By TRAVIS CLARK
The first weekend of September is here, and there remains very little room for error as the playoff race continues to heat up.
Kansas City faces a vital trip to Philadelphia as the Wizards continue to force themselves back into the playoff picture, while FC Dallas puts its unbeaten streak on the line at home against an undermanned Toronto FC. The Canadian side will be missing Dwayne De Rosario, Nana Attakora and Julian De Guzman thanks to international team commitments.
International call-ups this weekend will leave an impact on nearly every game, putting the depth of several squads to the test. New York has four players absent, a tough blow as they travel out to Sandy, Utah to face aReal Salt Lake team that will also feel the impact of international call-ups.
Here's a look at this weekend's MLS action:
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (7-9-5) vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (5-11-5) Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Direct Kick
At the start of the season, the Wizards were thinking playoffs. And while that goal remains a realistic target, a midseason swoon gives them very little margin of error. Winning on the road is a must for Kansas City, and the Wizards will have to do so without Kei Kamara, a driving force in KC's offense.
Philadelphia will welcome the Wizards to PPL Park for the first time, looking to build on their second road win of the season. The Union showed grit and character coming from behind, and one player to keep an eye on is Justin Mapp, who has looked good since his move East. Philadelphia 2, Kansas City 0.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY (13-5-4) vs. CHICAGO FIRE (6-7-6) Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Telefutura
No Freddie Ljungberg and Marco Pappa could spell trouble for Chicago. Fortunately for the hosts, the struggling Galaxy is coming to town, providing a chance for DP Nery Castillo to live up to his price tag. Castillo claims to be fit, and will need to pick up offensively in the absence of Ljungberg.
So what's wrong with the Galaxy? The team's struggles have been well documented, but the absence of veteran Gregg Berhalter with a virus has removed a veteran presence from the back. It hasn't just been a defensive problem, however, as Landon Donvovan and Edson Buddle need to start rediscovering that early season form to give Los Angeles a chance. Chicago 2, Los Angeles 2.
COLUMBUS CREW (12-5-5) vs. D.C. UNITED (4-15-3) Saturday, 7:30 p.m. FSC/FSE
Saturday night will provide a rematch of Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal. And if that was any indicator, the Crew-United meeting will be a physical affair. United is out to salvage any scrap of pride they can find in a season that will once again see them fall short of the postseason.
Meanwhile, Columbus has a chance to keep pressure on the Galaxy, on a quest for a third straight Supporters' Shield. They'll have to manage with a limited squad, with only 18 players making the trip — quite the strain considering they remain alive in three competitions. Columbus' depth and hard work will pay off once against. Columbus 1, D.C. 0.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (9-8-5) vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (6-12-3) Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Direct Kick
Sigi Schmid's second season in Seattle is coming together nicely, with the buzz surrounding his talented striker Fredy Montero. There's no letting up for the Sounders at this stage of the season — a playoff spot is well within reach, and three more points on the road are there for the taking.
Times are trying in New England, and Steve Nicol's club finally succumbed to a back log of injuries and dodgy performances. Compounding matters for this game is the absence of Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi. The Sounders just might poach one on the road. Seattle 2, New England 1.
TORONTO FC (7-8-6) vs. FC DALLAS (9-2-10) Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Direct Kick
Dallas avoided a summer swoon, and remains one of the most difficult teams in the league to beat. Kevin Hartman has had an outstanding season in goal, bailing out FCD time and time again. David Ferreira has been a maestro in the midfield, all culminating in a 12 game unbeaten run.
Can Toronto snap that? With a full strength lineup, it seems likely. But missing Attakora, De Rosario and De Guzman in the Texas heat, makes it hard to believe that Dallas will falter. FC Dallas 2, Toronto 0.
CHIVAS USA (6-11-4) vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (8-6-7) Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Direct Kick
If the Colorado Rapids want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, they have to win games like this one. At times, Colorado's play hasn't been pretty, but when Omar Cummings and Conor Casey are clicking, they are tough to beat. That was the case last weekend in a 3-0 rout of Houston, and a repeat performance would bode well for Colorado.
Justin Braun continues to be one of the few bright spots for the Rojiblancos, and the 23-year-old has the ability to trouble the opposing defense on any giving week. He needs someone to step up around him in order for Chivas to get points on the road. Colorado 2, Chivas USA 1.
NEW YORK RED BULLS (11-7-4) vs. REAL SALT LAKE (11-4-7) Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Direct Kick
Traveling out west without four regulars isn't the way New York would want to approach this test against Real Salt Lake. New York's new acquisitions were continuing to gel with each passing game, but now must take a seat as Rafa Marquez joins the Mexican national team for a friendly. Roy Miller, Dane Richards and Bouna Coundoul are also away.
Even without Alvaro Saborio, RSL will be a handful for New York to deal with. The Utah club has shown that last year was no fluke, and with a healthy Kyle Beckerman up to his old tricks with midfield counterpart Javier Morales, Salt Lake will keep their undefeated home record intact. Real Salt Lake 3, New York 1.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (8-7-5) vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (6-11-5) Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Direct Kick
The new Earthquakes face their old selves in Texas, with each game now pivotal for the newer version. San Jose has every chance to make the playoffs, holding on to the final spot, with the closest team just two points away. They've rolled the dice with Geovanni, hoping that the Brazilian can finish some of these chances that have been left begging.
Houston's streak of four straight playoff appearances looks all but over, as the team never quite recovered from losing Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden. Geoff Cameron's early return from injury is an improvement, but it's hard to see the Dynamo putting together a late playoff run. San Jose 1, Houston 1.