Photo by Patricia Giobetti/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
A week after treating its fans to the much-hyped clash between New York and Los Angeles, MLS will be showcasing a match that perhaps comes with even more anticipation: the league's first-ever Cascadia rivalry match between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.
Two of the most rabid fan bases in the league this season will come together in the Pacific Northwest at Seattle's Qwest Field on Saturday as the teams, both sitting on 13 points, fight for position in the Western Conference.
Elsewhere, the New England Revolution will host the Vancouver Whitecaps in a rematch of the clubs' card-packed meeting last month, and Real Salt Lake will play its first game without Javier Morales as the Houston Dynamo comes Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here is a rundown of all the Week 9 action:
TORONTO FC vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 7 p.m., Direct Kick)
With Toronto and Chicago sitting at seventh and eighth place, respectively, in the nine-team Eastern Conference, this BMO Field showdown will be crucial as the teams both try to make the leap from bottom-feeders to middle of the pack.
Before the season, Sean Johnson and Patrick Nyarko being out due to injury would have been a major issue for the Fire, but seeing as both players have been slumping thus far in 2011, it's only a minimal blow. For Aron Winter's Toronto side, the key will be putting Wednesday's controversial loss at FC Dallas in the past and concentrating on grabbing the full three points at home.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
When these two teams met in Vancouver on April 6, the match featured red cards to the Whitecaps' Gershon Koffie and Eric Hassli and New England's A.J. Soares. When the dust settled, the Revolution walked away with a point on the road thanks to Ilija Stolica's stoppage-time equalizer.
New England will be a different side this time around, most notably featuring newcomers Rajko Lekic and Benny Feilhaber. Those attacking talents could make matters complicated for the Whitecaps, who still have centerback Jay DeMerit listed as questionable with a pesky groin strain.
D.C. UNITED vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Even with Conor Casey upgraded to probable with a hamstring strain, United will be feeling lucky not to have to face Omar Cummings (ankle sprain) or Caleb Folan (groin strain), two forwards who combined for three goals during the Rapids' 4-1 win over D.C. last month.
United will have a significantly different look in the back, as only one defender who started that game (either Daniel Woolard or Marc Burch) seems poised to play Saturday at RFK Stadium, as current United starters Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White and Perry Kitchen all sat out the loss at Colorado.
FC DALLAS vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
The Union has to like this matchup, as its stingy defense will draw an FC Dallas attack still trying to figure out how to capitalize in the attacking third without the playmaking talents of David Ferreira.
After notching his first goal of the season Wednesday against Los Angeles, Philadelphia forward Danny Mwanga could get the start alongside Carlos Ruiz up top, a partnership Union fans will be hoping finds a rhythm sooner rather than later.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Saturday, 9 p.m., FSC)
Speaking of teams learning how to cope without a star playmaker, Salt Lake will be doing just that in its first game since Javier Morales' brutal ankle injury last week against Chivas USA. Veteran Andy Williams seems like the prime candidate to step into the starting lineup against suddenly slumping Houston.
With the injury-ridden Brian Ching again out (this time due to plantar fascitis), coach Dominic Kinnear will pick two of Cam Weaver, Will Bruin and Koke to start up top against Salt Lake.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Kansas City will return to the Home Depot Center, the site of its lone MLS win this year, a season-opening triumph at Chivas USA, but the opposition will be much stiffer this time around. To Kansas City's advantage, this aging Los Angeles team will be coming off a midweek cross-country road trip to Philadelphia.
One player who won't be fatigued is David Beckham, who coach Bruce Arena rested against the Union. Always a difficult matchup, Beckham could be particularly troublesome when given space to operate in midfield against Kansas City's 4-3-3 formation.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Is this the weekend the Earthquakes start living up to their potential? One win away from the MLS Cup last fall, San Jose is just 1-4-3. The record is simply stunning, especially when considering the amount of talent the team returned this year.
Columbus, meanwhile, overhauled its roster after a successful regular season but early playoff exit. At 3-1-4, the Crew boast the league's longest unbeaten streak of seven games. Columbus will look to ride its sturdy defense and the hot hand of striker Emilio Renteria (four goals in three games) against the Earthquakes.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
As if the fan fervor surrounding this marquee match wasn't enough, these are also two teams playing some of the better soccer in MLS right now after slow starts. This game could very well be won on the flanks, where Seattle's Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans will surely test Portland fullbacks Rodney Wallace and Jeremy Hall.
A player to watch for Portland will be speedster Jorge Perlaza up top. Seattle central defensive options Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke are a bit lacking in the pace department, so Perlaza could trouble them, just as D.C.'s Charlie Davies did during a 2-1 United win last week.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. CHIVAS USA (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
Trying to nab a result at Red Bull Arena was always going to be a tough proposition for Chivas, and doing so without the suspended Andrew Boyens and Marcos Mondaini will make matters even more difficult.
Forwards Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers have to like their chances against Chivas' depleted back line (in addition to Boyens being out, Jimmy Conrad remains sidelined due to a concussion), and it's hard to imagine the Goats finding much joy in midfield either, especially considering Teemu Tainio is expected to return from a groin strain for New York.
Do you think Portland can steal a result at Seattle? How will Salt Lake fare without Morales? Will San Jose finally get back on track this weekend?
Share your thoughts below.
Jeld-web field Is field turf too, so who are you rooting for?
I wouldn’t mind that either, it’s painful enough to have both Mapp and Daniel out there. Torres is a playmaker but not sure if he’s 90min ready. I like to see Jack Mac even get more time instead of the last 10min every game.
Cannot wait for the ssfc/timbers game. 36000 people going crazy!
Im Australian and im more excited about the Seattle v Portland game than any other game in Europe this week, GO MLS !!!
Le Toux should be in the midfield until Nowak finds a playmaker
PDX is gonna get stuffed
No reason to believe it suddenly transfers this week. Seattle has won their last two at home, should be good and energized for this one. I would be stunned to see Portland leave with 3 points
I’d rather see Mwanga paired up top with Le Toux, give Ruiz a break. Though a better record this season, the offense looked more in sync last season.
What does their home form have to do with playing on the road?
I see Portland taking 3 points on this one. Their form at home has been outstanding and if they can even transfer that a little in Seattle they should take this one.
RBNY #1 IN MLS HOLALALALALALALLALALLALALALALALALALALA
Looking forward to Seattle and NY victories.