By Ridge Mahoney
WHAT TO WATCH IN WEEK 11: There are eight MLS games on Saturday, the first of which -- Toronto hosting Philadelphia -- kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET, a full 90 minutes before the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium in London between Manchester United and Barcelona.
CANADIAN CONUNDRUM. After the second leg of their Nutrilite Canadian Championship final, second leg was stopped Wednesday in the 62nd minute because of a lightning storm, both TFC and Vancouver are at home for league matches.
They were supposed to re-play the NCC game in full Thursday morning, but the surface at BMO Field was deemed unplayable. Instead, they will play July 2, with the Whitecaps’ 1-0 lead in the second leg wiped out and the aggregate re-set at the 1-1 scoreline recorded last week in the first leg at Empire Field.
They face the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. TFC (2-4-6) hosts second-place Philadelphia (5-3-2), and Vancouver (1-5-5, last in the Western Conference) is up against leader New York (4-2-5).
The Whitecaps haven’t won since drilling TFC, 4-2, in their MLS debut at Empire Field more than two months ago, and the Reds haven’t fared much better. Both very much want to claim the Canadian slot in the Concacaf Champions’ League that begins in late July, because their playoff hopes could be extinguished by then, so far are they off the pace.
HIGH TIMBER. Ajax beat Portland 2-0 in a friendly on Wednesday at Jeld-Wen Field but the Timbers can keep their perfect home league record (5-0-0) alive on Sunday against D.C. United.
Eric Brunner, Rodney Wallace, Jeremy Hall and Kenny Cooper were the only regulars to start against Ajax. Coach John Spencer brought in a few more starters for the second half but also subbed a few out to keep his squad fresh for the D.C. game.
Eddie Johnson, who replaced Cooper at halftime, rang a shot off the post in the 57th minute. Captain Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe, Jorge Perlaza, Troy Perkins and Diego Chara all sat out the match.
Ajax captured the Dutch League championship May 14, the final day of the season, by beating second-place Twente Enschede, 3-1. A few of their starters didn’t make the trip but still Ajax played some of the fabulous soccer Dutch teams have conjured up since the days of Johan Cruyff in the early 1970s.
“I thought their movement off the ball at times was exhilarating,” said Spencer. “I was sitting back in the dugout almost clapping at times. They move and force their own player on the ball to pass the ball, rather than wait for the ball to make their move. The anticipation was fantastic. Great, great players.”
By beating Columbus, 1-0, last Saturday, the Timbers began a stretch of schedule in which they will play six of nine league games at home.
QUIET SOUNDERS. Seattle’s straggling attack, fresh off a frustrating shutout at home that extended FC Dallas’ whitewash run to 489 minutes, faces an even tougher test Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake.
By conceding only two goals in its eight games to date, RSL is on a pace that could break its own fewest goals-allowed mark set last year of 20 goals in 30 games, even with the schedule expanded to 34 games. That’s a longshot, to be sure, but with Javier Morales sidelined and forwards Alvaro Saborio and Arturo Alvarez likely to be gone at least a few weeks because of Gold Cup duty, Coach Jason Kreis will likely further tighten his defense, even at home.
Second-year man Michael Fucito breached the FCD defense most often, but twice was denied by keeper Kevin Hartman and on another attempt was foiled by defender Ugo Ihemelu. Fredy Montero took the brunt of the blame from Coach Sigi Schmid, yet none of Hartman’s four saves were superlative. And on the best defensive play of the night, had not Sounders midfielder Erik Friberg ballooned his shot, Zach Loyd would never have been able to head it clear.
Nothing is wrong with Seattle’s attack that a few sharp finishes can’t fix. That might not be sufficient to beat RSL keeper Nick Rimando, who is again playing exceptionally well, but it’s a good habit to get into. Typical was a Mauro Rosales shot after Montero had found him unmarked inside the box; Rosales shot straight at Hartman. Can’t blame Montero for that.