[MLS] After the USA plays its final World Cup tune-up match early Saturday, MLS offers up its last weekend slate of games prior to a two-week break. (There are two games next Wednesday and two more on Thursday.) All 16 teams are in action, and for several, the need for points is about as serious as it can be with two-thirds of the season still to play.
Amid speculation as to what the U.S. result against Australia means for the grand opener next Saturday against England, here are some vital issues in play regarding the MLS games.
YES, HOUSTON HAS A PROBLEM. Since it won its first title as San Jose in 2001, the Quakes/Dynamo franchise has consistently ranked among the league’s top teams. Another title in 2003, and two more crowns in its first two seasons (2006, 2007) in Houston gives it a record in the last decade no team can come close to matching.
Yet already this season the Dynamo has lost six of 12 games, and in losing to New York, 2-1, Wednesday only by the heroics of keeper Pat Onstad did Houston enter stoppage time tied, 1-1. Juan Pablo Angel’s 30-yard winner from a free kick at Red Bull Arena snatched away a point Houston didn’t really deserve.
A midfield often overrun and a leaky back line doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s match against Los Angeles at Home Depot Center, and there’s also a tough test at Real Salt Lake next Wednesday looming on the schedule. It does get the Galaxy without Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, but Galaxy Light – if there is such a thing – is still atop the overall standings at 9-0-2.
In several seasons, Houston ranked among the league leaders in ties. In 2010, it is instead losing those close encounters.
KEEPER CONUNDRUM. New York (second in the East) and Chivas USA (at the bottom of the West) play at Red Bull Arena in a rematch of a 2-0 win at Home Depot Center during which NYRB goalie Bouna Coundoul batted a slowly rolling rebound over his own goal line. That’s not what he means by “Bouna Time,” and he gets a chance for redemption this weekend.
Starter Zach Thornton is suspended, so Chivas USA goes with Dan Kennedy, whose reputation as one of league’s better backups is tainted by this season’s goals-allowed average of 2.53. He’s also been bothered by a sprained hip. Still, at least Chivas USA won’t have to rely on defender Dario Delgado, who stepped into the nets last week against D.C. United when Thornton received his red card for fouling Santinto Quaranta in the penalty area.
Chiavs USA has already conceded 17 goals, which ties it with Philadelphia and New England for the second-worst mark in MLS.
WHERE’S MO? Two teams coming off impressive wins and riding a good run of results are presented viable opportunities to maintain the momentum.
Toronto FC thumped San Jose, 3-1, last weekend on the road, and takes a four-game league unbeaten streak to BMO Field against Kansas City, which is winless in its last seven. Defending champion Real Salt Lake, which drilled the Wizards, 4-1, to run its unbeaten streak to five games, gets a rematch at RFK with D.C. United after losing, 2-1, Wednesday to an Andy Najar overtime goal in a U.S. Open Cup game.
For both TFC and RSL, their marquee players are leading the charge. Dwayne De Rosario came on at halftime to score the second and third goals against San Jose; RSL’s run has been sparked by Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio, named as MLS Player of the Month for May. He scored four goals and registered three assists in those last five league games.
WILL HE OR WON’T HE? This question isn’t aimed at Coach Schellas Hyndman about whether he will field new Colombian striker Milton Rodriguez, who trained with the team for the first time Thursday, when FC Dallas hosts San Jose Saturday at Pizza Hut Park.
Rodriguez, 34, won’t be eligible until the U.S. transfer window opens in mid-July, and thus will have to wait more than a month to play with former Deportivo Cali teammate Jair Benitez. Instead, Hyndman is evaluating the fitness of midfield linchpin Dax McCarty, who has been hobbled by a painful hip pointer and is listed as questionable.
The Quakes rebounded from their loss to TFC by twice rallying from one-goal deficits to tie the Crew, 2-2, thanks in part to strong midfield play from center mid Andre Luiz, who set up the first goal for Alvaro Alvarez, and Bobby Convey. San Jose certainly benefits from the rather narrow field at Buck Shaw Stadium, yet has also flourished on the road, winning at Seattle and Chicago, and might find a lot of room if McCarty can’t get on the field.
ELSEWHERE. Coach Peter Nowak takes the Union to Chicago, which he led to the double of league and Open Cup titles in his first MLS season (1998) as a player … The struggling Sounders try to get their first points off the Revs, which swept Seattle last year, in a possible matchup of the Nyassi brothers Sainey and Sanny … Columbus stops off on its return trip home from the West Coast to play Colorado, which may take advantage of its foes’ tired legs after a draining game at San Jose.