[MLS SPOTLIGHT] A schedule lightened by a fierce hurricane expected to hit the East Coast this weekend still includes several games important to the playoff
chase, with these storylines of interest ...
THE FURY OF IRENE. MLS has postponed three games to minimize the expected impact of Hurricane Irene, which is bearing down on the East Coast.
The D.C. United United-Timbers game was first re-scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday but then postponed to a date TBA.
The Galaxy, which beat Alajuelense, 2-0, at Home Depot Center in the Concacaf Champions League Thursday, will not have to schlep cross-country to play the Red Bulls Sunday as originally scheduled. Instead, the game will not be played until Oct. 4, a Tuesday, at 8 p.m. ET, and will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
Philadelphia and New England were supposed to play Sunday at the same time (7 p.m. ET) as the Red Bulls-Galaxy game but will play a week from Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 8 p.m. As originally announced, the match will be televised live on Galavision.
SINGLE POINT OF SEPARATION. Portland (9-12-5, 32 pts.) heads to RFK with one more point than D.C. United (7-7-10, 31 pts.) but several disadvantages.
The single-point separation ratchets up the importance of this match, but of the two teams, Portland is in the more dire situation. It has played two more games than United and has just three more at Jeld-Wen Field, where it beat Chivas USA, 1-0, Wednesday night to improve its home record to 8-4-2. It must also cross three time zones to play on two days’ rest; United last played Sunday in Kansas City, where it lost, 1-0.
Portland coach John Spencer has incorporated a lot of speed into his attack while also juggling centerbacks due to injuries, suspensions, and callups. The central pairing of David Horst and Eric Brunner, who headed the Timbers’ goal from a Mike Chabala corner kick, was the 10th time this season he’s changed his central duo from one game to the next.
Speaking of speed, Charlie Davies was held out of the Kansas City game after struggling during a 60-minute performance at Chicago during a 1-1 tie in United’s previous match. If refreshed, Davies can exploit the fatigued Timbers. He was again passed over by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who named 11 MLS players to his squad for friendies against Costa Rica and Belgium early next month.
FCD FATIGUE. It has won its last three CCL games, following a 1-0 victory in Toronto Thursday that required it to play three halves, but FC Dallas hasn’t won in its last three league matches and has dropped from second to third, behind Seattle, in the Western Conference.
Coach Schellas Hyndman and his staff may not know until Friday evening which of the players who traveled to Kansas City will be able to take the field Saturday, and he also has to field a team next Tuesday in Seattle for a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. (Seattle leapfrogged FCD into second place by posting a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park last Saturday.)
FC Dallas doesn’t have a league game scheduled for Labor Day weekend but plays a friendly Sept. 3 against Mexican club UANL (Tigres). It won’t have midfielder Brek Shea and defender Heath Pearce, who were named by Klinsmann to the USA squad.
The long-term injury suffered by attacking catalyst David Ferreira prompted Hyndman to incorporate more speed, along with the squad’s inherent skill, to his lineups, but keeping his players relatively fresh and lively won’t be a simple task. Starting Sept. 10 in New England, FCD plays seven league and CCL matches in 22 days, and after an 11-day break, finishes with its last four matches in 11 days.
HOW REAL ARE RSL’S TROUBLES? He didn’t name names when he declared some RSL players hadn’t come through, and neither will we, but Coach Jason Kreis is missing more than playmaker Javier Morales and the reliable scorer that Alvaro Saborio was last year. What once was the league’s best midfield has fallen significantly.
In a 3-2 loss to Houston, Alex Dixon’s spectacular winner with seconds left in stoppage time dominated the highlights, but an inability to dictate tempo and hold the ball for much of the game gave RSL the look of a much inferior team. Missing Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy, RSL’s poor spacing, timing and positioning in midfield often impaired its play. It squandered a pair of one-goal leads before Dixon's stunning strike in the 93rd minute.
Frenchman Laurent Courtois gives the Chivas USA midfield another savvy, skillful player; he and Nick LaBrocca will require careful monitoring by captain Kyle Beckerman and the rest of the RSL midfield. The best way to stop the other team’s midfield is to keep the ball away from it, but that’s something RSL has not done consistently the past few months.
Those games in hand – it has played a league-fewest 23 games -- won’t mean much if RSL doesn’t start winning some of them.