By THOMAS FLOYD
Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders may not have the geographic proximity to be considered a true MLS rivalry. But after consecutive years of meeting come playoff time, it’s safe to say plenty of pride is on the line when these Western Conference heavyweights clash.
Considering Seattle is sitting at 0-2-1 and Salt Lake isn’t much better at 1-2-1 early in this 2013 campaign, both sides will be hungry for a full three points Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium when they pick up where they left off in November.
The match is the marquee event of another MLS weekend, which also includes a key tilt between Sporting Kansas City and the 4-0-0 Montreal Impact, as well as a meeting between last season’s Eastern Conference champion Houston Dynamo and Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 5 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 2 p.m., TSN)
All of the Galaxy talk this week has centered around the return of Landon Donovan to training, but the three-time U.S. World Cup veteran said he is targeting early April for his return to the field, ruling him out of this contest.
If Robbie Keane isn’t rushed back into action after international duty, the Galaxy could deploy the teenage forward duo of Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean against that veteran TFC centerback pairing of Darren O’Dea and Dan Califf.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBCSN)
At 0-2-2, the Red Bulls would love to get the first win of the Mike Petke regime against their visiting I-95 foe. But they’ll have to shuffle the back line if they are going to do so, with Brandon Barklage suspended.
With Jack McInerney in fine goal-scoring form to start the season, keep an eye on his runs in the attacking third and how Jamison Olave, Heath Pearce and that New York defense track him.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live)
At 3-1-0, FC Dallas surprisingly sits atop the Western Conference, despite having little opportunity to deploy strikers Blas Perez (suspension and international duty) and Eric Hassli (fitness).
For Clyde Simms in New England’s central midfield, the task is a tall one as he will try to limit David Ferreira’s string-pulling and make sure the likes of Perez and Kenny Cooper don’t get service.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 6 p.m., Univision Dep.)
It’ll be odd indeed as Colorado takes the field without suspended iron man Drew Moor, who last year started all 34 games and regularly ranks among the league leaders in minutes.
As a result, a Timbers attack keyed by the attacking trio of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Ryan Johnson will look to wreak havoc for a Colorado back line also missing Diego Calderon (out four to five months following knee surgery).
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Montreal will put its perfect record on the line at Sporting Park, and escaping with that unblemished mark seems particularly difficult if SKC’s U.S. national team duo of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi is deemed good to go.
Should that be the case, however, Besler and centerback partner Aurelien Collin will have their hands full keeping tabs on Impact striker Marco Di Vaio, whose movement is crucial to Montreal’s attack.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
While Houston will get Jermaine Taylor, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis back from international duty, the San Jose back line will welcome the returns of Justin Morrow and Victor Bernardez.
The Earthquakes, however, still remain without the injured Steven Beitashour, Marvin Chavez, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. It would be impressive indeed if this short-handed San Jose squad can grab a result at BBVA Compass Stadium.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live)
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid will have the option of starting Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins together for the first time. But with Nat Borchers again healthy, and Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran back from international duty, RSL seems well prepared to cope with that combination.
If Mauro Rosales again lines up in a wide right role for Seattle, he could cause trouble for whoever starts at left back for RSL, whether it’s natural centerback Chris Schuler or converted forward Abdoulie Mansally.
CHIVAS USA vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Chivas USA have shocked the MLS world, piecing together a 2-1-1 record despite a tumultuous offseason that saw much of the team’s core jettisoned and the roster not rounded out until late in preseason.
Against Vancouver, the challenge for Chivas will be containing the attacking talents of Darren Mattocks and Daigo Kobayashi with that three-man back line that has been surprisingly effective thus far.