MLS hits gut-check time

KANSAS CITY (10-11-6) vs. D.C. UNITED (16-6-5)
Friday, 8 p.m. ET; Direct Kick,
As former RSL coach John Ellinger did last year, Curt Onalfo has played the cajones card to inspire more determination and resilience from the Wizards, which aside from an incredible stoppage-time rally that beat the Crew hasn't won in the last six games.

Two players ejected and several opportunities squandered in a 1-0 loss to the Galaxy last weekend has Onalfo not only shorthanded but short on patience. Onalfo used Michael Harrington at left back and Jose Burciaga in midfield. Switching their roles brought some attacking impetus to the left flank.

Out through suspension are defender Jimmy Conrad and forward Davy Arnaud, and thus Onaldo may play both Harrington and Burciaga in the back.

United traveled from Guadalajara straight to Kansas City after losing, 1-0, in the Copa Sudamericana Tuesday. Marc Burch (suspension) and Fred (hamstring strain) sat out that game and if both return they can alleviate somewhat the fatigue incurred from a tough 90 minutes against a formidable opponent in a fierce atmosphere. A poor performance from Jaime Moreno impaired the attack, yet still D.C. garnered enough chances to get the goal that would have earned them advancement on aggregate.

In league play, D.C. is unbeaten in the last 10 games and 1-1 against the Wizards. Luciano Emilio scored the only goal July 4 when United beat Kansas City, 1-0, at RFK. Kansas City opened its season by stunning D.C., 4-2, at RFK. Harrington, Sasha Victorine, Eddie Johnson and Scott Sealy scored the goals. The Wizards jumped out to a 2-0 lead, United tied the game with goals by Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez, Johnson regained the lead before halftime, and Sealy added a clincher.

COLUMBUS (7-10-10) vs. FC DALLAS (12-11-4)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET; Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol
Bopped at home, 3-2, by New England Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup final, FCD heads to Columbus, where its Hunt Sports Group rival is reeling from its own backyard stumble: a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy last Sunday.

Columbus took a 1-0 lead in the second minute and quickly threw it away. Alejandro Moreno's sixth goal of the season evaporated when the Galaxy scored twice in three minutes. Not until the final minutes did Columbus seriously threaten to equalize; Ezra Hendrickson's shot was cleared off the line by Cobi Jones and Kei Kamara's header hit the crossbar.

Arturo Alvarez and Abe Thompson scored in the Open Cup, but sloppy defending contributed to all three New England goals. Coach Steve Morrow benched Ricardinho and Denilson for that match, and faces more possible changes with Pablo Richetti hobbled by a hamstring injury that forced him out at halftime and Chris Gbandi, who sat out last Sunday's 3-0 league loss to Houston (at home) due to accumulated yellow cards, available for selection. Carlos Ruiz earned his eighth caution in that game and later picked up a red card in a scuffle with Ricardo Clark, so he's out of this game and at least one more.

FCD beat the Crew, 3-2, in Dallas Aug. 11 when Clarence Goodson scored in stoppage time with Dallas down a man.

CHICAGO (8-10-9) vs. NEW ENGLAND (14-6-7)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET; Direct Kick,
By now, a team should have caught the Fire, which by blowing three 1-0 leads in the last three games has inched along in eighth place, point by point.

Neither Columbus (two point backs back with 31) nor Colorado (four points in arrears with 29) has put together a run, but Chicago faces the roughest finish to the season. It plays at D.C. United next week and closes the season at home against the Galaxy, which is the hottest team in the league and could still be in the chase by then.

The Revs will be winded and banged up after beating FC Dallas Wednesday to win the Open Cup, but the confidence injected by their first trophy is sure to carry them through at least most of the match. Pat Noonan scored a goal and set up the other two in a 3-2 win, but the three-man back line looked shaky at times, and left gaps that can be exploited by Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe.

Fire coach Juan Carlos Osorio won't be on the bench; his tirade regarding a non-PK tackle on Blanco in the final minute of a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA last Saturday earned him a one-game vacation. Midfielder Justin Mapp, who set up the goal for Logan Pause when the Fire beat the Revs, 1-0, in the season opener last April, is still out with a sprained ankle.

