West battle highlights MLS weekend

[MLS WEEKEND PREVIEWS]. Dallas and Houston, the top two teams in the Western Conference square off, the Crew tries to keep its revival going at home against New York, the Revs head west to test Chivas USA, Chicago plays its first league match in four years without coach Dave Sarachan, and Kansas City hosts Toronto in a tightening Eastern Conference race. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney previews all the weekend's MLS action ...

DALLAS (8-6-1) vs. HOUSTON (7-5-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol

The schedule hasn't been kind to FCD. It has played only five of its 15 games at home and because of the All-Star break, SuperLiga, and a two-game series with Mexican club UNL won't begin to make up the difference until August. It has this game and a July 4 homer with Chivas USA to fatten up its Western Conference lead.

Houston is the league's hottest team, rolling into Big D on a five-game winning streak despite missing Pat Onstad, Brian Ching, Dwayne DeRosario and Ricardo Clark to Gold Cup duty. Onstad, DeRosario and Ching are back but Clark, who scored when Houston beat Dallas, 2-1, on June 3 at Robertson Stadium, is in South America.

In his absence Richard Mulrooney, Brad Davis and Kelly Gray have picked up the slack, so Coach Dominic Kinnear must decide whether to sit one of them so DeRosario and Brian Mullan, who played up top in Ching's absence, can return to midfield.

Dallas is missing left back Chris Gbandi, who picked up his fifth yellow of the season last week in a 1-0 win over Colorado. Juan Toja poked in the only goal from a yard out after a Clarence Goodson shot had been saved.

Dallas is also without right back Drew Moor (Copa America) and midfielders Dax McCarty and Anthony Wallace (U.S. under-20s). Bobby Rhine, who came on as a sub last week, is the leading candidate to take Moor's spot, and Dave Wagenfuhr has some experience at left back.

Dallas can't afford to lose this game and fall into a first-place tie with Houston, which has two games in hand.

COLUMBUS (3-4-6) vs. NEW YORK (6-3-3)
Saturday, 8 pm. ET, HDNet, Direct Kick

Columbus has crawled out of the Eastern Conference cellar by winning two in a row. It has scored eight goals in the past three games, but has yet to tally against RBNY, tying 0-0 on the opening weekend of the season at home and losing, 4-0, May 19 in the Meadowlands.

The Crew dug deep last week to beat Los Angeles, 3-2, while playing a man down for an hour following the ejection of defender Ezra Hendrickson against one of his former teams. Eddie Gaven logged two assists in that game, and his run of good form earned him a Copa America callup. Coach Sigi Schmid also must replace suspended midfielder Danny O'Rourke (five cautions) as well as Hendrickson. He doesn't have Tim Ward, Danny Szetela and Robbie Rogers, either. They are with the U-20s.

Ricardo Virtuoso has been bothered with a high ankle sprain but could inject some creativity into the attack in Gaven's absence and take pressure off Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who is tied for the league lead in assists with six.

Juan Pablo Angel is also atop the charts with nine goals in just seven games, and Clint Mathis got back into the goal column against Kansas City with his fifth of the season. But there are troubles at the other end.

The Red Bulls haven't played in two weeks and in that time have revamped their defense, which conceded six goals in the last two games. NYRB sent Todd Dunivant to Toronto in exchange for Kevin Goldthwaite, and released defenders Taylor Graham - who played June 16 in a 3-3 tie with Kansas City - and Tim Regan. Former U.S. international Tony Sanneh has been training with the team and is expected to sign a contract as soon as a deal can be worked out with Chicago, the last MLS club he played for.

CHIVAS USA (5-4-2) vs. NEW ENGLAND (6-2-4)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick

The Revs have won their last two on the road, yet arrive at Home Depot Center following a four-game homestand in which they won just once, a 3-0 thumping of Toronto last weekend.

During that homestand, New England shut out Real Salt Lake (0-0) as well as TFC, but gave up seven goals in losing to Kansas City (4-3) and tying Columbus (3-3). Defensive consistency has been lacking, obviously.

Taylor Twellman is with the U.S. Copa America team, and Shalrie Joseph is doubtful with an adductor strain. Gary Flood might get his second start of the season in midfield, since Jeff Larentowicz is recovering from an eye injury. Rookie Adam Cristman is third on the team with three goals and four assists, so if Andy Dorman (five goals, two assists) and Pat Noonan (two goals, three assists) are clicking the absence of Twellman may not matter.

What will matter is how well Chivas USA is playing, or had been playing until being pounded by Houston, 4-0, on June 21. It has lost Brad Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan to the U.S. team. Preston Burpo and Orlando Perez, respectively, can stand in for the first two, but Kljestan's absence leaves a hole on the right side, where Laurent Merlin has seen some action. Coach Preki could use Francisco Mendoza, Paulo Nagamura, and Jesse Marsch in a three-man midfield, and use an extra forward with Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo, who have scored a combined 10 goals.

CHICAGO (4-6-2) vs. COLORADO (4-7-3)
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Direct Kick

Two reeling teams meet in a match of desperation.

The Rapids were tied, 1-1, with D.C. United Thursday night until the skies, literally and figuratively, opened up. Driving rain and lightning forced a suspension of play with United leading, 2-1, and after play resumed D.C. hit two more goals to extend Colorado's losing streak to five games.

Chicago has won just one of its last eight matches and takes the field under the leadership of interim coach Denis Hamlett, who won his debut June 22 against Polish team Cracovia, 1-0, on a goal by Willian Oliveira. For his first MLS match, Hamlett has midfielder Chris Armas available, but forward Chris Rolfe is still out with an ankle sprain and Justin Mapp is with the USA.

Colin Clark and Daniel Wasson earned their first starts for Chivas USA against United. Clark started the sequence that led to Colorado's goal, scored by Jacob Peterson, and nearly tied the match with 10 minutes to play on a blistering shot that went just wide.

Colorado will have defender Ugo Ihemelu back from suspension to face the Fire. It tied Chicago, 1-1, April 15 at Toyota Park on a goal by Herculez Gomez, who along with Kyle Beckerman is with the U.S. team. Colorado earned the point despite playing 84 minutes a man down following the ejection of Roberto Brown.

KANSAS CITY (6-4-2) vs. TORONTO FC (4-7-1)
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, Direct Kick

The season series between the teams ends with this match at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Wizards thumped TFC, 3-0, April 25, three days before the rematch and official MLS opener at BMO Field, which Kansas City also won, 1-0.

Eddie Johnson scored in both games and TFC can be confident he won't hurt them while in Venezuela with the U.S. team. For Toronto, this is the second game of a six-match road swing mandated by the FIFA U-20 World Cup; it is winless on the season (0-4-1) after last week's 3-0 defeat at New England.

Despite the teams having already played twice, Toronto won't look the same as it did in late April, or even last week. Jeff Cunningham has scored two goals in five games for TFC since being traded by Real Salt Lake.

Left back Todd Dunivant has arrived in a trade with New York Red Bull for Kevin Goldthwaite, who'd been obtained from Houston in April. Trinidad & Tobago striker Collin Samuel has been signed after coming to the team on trial following four seasons in Scotland with Dundee United.

Coach Mo Johnston also has all of his players back from the Gold Cup. Keeper Greg Sutton suffered a concussion in training and his condition is being monitored. A knee injury suffered by defender Marco Reda resulted in TFC teammate Chris Pozniak to be called in as an emergency replacement. Pozniak played in four Gold Cup games.

Right back Marvell Wynne is playing for the U.S. in the Copa America as a teammate of Johnson and one of the Canadians could replace him.

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