in the league.
Julian de Guzman’s lively, sharp play in the last two games – TFC also beat Seattle, 2-0, last Sunday – can pose problems for RSL if he gets the ball with time and space to exploit, and opens up lanes for Dwayne De Rosario.
FLASHBACK. The last time San Jose and Colorado met, they played a home-and-home series in mid-September just five days apart. In both of them, last-minute penalty kicks – neither a stone-cold lock, and one fairly dubious -- enabled the Quakes to tie, 1-1, and strip four points away from the Rapids.
Had Colorado won those games, those four extra points would have been enough to qualify for the playoffs, and how different the world might be today. “Not getting the points hurt, of course, but we just didn’t seem to get a break,” said captain Pablo Mastroeni. “Sometimes you need a little luck. It’s a culmination of things. Not having access to a lot of first-team players definitely played an integral part during that last stretch run.”
The Rapids are second in the Western Conference at 3-1-1, and have already won at Chivas USA and New England as they head for a road rematch with the Quakes.