REAL SALT LAKE (5-13-9) vs. CHIVAS USA (14-6-6)
Saturday, 9 p.m. ET; (live) Direct Kick,; (delay HDNet, 10 p.m.)
Chivas USA has won the season series by thrashing RSL, 4-0, April 21 at Home Depot Center and scraping out a 1-0 road win Aug. 26, but this should be its stiffest test against its expansion partner of two seasons ago.

RSL is on a good run, of sorts: three ties and a win in its last four games. Chris Brown and Kyle Beckerman scored last Saturday in a 2-2 tie with New York that officially eliminated it from playoff contention. That confirmation of the obvious probably won't dull its effort against Chivas USA, which rallied to tie Chicago, 1-1, last week with a late penalty kick to preserve its home unbeaten mark (10-0-3). Chivas USA is 4-8-3 on the road and has conceded 18 of its 24 goals away from HDC.

Ramon Nunez may get a start up top alongside Ante Razov, as Maykel Galindo - scorer of two goals in the 4-0 rout - is suspended. Galindo also won the penalty kick against the Fire that defender Claudio Suarez converted to get the point.

RSL midfielder Javier Morales is sidelined with a torn labrum, which gives playmaker Andy Williams a chance to prompt the attack from the get-go. If he gets the start. Coach Jason Kreis has used a three-forward alignment with Brown, Yura Movsisyan and Alecko Eskandarian in recent games. A dribble by Eskandarian started the sequence that Beckerman finished against New York.

HOUSTON (14-7-6) vs. LOS ANGELES (7-13-6)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET; TeleFutura
Houston smoked the Galaxy, 3-1, at Home Depot Center just three weeks ago. Maybe that was just the final blow of adversity LA needed, as it has won three straight to nudge into the playoff chase.

It still trails eighth-place Chicago by six points, but has a game in hand and plays the Fire on the final day of the season. More than hope, though, its players have belief that finally the bursts they showed during the SuperLiga -- LA hammered Dallas and beat D.C. United - could be marshaled for the weekly grind of league play.

Defender Abel Xavier has been training regularly for the Galaxy and though listed as questionable might return to the starting lineup. David Beckham is training, too, but won't be suiting up for this one. Left back Ante Jazic came on as a sub in Sunday's 2-1 win at Columbus, but Mike Randolph has been playing well in that position and moved up into midfield when Jazic entered the game.

Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark has been hit with the heaviest suspension - nine games - and the biggest fine -- $10,000 - for kicking Carlos Ruiz as he lay on the ground during last weekend's 3-0 thumping of Dallas. The suspension includes the rest of the season (three games), playoff games this year including MLS Cup, and however many league games next season it takes to fill out the niner.

Dwayne DeRosario has played some of his best games for San Jose and Houston against the Galaxy; in 18 games, he's scored seven goals and logged four assists.

COLORADO (7-12-8) vs. TORONTO FC (6-15-6)
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET; Direct Kick,
Three losses and no wins in the last five matches has sent Colorado plummeting out of the playoff tier, and even with a win against TFC, it would still not rank in the top eight. But it has to start somewhere, and right now is the time.

Scoring is the problem: shut out in the last two games and with only one goal in each of the previous three, Colorado hasn't netted since Conor Casey scored to rally the 10 men for a 1-1 home tie with Chivas USA Sept. 16 at DSG Park.

Casey played a through ball for Herculez Gomez to score a late goal when Colorado lost to TFC, 2-1, at BMO Field June 2. That was Gomez's fourth goal of the season, but he hit a slump and didn't score again before tearing MCL and ACL ligaments in his right knee in training last week.

Toronto snapped a 12-game winless streak Thursday by beating Red Bull New York, 2-1, with a goal by rookie Maurice Edu and an own goal. TFC's playoff hopes are extinguished, and rookie Andrew Boyens will sit out the Rapids match because of a red card; still, whatever the Rapids get out of this game will have to be earned. TFC has defender Tyrone Marshall back from suspension -- and a whole lot of Mo'mentum after beating RBNY.


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