By Jacob Klinger
It's easy to get used to the competitive parity of MLS. Not too many blowouts and the phrase "any given Sunday" (or Wednesday or Saturday, what have you) is as literal as in any league in the world. But with the all of the league's 19 teams seemingly constantly bouncing around in chaotic orbits of form and all well past the season's grace period, this weekend's set of fixtures is especially difficult to predict.
Eight games are to be played on Saturday and Sunday. I'll do my best.
Montreal Impact vs. LA Galaxy, Saturday, May 12 4 p.m. EDT
Though the Galaxy may still be sore from their 1-0 home loss to a pre-frazzled New York Red Bulls, they still seem destined to be doing more climbing than falling in the near future. The Impact, on the other hand are a big fat question mark.
A week ago the expansion side handed Sporting KC its first home loss of the year. Four days later they were eliminated from the Canadian Championship by MLS-winless Toronto FC. Half of Jesse Marsch's first XI was changed for the Toronto match, but a loss to Toronto is still pretty damning. That said, the Impact have shown that they can be lethal when given the opportunity.
This Galaxy team isn't one that will force a game down its opponents' throats, but facing a Montreal team that is now, with good reason, seeing itself as a potential playoff team, the estranged defending champs must exercise some control in what promises to be a charged atmosphere - more than 59,000 tickets sold as of Friday morning. Despite their current position on the table, the Galaxy are still favorites. Yet the longer they take to impose themselves, their odds of taking valuable road points will also lengthen.
Fortunately for Galaxy fans, the veteran team knows as much.
Prediction: MTL 1-2 LAG
Houston Dynamo vs. D.C. United, Saturday May 12 4:30 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports
The four-time champions have been resurgent this season, climbing to as high as second in the Eastern conference. They currently sit third on 18 points. And while Benny's Bloomers - sorry - show no signs of slowing down, Designated Player and Albanian international Hamdi Salihi is rounding into form himself, scoring twice in his last 40 minutes of playing time. His progress alone makes United a potent force for all 90 minutes and actually forces Olsen to consider starting him. He'll likely keep the super-sub role for now, regardless, the visitor's attack is a scary one.
But then there's the stadium. DC's maestro, Dwayne De Rosario, should get some warm and fuzzies as Houston's 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup banners are unveiled inside BBVA Compass Stadium. At the same time, you can expect Brian Ching, a man who bleeds orange to the point where it stops being cliche, to be as fired up as anyone. Raucous is the word and you can expect it to reflect on the field. DC beat Houston 3-2 two weeks ago and you can expect a simialrly high-scoring game as the Dynamo open their stadium with their first home game of the season.
Prediction: HOU 3-3 DC
The Pioneer Cup
Columbus Crew vs. FC Dallas, Saturday May 12 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas should be thrilled to travel to Columbus, not just to honor the late and great Lamar Hunt, but to be facing a team that simply hasn't quite figured this season out.
That and Brek Shea may return for his first start since going down with turf toe. He played the last 20 minutes of Dallas's 2-0 home loss against Seattle Wednesday. Dallas is a strong team with a solid defense and enough pacy attacking talent to make any offside trap seem like a really bad idea. Not wanting to let the recent pair of 2-0 losses snowball into something nasty, FC Dallas should be hell-bent on making May a less miserable month.
Prediction: CLB 1-2 DAL
New England Revolution vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday May 12 7:30 p.m. EDT
The Revolution have every reason to be playing out a miserable season. They have a rookie coach in Jay Heaps, an inexperienced team and not too many big-picture signs of encouragement on the horizon. Yet they have nine points from nine games and could find themselves in playoff position with a result against the Caps this weekend. Shalrie Joseph lynchpins a competent midfield that's engineered nothing but wins and losses this season.
But Vancouver is hot. The Caps have averaged 1.5 goals per game in their six straight wins since losing to KC April 18. All but two of the team's starters- Jay DeMerit and Camilo Sanvezzo - from last Saturday's comeback win over San Jose sat out the midweek 3-1 victory over FC Edmonton. Only Vancouver will beat Vancouver in Foxborough with only the possible look ahead to Wednesday's first leg of the Canadian Championship threatening to derail Martin Rennie's in-form team.
Prediction: NE 1-2 VAN
Let's be Cornered
Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday May 12 8:30 p.m. EDT
Sporting is probably the best top-to-bottom team in the league, but they are not in form. Two straight losses will have last year's Eastern Conference finalists urgently itching to get their season back on what was once historic track. The Fire will be just three days removed from dualing Real Salt Lake to a scoreless draw.
KC undid their own dominance last weekend at Livestrong Park against Montreal, leaving the Impact far too much space to play in on the rare occasions that they had the ball. Pep Guardiola once said that he only worried about his Barcelona team when they didn't have the ball, hence their maniacal pressure to get it back when they do lose it. Sporting would be wise to do the same against a team that will gladly match their workrate. For all of Chicago's hustle and bustle I just don't see them being able to find the requisite goals to beat a hungry KC.
Prediction: CHI 0-3 KC
Better than the Hype
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake, May 12 10:00 p.m. EDT
Unlike last weekend's LA-NY underperformer, Saturday night's match wil feature two table-topping squads that thrive in playing some serious ball. Salt Lake lead the race for the Supporters' Shield, and though they've played more games than anyone else in the league, they've certainly earned their perch atop the league.
If you don't know what these two teams can do now would be a great time to find out. Both Jason Kreis and Sigi Schmid are sworn to letting their team's play high-tempo posession soccer. Yet Seattle are in better form having won five straight while surrendering only one goal in six games since April 7. It's not that RSL are in poor form - LDWWD - just that the Sounders are in better form, playing their slightly faster game on a faster surface in front of their rave green army of supporters.
Wish this one was on national television.
Prediction: SEA 2-1 RSL
Battle of I-95
Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls, May 13 12:30 p.m. EDT ESPN2
While the Union are in the midst of an identity crisis - more on that later - the Red Bulls are finding themselves to be pleasantly decent without Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry. The latter surprises all more than the former, but last week at the Home Depot Center the Red Bulls showed that the back line is coping just fine without the former Mexico captain. Jan Gunnar Solli, Markus Holgersson, Tyler Ruthven and Conor Lade proved savvy enough at shielding the blossoming Ryan Meara. They kept what was once the league's best at bay, at times even pinning the Galaxy back with quick purposeful counters.
In Seattle the Union learned that they should stick to their own compact game as they cannot play the best teams straight up. Yet the Red Bulls are not among the league's elite by any means. Still, this game will be won and lost in the midfield trenches. Philly got to rest many of its starters in the midweek friendly win over Schalke, but expect Joel Lindpere and Dax McCarty to scrap the Red Bulls to another gritty road win.
Prediction: PHI 0-1 NYRB
Bay Area Beatdown
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chivas USA May 13, 7 p.m. EDT Galavision
If there's one thing to keep in mind when watching this game, it is this: Jurgen Klinsmann will release his roster of MLS players for this summer's first set of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers just a week after Sunday's game.
Chris Wondolowski leads the league with 11 goals from 38 shots this season. He's scored 45 goals since 2010, but hasn't been able to replicate that form with the national team. The man simply has to continue scoring just to keep his name in the conversation for a call-up. Take Wondolowski out of the picture and Chivas USA might actually be able to approach equaling San Jose's attack. