By THOMAS FLOYD
After some early fireworks this past weekend during a goal-filled slate, MLS is primed and ready to celebrate Independence Day with a packed midweek schedule.
Of the eight matches set for Wednesday and Thursday, six feature interconference tilts as teams seek to rack up points against unfamiliar opposition. Perhaps the top matchup features league-leading Real Salt Lake against the surprising Philadelphia Union, who are unbeaten in four but will have to get used to life without Gold Cup call-up Jack McInerney.
Elsewhere, the Vancouver Whitecaps travel to face Sporting Kansas City; Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact meet in a Canadian derby; and the surging Chicago Fire host the San Jose Earthquakes.
Here is a rundown of the midweek slate:
TORONTO FC vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Wednesday, 7 p.m., TSN)
Having lost two of three, the Impact will want to strengthen their one-point lead atop the Eastern Conference by getting a result on the road against struggling Toronto.
With veteran Toronto defender Steven Caldwell’s future with the club resolved, he can now turn his focus fully to the field, where he will have a tough task containing Montreal poacher Marco Di Vaio.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
The Earthquakes will once again be woefully short-handed in this one as they will be without Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas (suspension), Steven Lenhart (head laceration), and Chris Wondolowski and Marvin Chavez (international duty).
The Fire, though, will be missing goalkeeper Sean Johnson (international duty), which paves the way for Paolo Tornaghi to step in between the posts.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Univision Dep.)
After ending a four-game winless drought with a triumph over Columbus this past weekend, Kansas City will try to make it two in a row when it hosts a Vancouver side on a three-game winning streak.
With Carlyle Mitchell representing Trinidad & Tobago at the Gold Cup, Vancouver likely will slot Brad Rusin in at centerback alongside Johnny Leveron. The Whitecaps will also be missing dynamic winger Russell Teibert (Canada national team).
REAL SALT LAKE vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Wednesday, 10 p.m., MLS Live)
While Philadelphia will be missing Jack McInerney’s goal-poaching presence up top, Salt Lake’s call-ups hit the team at every position, with goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Tony Beltran, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and striker Alvaro Saborio missing.
After experimenting with a 4-3-3 formation in a win over Toronto this past weekend, Salt Lake is expected to return to its traditional 4-4-2 diamond alignment against the Union.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. D.C. UNITED (Wednesday, 10 p.m., MLS Live)
An already imposing trip to the Pacific Northwest will be even tougher for United as they play without Bill Hamid (international duty), Nick DeLeon (ankle) and Dwayne De Rosario (hip flexor).
United, however, won’t have to face Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (quad), which should make matters much easier for the central duo of Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington.
FC DALLAS vs. CHIVAS USA (Thursday, 9 p.m., MLS Live)
With Chivas’ roster in a state of limbo as the club waits for its midseason reinforcements, the Goats will travel to take on FC Dallas, who are winless in four after a hot start to the season.
Chivas’ leaky defense could mean plenty of space to operate for Dallas playmaker David Ferreira, who has notched assists in back-to-back matches.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Fresh off their first win more than a month, the Red Bulls will travel to face the Rapids, who themselves snapped a three-game losing streak with a dramatic 4-3 triumph over Montreal this past weekend.
The Rapids will have the option of returning U.S. U-20 centerback Shane O’Neill to the lineup. Colorado is 4-0-4 when O’Neill starts, but went 1-3-0 during his absence.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Thursday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Both teams will be missing an in-form attacker because of Gold Cup duty, with the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and the Crew’s Jairo Arrieta absent from this one.
After falling apart late against San Jose on Sunday, the Galaxy back line will hope to get back on track as it faces Crew forward Dominic Oduro, who has returned to his 2011 form with eight goals this season.
Which matches will you be watching? Can the Impact right the ship against Toronto? Do you see the Red Bulls putting together back-to-back wins?
Share your thoughts below.