By THOMAS FLOYD
Ladies and gentleman, MLS Rivalry Week has arrived.
The league’s new venture that packs all of its heated feuds into a single weekend of soccer features plenty of intense matchups. The festivities kick off Saturday with a renewal of the Atlantic Cup, as D.C. United will face the New York Red Bulls for the first time since last fall’s chaotic playoff series.
Next up is the battle for America’s heartland between Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire, followed by the Rocky Mountain Cup featuring Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. And last but not least Saturday, the Seattle Sounders will host the Portland Timbers in a Cascadia Cup duel.
And the action continues Sunday, with FC Dallas facing the Houston Dynamo in this year’s sole Texas Derby before the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA add another chapter to SuperClasico history.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 3 slate:
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., NBC)
Last year’s playoff series had it all: Own goals and red cards. A superstorm and a nor’easter. Penalty kick saves. A late winner. With a little snow in the forecast for Saturday morning, Red Bull Arena could have a familiar feel for Mike Petke’s home coaching debut.
United get captain Dwayne De Rosario back from suspension, but keep an eye on the matchup between midfielder Nick DeLeon and whoever plays left back for New York, whether it be Roy Miller, Heath Pearce or Connor Lade. Miller’s performances have left that position up in the air, and New York will need a good performance to snuff the second-year winger who burned them last year.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 3 p.m., NBCSN)
Both teams will want to get back on track in this one, with Kansas City returning home after a loss in Toronto last weekend and the Fire sitting at 0-2 following defeats to Los Angeles and New England.
With both clubs offering revamped midfields, the middle of the park should be intriguing. If Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere can keep up with Kansas City’s trio of Paulo Nagamura, Uri Rosell and Benny Feilhaber, the Fire might have a chance at stealing a result away from home.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 4 p.m., TSN/RDS)
A year ago, this wouldn’t have been the most fascinating of games. But a week after Canadian teams swept their matches for the first time, this tilt should have plenty of energy.
Keep an eye on the matchup between Toronto striker Robert Earnshaw and Montreal centerbacks Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari. All boasting substantial European pedigrees, those three players have played big parts in their clubs’ unlikely surges.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 5 p.m., MLS Live/Univision Dep.)
The Union are undefeated in seven meetings with the Revolution, and they’ll try to keep it that way in this battle between clubs coming off impressive road victories.
In a head-to-head clash between two of the more athletic and talented young players in MLS, Union centerback Amobi Okugo — with the help of partner Jeff Parke — will try to hold Revolution striker Jerry Bengtson in check.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Thanks to the unlikely heroics of Adam Jahn (and a little — well, a lot of — help from Roy Miller), San Jose returned to its dramatic winning ways last week against New York. Now, they travel for the first time this year to face a Columbus team playing its home opener after a 1-1 start.
When it comes to containing crafty Columbus attacker Federico Higuain, San Jose likely will need Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca to win the midfield battles and halt the reigning Newcomer of the Year before he can get close to goal.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 6 p.m., MLS Live)
Following a split on the road to start the season, Salt Lake returns to the considerable comforts of Rio Tinto Stadium, where they will host an 0-2 Rapids side. The home team has not lost in the Rocky Mountain Cup since 2007 — when RSL won in Colorado.
Both clubs will be far from full strength in this one, with Salt Lake still missing Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Javier Morales, while Colorado will be without Martin Rivero and Jaime Castrillon. To boot, Edson Buddle, Pablo Mastroeni and Matt Pickens are questionable for the Rapids.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBCSN)
Capping a full day of MLS action on the NBC family of networks will be the grand finale between these heated Cascadia Cup foes. Seattle will look to carry over the momentum from its epic midweek Champions League comeback, while Portland will try to work out the kinks that left it with just a single point from two home games.
In what could be the first of many entertaining battles between them, Sounders defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will face new Portland playmaker Diego Valeri. Whichever team gets the best of that matchup should find itself in pretty good shape.
FC DALLAS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN2)
If anything would make the Dynamo feel better after being ousted from the Champions League, it would be going to FC Dallas Stadium and claiming El Capitan for another year.
With Blas Perez back from suspension, Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman will have some tough decision to make as he tries to find room for the myriad attacking pieces he now has at his disposal.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 5 p.m., UniMas)
Chivas should finally be able to play in front of a real crowd at Home Depot Center as they “travel” to visit the Galaxy, who have been just fine in MLS and Champions League play without David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Chivas do present a challenge up top in the form of young, havoc-wreaking strikers Tristan Bowen and Juan Agudelo, who should make sure Galaxy centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo stay busy.
What are your thoughts on MLS Rivalry Week? Do you like the league’s effort to emphasize regional feuds? What is the best matchup of the bunch?
Share your thoughts below.