[MLS] A showdown of conference leaders highlights a seven-game Saturday slate, as a few teams get back their players that didn't make the U.S. World Cup roster and they get a chance to take out their disappointment in league play. Here's what to watch for this weekend ...
LEADERS OF THE PACK. The Crew is at home, this game falls near the 11th anniversary of the first MLS game at Columbus Crew Stadium, and the rate of exchange coming out of the U.S. training camp definitely favors the home team, with Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall on hand, and Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle - a former member of the Crew -- with the U.S. team in Philadelphia.
When Rogers races up the flank, perhaps only the speedy Sean Franklin can contain him, and those runs can carve open space for Guillermo Barros Schelotto. How smoothly and quickly the Galaxy switches assignments as Schelotto floats and darts may determine how many chances they concede; how sharply the Galaxy gets into its counterattacks is another key factor.
They may not square off often except on set plays, but watching Marshall - if healthy - roil the same goalmouth as Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez will be a true battle of the big men. The Crew will have every edge as it attempts to break LA's unbeaten start to the season; with eight goals conceded by the teams in their 18 matches, a single goal might do the trick.
CHING'S CHALLENGE. Upon returning to Houston after getting the bad news from U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, Brian Ching was given the option of not training, but decided instead to get back into it to prepare for the Dynamo's home game Saturday against Philadelphia.
"The guys didn't know how to approach me at first, but once we got that out of the way, it was business as usual," Ching said to mlssoccer.com. "Being around the guys today really helped lift my spirits."
That's not good news for the Union, which is still looking for the second win of its inaugural season and have to hope Alejandro Moreno can cause some problems against the team with which he won an MLS Cup in 2006. The ground may shake underfoot when Union defender Danny Califf squares off with Ching.
HOME STRAGGLERS. New England and D.C. United have won a combined three of their 19 games, and though the Eastern Conference standings are more spread out than those in the West, both teams desperately need points in their home matches this weekend.
United showed some zip and purpose Wednesday in beating AC Milan, 3-2, but it has already demonstrated this season that midweek form may be irrelevant on the weekend; a month ago, it snappily beat FC Dallas, 4-2, in the U.S. Open Cup, and three days later succumbed at home to New York, 2-0. United does meet a struggling opponent in Chivas USA, but its 3-6-1 record is still superior to that of D.C. (1-8-0).
The Revs were surprised and strengthened last weekend by the return of Shalrie Joseph after he attended the league's substance-abuse recovery program, but still they lost, 1-0, in Toronto. They have not won in their last four home games and on May 12 were thumped by New York, 3-0, in the U.S. Open Cup. Yet the Red Bulls have lost their last three league games while scoring just one goal, and won't have midfielder Carl Robinson, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. His absence may give Joseph the midfield foothold to dictate play.
WHO'S GOT THE MIDDLE? Speaking of the midfield, the battleground where most games are won or lost, etc.,etc., Real Salt Lake hosts Kansas City as both teams ponder how to fill yawning absences. A foot sprain suffered last weekend may keep Kyle Beckerman on the sideline, and a strained knee is still plaguing Stephane Auvray.
Rookie Jean Alexandre came into the game after Beckerman hobbled off as RSL struck late through Fabian Espindola to down Chivas USA, 2-1. Alexandre and Ned Grabavoy are among the candidates to replace Beckerman; the Wizards must shore up the middle without Auvray and will again be without left back Roger Espinoza, a member of the Honduran World Cup team, as they attempt to break a six-game winless streak.