By THOMAS FLOYD
It may still be early in the MLS campaign, and as such clubs’ records must be taken with a grain of salt. But there’s no denying the Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas have already established themselves as teams to beat.
On Saturday, the two sides’ meeting should provide a little more clarity to the tight Western Conference table. For the Galaxy, the quick turnaround after Wednesday’s elimination from Champions League play offers an opportunity to return their focus to again claiming MLS supremacy.
Elsewhere around the league, D.C. United will host the New York Red Bulls in Round 2 of the 2013 Atlantic Cup; the Columbus Crew will visit the Montreal Impact in a key Eastern Conference tilt; and the Houston Dynamo will take on the Chicago Fire in a wild-card playoff rematch.
Here is a rundown of the Week 7 slate:
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 2 p.m., MLS Live/TSN)
The Impact — minus suspended coach Marco Schallibaum — after a bye week will try to bounce back from their first loss of the season at Kansas City and return to their winning ways against Columbus.
With Dominic Oduro playing as a lone striker lately, the speedster surely will try to use his pace to pounce on gaps in what, depending on the lineup choices, could be an older, slower Montreal back line.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live)
Toronto and Philadelphia haven’t exactly been tearing MLS up to start 2013, but both clubs have put together some positive results in what many thought could be dismal campaigns.
Against TFC, the Union will continue to lean on Jack McInerney’s goal-poaching tendency, as the forward has scored seven times in his past 11 matches dating back to last season.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (MLS Live/Univision Dep.)
The Sounders, like the Galaxy, will be looking to put their Champions League failure in the past. But unlike L.A., Seattle has struggled in league play to kick off 2013, making the full three points a high priority at home against New England.
If Steve Zakuani returns to his post on the left side of midfield, keep an eye on what should be a compelling matchup with Revolution right back Andrew Farrell.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 4 p.m., TSN)
After an 0-2-1 road trip, the Whitecaps return to the comforts of BC Place, where they are 2-0-0 thus far in 2013, to take on an RSL squad coming off a tough loss at rival Colorado.
Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman will be tasked with slowing Vancouver playmaker Daigo Kobayashi in a key clash in the middle of the park featuring an established MLS veteran against one of the league’s most dynamic newcomers.
D.C. UNITED vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live)
After injuries were hanging over this match earlier in the week, it now looks like the star power will be on hand, with United’s Dwayne De Rosario and the Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry poised to start.
In these teams’ matchup less than a month ago, Dax McCarty controlled central midfield for the Red Bulls. If United hope to have more of the ball this time around, Perry Kitchen and his central midfield partner (Marcelo Saragosa? Raphael Augusto? De Rosario?) will need to negate McCarty.
FC DALLAS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN)
The Galaxy carry a four-game unbeaten streak against Dallas into this one, including back-to-back shutout wins in their final two meetings of the 2012 campaign.
In central midfield, two of the more efficient partnerships in MLS thus far this season will go head-to-head, with Dallas’s Michel and Andrew Jacobson going against Los Angeles’ Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas.
CHIVAS USA vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
On a 3-0-1 streak and coming off a bye week, Chivas will host a Colorado squad that, behind the goalkeeping of 24-year-old journeyman Clint Irwin, picked up its first win of 2013 last weekend with a 1-0 triumph over RSL.
With centerback Drew Moor back from suspension, the Rapids will hope to lock it down defensively against a surprisingly potent Chivas attack (a league-leading 10 goals).
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Sunday, 5 p.m., UniMas)
The Dynamo with a win or draw will set an MLS record by extending their home unbeaten run to 35 matches. For a Fire side that hasn’t won in Houston since 2007, Sunday’s meeting presents a tall task.
If second-year left back Hunter Jumper again gets the nod for Chicago, he could face the unenviable task of trying to contain active Houston winger Oscar Boniek Garcia.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Sunday, 10:30 p.m., NBCSN)
Portland will be going for win No. 2 of the Caleb Porter era as they welcome a surging Chris Wondolowski (three goals in five games) and the Earthquakes to town.
The matchup with Wondolowski presents a big opportunity for Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste — in for the injured David Horst (knee) — to earn the fans’ trust.