[MLS WHAT TO WATCH: WEEK 10] The eight games are headlined by Western Conference battles FC Dallas-Real Salt Lake and the Chivas USA-Galaxy derby. Those clashes are just some of what we're keeping a close eye on this weekend ...
After tying Toronto, FC, 1-1 in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championships Wednesday, Vancouver takes the weekend off, as does D.C. United. One of the main elements, unfortunately for the FCD-RSL showdown, is how those teams cope without attacking catalysts David Ferreira and Javier Morales, respectively.
MUST-SEE AT HDC. This game – following the Northwest Rivalry Revival last weekend and the Canadian face-off Wednesday – comes at just the right time, as both the Galaxy and Chivas USA are in excellent form, and are coming off huge wins. It will be televised nationally (ESPN2/Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) Saturday.
Justin Braun rang up a hat trick last Sunday as Chivas USA knocked off the smug and perhaps fatigued Red Bulls, 3-2, at Red Bull Arena;
Landon Donovan & Co. ran wild to blast Sporting Kansas City, 4-1 at HDC last Saturday. Each team has lost only one of its last five games, and in the case of Chivas USA, that was a 1-0 defeat in Salt Lake City on a goal in the 87th minute of a second half they played with nine men.
As the home team and riding the momentum of a big win, Chivas USA has probably its best chance to beat the Galaxy for the first time since 2007. In LA’s two wins (2-0, 2-1) last year, Edson Buddle scored three of its four goals; he left during the offseason for Germany, so instead of having to worry about him, Chivas USA gets his replacement, Juan Pablo Angel, who scored his first goal of the season against SKC and is hungry for more. Donovan, scorer of the first two goals, had scored seven straight for the Galaxy before Angel and David Beckham rounded off the rout.
On paper, the Galaxy still rules this rivalry. But Chivas USA will come with a good game plan and all the emotion its players can muster, and in the middle of the field it has veteran Simon Elliott, a former Galaxy teammate of Chivas head coach Robin Fraser, playing about a decade younger than his 36 years.
TFC TURNAROUND? Nobody is mistaking Toronto (2-4-5) as a bonafide playoff contender yet; it has amassed just 11 points in 11 games, seven of which it has played at home. Yet played a solid road game in Vancouver and came away with a 1-1 tie complete with an away goal it takes into the second leg at BMO Field Wednesday; the question is, can it use that result as momentum in league play?
The only break TFC gets in the schedule is it plays Sunday, not Saturday, but on its way back east it stops off to play Colorado (4-3-3). The defending champion has been struggling offensively as forwards Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan, and midfielder Jamie Smith deal with injuries.
TFC coach Aron Winter is also faced with significant player losses for the Gold Cup stripping down his roster in a couple of weeks. He needs points but in searching for opportunities to claim them, this game isn’t at the top of the list.
Scheduling is a factor for the Rapids as well; on just two days’ rest, they play New York in Red Bull Arena Wednesday. They are likely to pressure TFC early and hard, so it looks like keeper Stefan Frei – who rescued his team a few times in Vancouver yet nearly conceded a bad goal in stoppage time when he charged off his line late to deal with a high bouncer in the box – is again the key for TFC.
DYNAMO DECLARATION. Another team anxious to bolster its reputation by knocking off a big name is Houston, which hosts New York in their first meeting as Eastern Conference rivals Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick).
The conference lead is at stake: Third-place Houston (3-3-4) trails leader New York (4-2-3), and can take over the top spot if it wins and second-place Columbus (at Portland) does not. This is also a rematch of a 1-1 tie played at Red Bull Arena April 2 in which former Dynamo Dwayne De Rosario debuted for NYRB by assisting on a goal by Dane Richards.
It was also the starting debut at left back for Corey Ashe, an attacking-minded flank midfielder for most of his MLS career. The pace and strength he showed the past few seasons as a left mid prompted Coach Dominic Kinnear to consult with assistant coaches Wade Barrett (a left back in his playing days) and Steve Ralston.
“He has pace and Richards has pace and even though Richards scored a goal, overall I thought Corey had a good game and looked comfortable out there on the ball as well as defending,” said Kinnear. “We thought it worked out pretty good so we kept on trying it, and there he is.”
Containing the Red Bull midfield will be a tough task for the Dynamo; holding mid Lovel Palmer will need plenty of help running down Joel Lindpere, De Rosario and Richards. Thierry Henry has been ouchy this week in practice but is expected to play off the bench if he doesn’t start.
Cam Weaver scored the Dynamo’s goal against New York after replacing Brian Ching, who will sit this game out with plantar fascitis in his left foot. Weaver and rookie Will Bruin, if they start up front, will be tasked with an important defensive duty; putting pressure on centerbacks Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez, whose accurate passing out of the back singed Chivas USA several times, including the first goal rifled home by Henry.