Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
The Columbus Crew aren’t the team most would have pegged to be leading the MLS Eastern Conference at this point in the season, but Gregg Berhalter’s side has been one of the most impressive of the young season, and this weekend they will face the reigning Eastern Conference, and MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting KC is coming off a tough road loss to New England, but a return home to Sporting Park should provide a boost for Peter Vermes’ side.
Out West, the Los Angeles Galaxy return from their latest bye week to take a trip to Colorado to take on a Rapids side still smarting from last week’s beatdown by Seattle. Colorado will enjoy a home edge at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, but stopping Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan still won’t be easy.
Here is a closer look at all of the MLS Week nine match-ups:
TORONTO FC vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (1pm, Univision Deportes/TSN)
With Jermain Defoe expected to join Michael Bradley back in the TFC starting lineup, Ryan Nelsen’s squad will look to snap its two-match losing streak against a Revs team that comes in on a good run of form.
Kelyn Rowe has finally returned to full training after his five-match layoff due to a hamstring injury, but he seems unlikely to feature against TFC. Without him, the Revs will struggle to create chances against a TFC side that should control the midfield in a tight defensive affair at BMO Field. Look for Toronto to get back to winning ways, unless Andrew Farrell can shut down Defoe.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (7pm, MLS Direct Kick/TSN2)
The Whitecaps have posted consecutive draws against two of the top teams in the league (LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake) and they return home to face a vulnerable San Jose side that finally recorded their first victory last week.
The Earthquakes will struggle to generate chances against the Whitecaps, while Vancouver should be able to put pressure on the Earthquakes’ flanks. The speed of Darren Mattocks should cause problems for the San Jose defense, though the uncertain injury status of playmaker Pedro Morales could wind up being an equalizer for San Jose.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. REAL SALT LAKE (8:30pm, MLS Direct Kick)
The Fire are one of two winless teams left in MLS, but they are also riding a run of six consecutive draws. Turning those draws into a win against the only unbeaten team left in MLS won’t be easy, even at Toyota Park.
The absence of Quincy Amarikwa will hurt Chicago’s attack as Frank Yallop’s side will miss his energy up top. The Fire’s defense will need to deal with Joao Plata, who has the speed to punish Chicago’s slow centerbacks. RSL should control the midfield and create enough chances to record the road victory.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. LA GALAXY (9pm, MLS Direct Kick)
The Rapids were eviscerated by Seattle last week, but returning home to the altitude at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and potentially getting Dillon Powers back, should help but they face a rested LA Galaxy team with the weapons to do exactly what Seattle just did to the Rapids last week.
If Powers is indeed back, then the Rapids attack should be a bit more dynamic and Powers will force Juninho to have more work to do. The key for the Galaxy, as always, will be providing service to Robbie Keane, who has the skill to unlock a vulnerable Rapids defense. This could be the game where Landon Donovan breaks the all-time MLS goals record, and it should be a Galaxy victory.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (10pm, MLS Direct Kick)
This looks like a major mismatch given the records these teams are sporting, but the Union are better than their record show and this match-up could actually wind up producing one of the best matches of the weekend.
Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are on fire and it will be up to Amobi Okugo to keep the back-line organized, and Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu to cut down the passing lanes. It will still be tough though to to contain the Sounders attack, so look for Seattle to keep their winning streak going.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. D.C. UNITED (10:30pm, MLS Direct Kick)
The Timbers are still searching for their first win of the season, and it won’t come easy against a D.C. side riding a wave of confidence. Being at home at Providence Park should help, but the key will still be the Timbers being able to put together their first complete match of the season.
Portland must find a way to slow down Fabian Espindola, who is enjoying one of the best runs of form in the league. Chris Rolfe has provided good quality on the flanks, and D.C. United’s defense has been playing much better of late. Look for the Timbers attack to find a groove, and for Darlington Nagbe to have a breakout match in helping the Timbers register their first win of 2014.
CHIVAS USA vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (10:30pm, MLS Direct Kick)
When the season began, these two teams enjoyed very encouraging starts, but those impressive early weeks seem a distant memory as both enter this contest riding lengthy winless streaks.
The Goats are still trying to account for the loss of standout rookie Tommy McNamara and their attack hasn’t looked the same since he was lost to a torn ACL. They will find it tough to generate many chances against a Houston defense that matches up well with the Goats. With Brad Davis back in the fold, the Dynamo should snap their winless skid and take a valuable three road points.
FC DALLAS vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (3pm, UniMas, MSG)
With no Mauro Diaz or Michel, FC Dallas won’t have as potent an attack as they have shown through the season’s early weeks. Fabian Castillo needs to step it up, though his match-up versus Roy Miller will be one to watch.
For the Red Bulls, getting Thierry Henry the ball so he can facilitate the attack will be key, and with Henry’s penchant for going after opposing team’s right backs, and with FC Dallas missing its two top right backs, Henry could have a field day. Look for goals in this one, with the Red Bulls having the edge against the short-handed Hoops.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. COLUMBUS CREW (4pm, NBC Sports)
Playing without Aurelien Collin will Sporting KC vulnerable, especially against Federico Higuain, but Sporting KC is so tough at home, and Peter Vermes so good at finding solutions for his team, Sporting should be able to put the kind of pressure necessary to disrupt the Crew’s possession attack.
For Columbus, keeping the ball and dealing with Sporting KC’s pressure will be key, and Higuain and Will Trapp will have to be at their best to give Columbus a chance to take control on the road. This one will be a tightly-contested match, but Sporting KC has the edge at home.
What do you think of the MLS Week nine match-ups? Which match are you most looking forward to? See Philly stopping Seattle? Think Sporting KC wins the battle of top East teams?
Share your thoughts below.