Wizards-Revs clash highlights MLS Week 8 action

[TV PREVIEW]. One game this weekend features a clash between to teams with winning records: New England vs. Kansas City. Columbus hopes to recover from a rout when it hosts Toronto, which now has high-scoring Jeff Cunningham. Slow-starting D.C. United and Houston, preseason favorites to MLS Cup, meet in D.C., each with losing records so far. Los Angeles, still in its pre-Beckham phase of the season, looks for its second win in Colorado. Chivas USA hosts FC Dallas. Winless Real Salt Lake meets a Chicago team that has lost four straight. Ridge Mahoney previews all of this weekend's MLS action:

NEW ENGLAND (5-1-2) vs. KANSAS CITY (4-2-1)
(Saturday, 6:30 pm ET, Direct Kick)

Missing this clash of heavyweights is Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad, who recovered from a fractured jaw sufficiently to start last weekend, only to be replaced at halftime because of a strained hamstring.

Rookie Aaron Hohlbein, who was highly enough regarded by coach Curt Onalfo to get a spot on the 18-man roster, will probably fill in. But on set plays in both penalty areas, and leadership everywhere on the field, Conrad's absence leaves a huge void.

Also out is Scott Sealy (sprained ankle), so much of the attacking burden falls on Eddie Johnson (three goals, all game-winners) and Davy Arnaud, who sooner or later will beef up his stats of one goal and two assists, perhaps by finding Sasha Victorine or Michael Harrington out of midfield if Johnson is tied up.

Unbeaten in their last seven games, the Revs aren't dominating opponents as much as victimizing them with big plays at critical moments. Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston lead MLS in goals and assists, respectively, with six in each department. Rookie Adam Cristman has a goal and three assists. The backline's job has been aided by early goals; the Revs have scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of play, and four more in the first quarter hour of the second half.

COLUMBUS (1-2-4) vs. TORONTO (2-5-0)
(Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick)

Crew coach Sigi Schmid believes that his team didn't play all that badly while being thrashed 4-0 in the Meadowlands last weekend and he's right, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, though, Columbus can't afford the mistakes that gave away two of those four goals, especially since TFC won't be plagued by fatigue as it was in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United.

Columbus is still more Frankie Hejduk than Guillermo Barros Schelotto and until Schmid can mesh workrate with wisdom it will scrape for goals. The search for attacking punch in the absence of suspended Andy Herron continues, with Brad Evans, Eddie Gaven, Kei Kamara, Ricardo Virtuoso and recently acquired Alejandro
Moreno yet to make a strong case.

In banger Danny Dichio, powerhouse Jeff Cunningham, and winger Ronnie O'Brien, TFC has the weapons to open up the Crew defense. The Crew's chances may hinge on how well Americans Ned Grabavoy and Danny O'Rourke fare against Welshman Carl Robinson and Englishman Andy Welsh in midfield.

D.C. UNITED (2-3-1) vs. HOUSTON (2-4-1)
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, HDNet)

With RFK slated to host MLS Cup 2007, this had been forecast as a possible preview of the championship game. It finds both teams struggling and looking at a long season of international competition - SuperLiga for both, Copa Sudamericana for D.C. -- as well as domestic duties, not to mention national team callups.

Jaime Moreno has been summoned by Bolivia for a friendly against Ireland, so Guy Roland-Kpene might get his second MLS start. He came on as a sub in the win over Toronto after starting the previous week in a 1-1 tie against New England. He's lively and aggressive, two elements the D.C.attack has lacked at times.

Aside from a vintage, two-goal performance against Colorado in a 3-1 win, Dwayne DeRosario hasn't delivered this season. Brian Mullan is also below his best. Opponents are smothering Brian Ching, who is nevertheless getting a few chances a game but just isn't hitting the net, especially on headers. His decision-making -- when to lay the ball off or turn and go for goal -- has been subpar.

COLORADO (3-2-3) vs. LOS ANGELES (1-2-2)
(Saturday, 8:30 pm ET, Direct Kick)

The Rapids beat Real Salt Lake, 2-1, in the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday to break a four-game home winless streak, and the injury absence of Galaxy right back Chris Albright gives them an obvious point of attack on their wide field.

Colorado may also be able to take advantage of rookie defender Ty Harden, who isn't playing badly yet is paying his dues at the pro level. Kyle Veris played well in a friendly against Rangers Wednesday and is another option for Coach Frank Yallop, who does have U.S. U-20 Nathan Sturgis as a replacement at right back for Albright.

Yallop, though, needs some consistency in midfield and up front. He's working his personnel. Kyle Martino has been up-and-down. Rookie Robbie Findlay can overpower and outrun his foes. Kevin Harmse has pro experience yet is a rookie in MLS, and Santino Quaranta played his most MLS minutes this year Wednesday against Rangers.

Nico Hernandez got his first goal of the season last week as the Rapids tied the Red Bulls, 1-1. He and Roberto Brown (three goals) are still figuring each other out but this is a potent duo going up against a back line with questions, so Joe Cannon will probably be busy.

CHIVAS USA (2-3-2) vs. FC DALLAS (5-3-1)
(Saturday, 10:30 ET Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol)

Having failed to topple the Galaxy "at home" last week, Chivas USA takes on a much tougher test despite having beaten (3-0) and tied (1-1) Dallas in their home meetings last year.

Juan Pablo Garcia, who left MLS during the offseason, set up the three goals in the first game and scored in the second. Chivas USA needs sharp runs and crisp interplay between forwards Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo. Again, as always, a strong game on the left flank from Francisco Mendoza is essential and the more times he can go at Drew Moor or another defender one-v-one, the better.

Carlos Ruiz is suspended but FC Dallas has proved already this season it can do without him. Forwards Dominic Oduro and Abe Thompson are both capable of finding seams in support of Kenny Cooper, and Juan Toja and Pablo Richetti form a skillful yet solid core in midfield.

CHICAGO (3-4-1) vs. REAL SALT LAKE (0-3-4)
(Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, TeleFutura)

Maybe going back to weekend action can solve the Fire's woes. Getting thumped by New England, 3-1, and New York, 3-0, the past two Thursdays has run its losing streak to four games.

Midfielder Diego Gutierrez (knee contusion) and forward Chris Rolfe (ankle sprain) missed the Red Bull game. Their return would bolster the Fire's chances, yet comical defensive breakdowns and poor service in goalscoring situations are the reasons it is oh-for-May.
RSL is oh-for-2007, except for a 2-1 victory over Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup last month, and Wednesday fell out of that competition to Colorado by the same score in overtime.

Carey Talley's knee injury could be long-term, and Coach Jason Kreis has decided Chris Lancos, who joined the team in January after a short stint with Kaiserslautern's reserve team, gets first crack at taking that holding midfield position.

Heavy pressure is on Alecko Eskandarian, acquired via trade in exchange for Jeff Cunningham, who had been the team leader in goals with three and led MLS last year with 16. The players remaining on the RSL roster have scored three goals combined.

The Fire simply must take advantage at home of a winless team that recently changed head coaches and last week traded one of the league's all-time leading goalscorers.

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