A full slate of eight games is on tap for this weekend as recently acquired players get the feel of new teammates and a new league. Here are a few plot lines to follow ...
HOUSTON-NEW YORK. As if the floundering Houston Dynamo didn’t have enough to worry about, news comes from Red Bull head coach Hans Backe that Thierry Henry will definitely start on Saturday. The somewhat narrow confines of Robertson Stadium might suit Henry, who dazzled during his Arsenal days at Highbury, which wasn’t renowned for its width.
The oppressive heat and humidity, of course, will take some acclimating.
A goal by Brian Ching and a sharp effort by Brad Davis midweek in the All-Star Game should help Houston get its game back in gear. It is only 4-3-2 at home and with just 19 points, is 10th in the overall standings.
SAN JOSE-SEATTLE. A crucial Western Conference tussle takes place in San Jose, where the Quakes (tied in fourth place, 23 points) are just a point in front of the visiting Sounders (sixth, 22 points). It seems doubtful there will be enough playoff slots to accommodate both of these teams unless they can reel off a run of wins.
There could be some classic duels if rookie defender Ike Opara is matched up with massive 35-year-old striker Blaise Nkufo, and left-sided buzzsaws Steve Zakuani and Bobby Convey take turns chewing up opponents.
COLORADO-FC DALLAS. Two other teams closely bunched in the Western standings square off when FC Dallas (third place, 26 points) plays at Colorado (tied in fourth, 23 points). Both teams have conceded only 14 goals and the Rapids attack needs a boost; in their last two home games, they’ve netted only twice in 1-1 ties against Kansas City and New York.
The combined totals of Conor Casey (7 goals) and Omar Cummings (5 goals) account for two-thirds of Colorado’s 18 this season. The teams swung a trade Friday, with defender Anthony Wallace going to Colorado in exchange for the Rapids’ natural fourth-round pick in the 2011 SuperDraft pick and a conditional pick in 2012.
PHILADELPHIA-NEW ENGLAND. Can Philly really mount a playoff challenge? It has three games in eight days to establish its credentials: home matches Saturday and Wednesday against Eastern Conference rivals New England and Columbus, respectively, and a road game next Saturday against often-tied but only twice-beaten FC Dallas.
The Union back line has come together recently, so if a few teammates can take some pressure off top scorer Sebastien Le Toux (7 goals, 7 assists), Philly might catch some playoff fever.
LOS ANGELES-CHICAGO. Sunday's Galaxy-Fire matchup featuring the debut of the Fire's Nery Castillo at Home Depot Center could be a scorcher.
The Galaxy has conceded six goals in its last two games – a 2-2 tie with San Jose and a shocking 4-1 loss to Puerto Rico Islanders – so the Fire will need more than Castillo to create chances against a team in lockdown. There’s been some inconsistent defending this season by Los Angeles on the flanks, which is where Marco Pappa does his best work.
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution 3:30 PM
Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas 4:00 PM
Kansas City Wizards vs. Toronto FC 8:30 PM
Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls 8:30 PM
Real Salt Lake vs. D.C. United 9:00 PM
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders FC 10:00 PM
Chivas USA vs. Columbus Crew 10:30 PM
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire 7:30 p.m. FSC/FSE