Three hopefuls host vital home games

[MLS PREDICTIONS] With five weeks of the season to go, no team has clinched a playoff spot. Western Conference leader Houston will sit idle as New England, Kansas City and Chivas USA get a chance to improve their playoff fortunes at home. Maybe this is the week the Galaxy can overtake the idle Dynamo for first place in the Western Conference, but only a win at defending champion Columbus can do the trick, and the Crew has yet to lose at home this season. Also needing results on the road are Real Salt Lake (Dallas), Toronto FC (Chicago), Colorado (Kansas City), and Seattle (New England). For an outline of the playoff race, Ridge Mahoney's weekend predictions and TV info ...

Chivas USA and New England both have six matches remaining, a decided edge over teams with four or five games left. To set the scene for the weekend's action, here is how the teams are grouped following Colorado's 1-1 tie with San Jose Wednesday:

Top two in each conference: Columbus 43 points, Houston 43, Los Angeles 41, Chicago 40.
Four wild cards: Seattle 38, Colorado 38, Chivas USA 37, D.C. United 36.
Close but not in: New England 34, Toronto FC 34, Real Salt Lake 34.
Longshot: Kansas City 30.
Longer shot: FC Dallas 27.
Just about out: San Jose 22.
History: New York 17.

There is no ESPN2 game this week, but Fox Soccer Channel is at Home Depot Center Saturday, and TeleFutra comes to you from RFK Stadium on Sunday.

(All Times Eastern.)

NEW ENGLAND (9-8-7) vs. SEATTLE (9-6-11), 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick

The Sounders did everything right offensively but score last week in a 0-0 home tie with Chivas USA, and just might hit the same stride on the Gillette Stadium FieldTurf. New England also played on the fake stuff, coming back from Giants Stadium with a 1-1 tie against the Red Bulls.

Midfielder Shalrie Joseph is listed as questionable (hip flexor) and if he's hobbled Seattle may take command of the middle. The Revs' flank speed can be dangerous, but the Sounders' back line is a little more experienced and that may prove to be the difference.
Prediction: Revs 1, Sounders 2.

COLUMBUS (11-4-10) vs. LOS ANGELES (10-5-11), 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick
This is billed as the Impact Game of the Week (and no, it's not sponsored by the USL team). The Crew will again be without defender Chad Marshall (MCL sprain); questionable for the Galaxy are right back AJ DeLaGarza (knee bruise) and midfielder Eddie Lewis (ankle sprain). It could be a classic encounter, as both Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Landon Donovan can play big in the big games.

Crew coach Robert Warzycha played a lot of his regulars Wednesday in a 2-0 Concacaf Champions' League loss to Cruz Azul, and last weekend, Columbus needed a two-goal rally to earn a 2-2 tie in Chicago. Shoring up the back line, where Andy Iro has replaced Marshall, is essential to contain the Galaxy, which beat Toronto FC, 2-0, last weekend on goals by David Beckham and a rapidly healing Edson Buddle.
Prediction: Crew 1, Galaxy 1.

FC DALLAS (7-12-6) vs. REAL SALT LAKE (9-10-7), 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick
FCD ran all over the Wizards last week but still lost, 3-2, and a similar high-pressure approach could be enough to darken RSL's playoff hopes in what could be a wide-open game. RSL came back from a two-goal deficit to win, 4-2, when the teams met at Rio Tinto Stadium in late July.

RSL also came back from a deficit last weekend, but lost, 3-2, in Houston to drop its road record this season to 2-9-2. Defender Jamison Olave is suspended, and a team that has conceded 20 goals on the road will be hard-pressed to contain Jeff Cunningham, David Ferreira, Dave van den Bergh, Atiba Harris, et al.
Prediction: FCD 3, RSL 2.

CHICAGO (10-6-10) vs. TORONTO FC (9-10-7), 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick
The Fire is still smoldering over the penalty kick by which Columbus escaped Toyota Park with a 2-2 tie last weekend, which won't make TFC's task any easier. It has earned only 10 points from 13 road games and been outscored, 25-15, including last week's 2-0 loss to the Galaxy. Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares, who has missed six weeks with a strained MCL, may be ready to return.

TFC is again a work-in-progress. The insertion of midfielder Julian de Guzman didn't supply a dramatic upgrade, but with another week to incorporate his talents and mesh them with those of Dwayne De Rosario and Amado Guevara, Toronto's transition game could look much livelier than it did in Home Depot Center. It had better: TFC is riding a 416-minute goalless streak away from home, and has earned only two points from its last six league games.
Prediction: Fire 3, TFC 1.

KANSAS CITY (8-11-6) vs. COLORADO (10-8-8), 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick
The Rapids are choking. They've not won in three games and only by winning penalties in stoppage time earned 1-1 ties in a home-and-home series with San Jose. Keeper Preston Burpo has played well in relief of Matt Pickens (knee), and KC's revived attack may test him often, though its leaky back line might be just what Conor Casey and Omar Cummings need to score during the run of play.

Forward Kei Kamara, traded by Houston, adds yet another attacking element to the Wizards, which is potent enough with Claudio Lopez, Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud, not to mention that noted goal-poacher Jimmy Conrad, who scrambled home the winner last weekend. They could overrun Colorado, whose midfield was stifled by San Jose, even with Pablo Mastroeni back from a three-game suspension. He should be sharper, but the loss of Jacob Peterson (knee) leaves the Rapids thin, with Colin Clark and Jamie Smith already out for the season.
Prediction: Wizards 3, Rapids 2.

CHIVAS USA (11-9-4) vs. NEW YORK (4-17-5), 10:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel & Fox Sports en Espanol
This should be a home team tap-in, for though the Red Bulls put up a good battle last week at Giants Stadium while tying the Revs, 1-1, Chivas USA hasn't conceded a goal in its last two home games and also shut out Seattle in a 0-0 tie at Qwest Field last weekend, though it need a few fabulous Zach Thornton saves to bake that bagel.

Marcelo Saragosa is suspended, so Mariano Trujillo will probably start at right back. Chivas USA got only four shots last weekend, and needs more incisive play from Sacha Kljestan and Paulo Nagumura to open up the Red Bulls back line. Juan Pablo Angel has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle but may be fit enough to play this one on grass.
Prediction: Chivas USA 2, Red Bulls 1.

D.C. UNITED (8-6-12) vs. SAN JOSE (5-12-7), 3 p.m., TeleFutura

The Quakes' faint hopes depend on winning the last five in a row while D.C. loses all of its matches, and games involving the three teams with 34 points go the right way. OK, they have no chance, but their dim prospects didn't impair performance in a pair of 1-1 ties with Colorado converted from victories by stoppage-time penalty kicks.

United, well, what can you say? An impressive win over a jet-lagged Marathon Wednesday in the Concacaf Champions' League will imbue confidence, but the Quakes are playing well, and sometimes it's the team under pressure that buckles.

The teams split their two meetings last year and played a 2-2 tie in late July. Go with the flow.
Prediction: United 2, Quakes 2.

This week: 0-1. Season: 91-100.

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