By AVI CREDITOR
After a two-week break for the World Cup group stage, the Major League Soccer season resumes this weekend with all 16 teams in action.
Real Salt Lake and the San Jose Earthquakes kick things off Friday night. The highlight of Week 13, though, is the opening of MLS' newest soccer-specific stadium, as the Philadelphia Union open their true home field against the Seattle Sounders in a rematch of the season-opening game that the Sounders won, 2-0.
Houston and Colorado meet at Robertson Stadium in a game that boasts a couple of national-team snubs. Conor Casey and Brian Ching, each in good form, will square off against each other in a crucial matchup as both teams jockey for position in a tightly contested Western Conference.
Here's a rundown of the entire Week 13 slate and how we see things playing out:
REAL SALT LAKE vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Friday, 9 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
The MLS Cup holders are riding high after dealing the Galaxy their first loss of the season, and returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium is the best place to build on the momentum.
Though Kyle Beckerman is still out with a foot injury, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio are still capable of guiding Salt Lake to positive results, and this week should be no different.
The Earthquakes' winning streak seems like a thing of the past, and Bobby Convey, Chris Wondolowski, Ryan Johnson and Arturo Alvarez will be flustered by the physical and experienced RSL back line. The addition of Sam Cronin will help the Earthquakes over the long run, but barring a special performance by Joe Cannon in goal, it's hard to see San Jose going into Rio Tinto and walking away with a result. Nick Rimando remains solid behind a tough defensive unit, Morales finds Saborio on a corner kick and RSL picks up where it left off. RSL 1, Earthquakes 0.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
D.C. is unbeaten in its last six matches (in all competitions), but playing on the road, in a meaningful game against the top team in the Eastern Conference are all factors that lead toward that streak coming to an end.
With two weeks of rest, veterans Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall and Guillermo Barros Schelotto should be able to go at full throttle, something that is typically bad news for any opposition. Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers have been providing strong flank play of late as well, and they both have considerable advantages in their matchup this week.
Expect United to show its grit and hang tough, but in the end, the Crew have too much firepower for the visitors. Gaven and Schelotto hit the scoresheet and Will Hesmer notches the clean sheet. Crew 2, United 0.
TORONTO FC vs L.A. GALAXY (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel)
How will the Galaxy fare after their first setback of the season? Going north of the border hasn't been easy for any MLS team, as the Reds enjoy one of the best home-field advantages in all the league. The Galaxy are well-equipped to deal with the adversity, though, and they should be able to return to their winning ways even with stud centerback Omar Gonzalez suspended for the match (yellow card accumulation).
Bruce Arena's side has displayed its defensive depth all season, and Todd Dunivant, Gregg Berhalter & Co. will be able to disrupt Dwayne De Rosario enough to keep Toronto off the scoreboard. Youngsters Tristan Bowen and Michael Stephens continue to shine as the Galaxy deal the Reds their first home loss of the season. Galaxy 2, TFC 0.
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
The Wizards came up with back-to-back clean sheets leading up to the break, but they'll have to dig deep to keep that up against the Red Bulls.
The absences of Roger Espinoza (World Cup) and Dane Richards (hamstring injury) cancel each other out, though Espinoza arguably means more to his team. Joel Lindpere and Juan Pablo Angel should be able to hold a decisive advantage in this matchup, and therein lies the difference.
Look for Tim Ream and Mike Petke to handle Kei Kamara, as both defenses come up with strong showings. Angel gets on the end of a Lindpere free kick for the only tally in this one, as the Red Bulls keep pace with the Crew. Red Bulls 1, Wizards 0.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
As stated above, Casey and Ching highlight this battle of Western Conference powers. Colorado is just three points behind Real Salt Lake despite scoring a conference-worst 13 goals (in 11 games). A big reason the Rapids have succeeded is the play of their defense, which has yielded just nine goals. Only the Galaxy have allowed fewer.
Houston will try to crack their staunch defense with a healthy stable of attacking players, spearheaded by Ching and Dominic Oduro. The Marvell Wynne-Oduro matchup features two of the faster players in the league and will be one to watch. It comes down to the headliners, though, as Ching and Casey each find the back of the net, and each team earns a point. Dynamo 1, Rapids 1.
CHIVAS USA vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
Just when things can't get much worse for Chivas, Sacha Kljestan leaves town.
With the American now plying his trade abroad in Belgium, Chivas USA, which has lost five straight league matches, is scrambling to find a playmaker. Only so much can be expected from Akron rookies Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, and there will be even more bumps along the road considering that Jonathan Bornstein has extended his stay in South Africa. All signs point to long odds for Martin Vasquez' men barring future personnel moves.
The Hoops, meanwhile, seem to be hitting a bit of a stride (3-1-3 in last seven matches), as Brek Shea has emerged as another scoring threat, David Ferreira has improved his play in the midfield and Heath Pearce has steadied the team with his play and experience.
Shea continues his scoring ways and Jeff Cunningham gets on the board as well, as the Hoops steal some road points from a vulnerable opponent. FC Dallas 2, Chivas USA 0.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/SBI Live Commentary)
MLS' newest gem gets unveiled on national television as the Union end the anticipation and open up PPL Park. The timing couldn't be better for Philadelphia, which needs some home-field loving after playing eight of its 10 matches on the road to start the season. The Sounders may be ripe for the picking, too, after their 3-2 home loss to D.C. United lingered throughout the break.
The talent edge in this matchup goes to the Sounders, but as they've shown throughout the season, that alone hardly translates to victories. A Freddie Ljungberg dive leads to a Peter Nowak explosion on the sidelines and a PK, but Sebastien Le Toux burns his former team, and rookie Danny Mwanga tallies the winner in stoppage time as Philadelphia gives its home fans a night to remember. Union 2, Sounders 1.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Sunday, 7 p.m., MLS Direct Kick)
After being rejuvenated after the re-signing of Steve Ralston, the Revs watched as the all-time MLS assist leader dislocated his elbow in a friendly last week, three minutes into his return. That wasn't exactly the jolt the team was looking for after a disappointing opening to the season.
The Fire, meanwhile, are starting to gel offensively, with midfielders Marco Pappa and Baggio Husidic doing the heavy lifting. Patrick Nyarko is enjoying a breakout season as well, and his speed may be too much for the Revolution to handle.
Despite Shalrie Joseph's presence, the New England offense is wildly inconsistent. Though Zack Schilawski continues his nice rookie season with another goal, Pappa scores another as well, and Brian McBride nets the winner in a Fire road victory. Fire 2, Revolution 1.
How do you see Week 13 turning out? Are you excited that MLS is back? Think the World Cup will help league attendance and TV ratings?
Share your thoughts below.