Photo by David Bernal/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
With the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City and Club America now touring the country, one might forget there is another packed slate of MLS action lined up this weekend.
In Seattle, all eyes will be on Brian Mullan and the reception he will receive at CenturyLink Field when the Sounders host the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The match comes two months after Mullan broke Seattle star Steve Zakuani's leg with a brutal tackle that earned him a league-record-tying 10-game suspension.
At the Home Depot Center, the New York Red Bulls will look to avenge their surprising 3-2 loss at home to Chivas USA in May. And the schedule wraps up Sunday with a Eastern Conference battle between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union.
Here is a rundown of the full week 18 schedule:
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
Salt Lake seems to finally be back on track, unbeaten in its last six and coming off a 2-0 win over a red-hot FC Dallas team last weekend. Vancouver, meanwhile, has lost four in a row and, at 2-10-8, has the league's worst record.
After skipping Salt Lake's midweek Open Cup fixture while nursing injuries, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and striker Alvaro Saborio should be available for Salt Lake against the Whitecaps. On the other side, Vancouver coach Tom Soehn will have one less option to choose from after the Whitecaps traded midfielder Terry Dunfield to Toronto on Thursday.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 4 p.m., FSC)
At 9-4-8, the Sounders now boast the second-best record in MLS, four points behind Supporters' Shield leader Los Angeles. But the defending MLS Cup champions from Colorado (6-5-9) are also right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase.
It'll be intriguing to see how Colorado coach Gary Smith uses Brian Mullan in front of what will undoubtedly be a harsh audience. The midfielder logged 25 minutes last week, and it's a safe bet he'll be limited to a small role off the bench again Saturday.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
After shipping Ryan Johnson to Toronto in exchange for Nana Attakora, Jacob Peterson and Alan Gordon, San Jose could look like a considerably different team than the one the Crew spent most of this week preparing for, should those players be available Saturday.
Either way, Columbus will still have to zero in one player it is quite familiar with: striker Steven Lenhart, who was traded by the Crew during the offseason and is set to return from a one match suspension for yellow card accumulation.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Riding a 10-game unbeaten streak in MLS play and heading back home for nine consecutive league contests at Livestrong Sporting Park after this match is over, things are looking pretty good for Kansas City after a tumultuous start to the season.
But Houston's wide play could cause problems for Kansas City's 4-3-3 formation in this contest, especially if Brad Davis finds a rhythm on the left flank and is allowed to pick out the heads of Brian Ching and Will Bruin in front of goal.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Chicago surely remembers being the first team to visit Jeld-Wen Field back in April, when goalkeeper Sean Johnson had a nightmare evening and the Timbers rolled to a 4-2 triumph. With Portland entering the contest 0-6-1 in its last seven and Chicago 0-1-4 in its last five, it's safe to say both teams will be desperate for a win Saturday.
After expending bundles of energy in a rivalry match against Seattle last weekend and still walking away on the losing end, the Timbers could be a prime target for a Fire team searching for just its second victory since March ended.
FC DALLAS vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick)
Although Dejan Jakovic is finally healthy after missing more than a month with a hamstring strain suffered on Canada national team duty, expect United coach Ben Olsen to again partner rookie Ethan White with the recently acquired Brandon McDonald in central defense after the duo helped D.C. shut out New York at Red Bull Arena last weekend.
United's defense will want to pay special attention to Dallas midfielder Brek Shea, who was limited offensively while filling in at left back during the teams' scoreless draw at RFK Stadium earlier in the season.
CHIVAS USA vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Galavision)
It's probably a safe bet New York will be marking Justin Braun very tightly this time around since the Chivas forward burned the Red Bulls for a hat trick during Chivas' 3-2 win earlier in the season. He likely won't have Bouna Coundoul's misadventures in goal playing to his advantage this time around, though, since New York seems poised to start Greg Sutton or, if he's ready the newly signed Frank Rost between the posts.
On the offensive side, it'll be interesting to see which Red Bulls side shows up — the team that torched Toronto 5-0 last week or the squad that dropped a 1-0 result to D.C. United three days later.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Sunday, 7 p.m., Direct Kick)
Suspensions for Shalrie Joseph and Ryan Cochrane mean New England will be somewhat shorthanded against Philadelphia on Sunday. Considering how sharp Joseph looked against Manchester United during the Revolution's 4-1 friendly loss Wednesday, there will be quite the void to fill in the middle of the park for New England.
After Philadelphia played to a scoreless draw with San Jose last weekend, the question has to be asked: How long can Philadelphia stay on top of the Eastern Conference without scoring some goals with regularity? Only four teams have scored less than Philadelphia, and all of those squads are on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff positioning.