By THOMAS FLOYD
International duty may deprive Sporting Kansas City of the MLS Defender of the Year, an MVP finalist and a slew of role players, but life in league play must go on.
For Peter Vermes’ short-handed bunch, that means hosting the Montreal Impact on Saturday in a clash of Eastern Conference powers. The contest highlights a packed slate of MLS action this weekend as teams across the league try to make due without national team call-ups.
Elsewhere, the Columbus Crew will host the Houston Dynamo in a key Eastern Conference bout; the San Jose Earthquakes visit Real Salt Lake in a quality Western Conference matchup; and Chivas USA begin life without Chelis against the Seattle Sounders.
Here is a rundown of the Week 14 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 6 p.m., TSN)
Winless in 10 matches — including a five-game losing streak — Toronto will look for its first win since Week 2 when the Union come to town.
Two of the most efficient poachers in MLS will be on hand for this contest, with Philadelphia’s Jack McInerney (nine goals) hoping to outdo Toronto’s Robert Earnshaw (five goals).
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 7 p.m., MLS Live)
Both teams will be without a key piece in central midfield, as the Whitecaps will be missing the suspended Nigel Reo-Coker and the Red Bulls will lose Tim Cahill to international obligations.
New York will be especially hungry for three points considering it doesn’t play another league game until June 23, giving opposing teams the opportunity to cash in on their games in hand.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live)
The Crew remain in search of their first quality win this season, and it may be hard to classify a triumph over Houston as such considering the Dynamo will be without Bobby Boswell (suspension), Corey Ashe (groin strain), and Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia (international duty).
After suffering a thigh injury last weekend, Crew striker Dominic Oduro (six goals) has made progress in training this weekend and seems poised to play Saturday.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
With Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Peterson Joseph, Mechack Jerome and Soony Saad reporting to their respective national teams, Kansas City will have its hands full against a Montreal side that leads the league with 2.09 points per game.
For the likely centerback pairing of Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara, the emphasis will be on tracking MLS leading scorer Marco Di Vaio, who brought his season haul to nine goals last weekend with a first-half hat trick against Philadelphia.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live)
A year after both clubs missed the playoffs, these two teams have enjoyed resurgent campaigns, with Dallas pacing the Western Conference at 8-2-3 and Colorado suffering just one loss in its past nine games.
There should be a good battle between wily veterans in the middle of the park as Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni tries to hold Dallas playmaker David Ferreira in check.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., MLS Live)
With just one win in their past 10 games, the Earthquakes this year have not looked much like the club that won the Supporters’ Shield last season. To make matters more difficult against RSL, centerback Victor Bernardez will be serving a suspension.
Although Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and San Jose winger Marvin Chavez (Honduras) have received call-ups, both players will take part in this match before departing for international duty.
CHIVAS USA vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Amid the sudden firing of their coach, the discrimination lawsuit filed against the club and that stream of poorly constructed press releases, it’s easy to forget Chivas actually have a game this weekend.
And the Goats might even have a chance against an erratic Seattle team without international call-ups Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans and Mario Martinez, as well as the suspended Shalrie Joseph.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., NBCSN)
National team call-ups will affect both sides in this one, with the Galaxy missing Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane while New England will be without Jerry Bengtson.
But the Galaxy will have Landon Donovan, who should give the New England back line fits, whether he lines up on the left flank, right flank or up top, even if he doesn’t have Keane to work off.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. D.C. UNITED (Sunday, 5 p.m., UniMas)
With United at 1-9-2 and the Fire not much better at 2-7-2, it’s hard to believe these two clubs met on the final day of the 2012 regular season with a playoff bye on the line.
With goalkeeper Bill Hamid on international duty and centerbacks Dejan Jakovic (groin) and Ethan White (adductor) questionable, United could deploy a severely short-handed defense against a Chicago attack now led by the newly acquired Mike Magee.