By TRAVIS CLARK
Another packed weekend of MLS action beckons, and a change to catch a number of the new signings clubs have landed of late.
Sunday night's meeting in Bridgeview, Ill. between the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls is a chance to catch a glimpse of five Designated Players on the field at once a first for MLS. Rafa Marquez, the newest addition, is likely to make his Red Bulls debut while the Fire will unveil Nery Castillo when the two sides square off at Toyota Park.
Out in the West, the rebounding Sounders FC side welcomes the Houston Dynamo to Qwest Field in an important match for two aspiring playoff teams.
Here's a complete look at this week's MLS action:
CHIVAS USA (5-9-3) vs. TORONTO FC (6-6-5), Saturday 4:00 p.m. MLS Direct Kick
Toronto FC has developed a nasty habit of dropping points lately, whether by conceding a late goal or failure to deliver against lesser opponents. Whatever the issue, if TFC hopes to secure that elusive playoff berth, they'll need to tighten things up against Preki's old club.
Chivas USA are a side very much in transition, bringing in a number of new players the past month. Alan Gordon became the latest when he was acquired by the Rojiblancos Thursday, and could be in line for a debut at BMO Field. Toronto should have enough to grab the win. Toronto 2, Chivas 1.
D.C. UNITED (3-12-3) vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (4-9-3), Saturday 7:30 p.m. MLS Direct Kick
If D.C. United are going to win another game, this is a glorious chance. New coach Ben Olsen will oversee his first game in charge against a depleted Revolution side. New England won't have the services of Kevin Alston and Marko Perovic, both injured during Wednesday night in SuperLiga action.
Perovic had asserted himself over the last few weeks, and good fortune and form in SuperLiga looked to creep over into league play. United will pull off a shocking result in this one. D.C. 2, New England 1.
REAL SALT LAKE (10-4-4) vs. KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (5-8-4), Saturday 8:30 p.m. MLS Direct Kick
The long road to respectability — and a hopeful playoff berth — continues for Kansas City. Four points off pace in the standings, the Wizards have temporarily righted the ship, and must continue to do so with one of the league's best sides visiting Community America Ballpark.
RSL is beginning to recover completely, with Kyle Beckerman returning to action recently. The defensive midfielder is a crucial cog to Salt Lake's offense and defense, and while Ned Grabavoy is a strong option, Beckerman is one of the league's best at his position. Look for honors to be split in this one. Kansas City 1, Real Salt Lake 1.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-5-5) vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (6-5-6), Saturday 9:00 p.m. MLS Direct Kick
Two teams, two mid-summer swoons. Both clubs had playoff aspirations prior to the 2010 season starting, and now each are struggling. Colorado hasn't won since June, and are barely hanging on to a playoff spot. A string of draws has helped them avoid a total disaster, but with August here, it's win or once against miss out on playoff soccer.
The incoming 'Quakes aren't exactly lighting the league on fire — Ike Opara is gone through injury, and San Jose won only once in June or July, besting the Union 2-1. Expect the two struggling clubs to fight to a deadlock. San Jose 1, Colorado 1.
PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-9-3) vs. FC DALLAS (6-2-9), Sunday 7:00 p.m. FSC/FSE
There's no questioning that Philadelphia has stocked a good amount of young talent on their roster. But whether that can translate to immediate success looks bleak. Small defensive errors by some of the club's more experienced players have gone punished time and time again, and Sebastian Le Toux gets little help in the offensive third.
On the other hand, FC Dallas can take some confidence from a 2-2 draw against the champions of Europe on Thursday, and continue to put together consistent performances. Brek Shea's emergence has been crucial, not to mention the drive of David Ferreira. Jeff Cunningham has gone quiet, but new signing Milton Rodriguez looks like a good bet to keep Cunningham on the bench — though the team might prosper if the two played together. Either way, Dallas should be able to conquer the Union at home. FC Dallas 3, Philadelphia 1.
NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-6-3) vs. CHICAGO FIRE (5-5-5), Sunday 9:00 p.m. ESPN2/Deportes
Recent league signings and moves have turned a run-of-the-mill Eastern Conference matchup into something worth tuning in to. Barring a set back, Rafa Marquez is expected to start for New York, and two potentially prolific offenses will go up against each other.
As far as defensive matchups go, New York has the advantage with Tim Ream, Carlos Mendes, not to mention Marquez sitting in front of the back line. Chicago's goalkeeper frailties, with either Sean Johnson or Andrew Dykstra getting the nod, might not be able to stand up against the torrid attack of Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel. New York 3, Chicago 2.
HOUSTON DYNAMO (5-8-5) vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (7-8-4), Sunday 11:00 p.m. MLS Direct Kick
The Sounders finished the job in the CONCACAF Champions League — can they now continue their league surge? Freddie Ljungberg is gone, a move that frees of Fredy Montero to act as more of a playmaker — where he's excelled — and as Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez continue to settle in, things will continue to look hop. Most overlooked however, is the health of Osvaldo Alonso. The holding midfielder tidies up in front of the back four, and Sounders FC tend to struggle without him.
Houston has limped, struggled and battled their way to this point in the season. Geoff Cameron is now healthy, but whether or not that makes a big enough difference is a long shot. Seattle will take this one in front of a home crowd. Seattle 1, Houston 0.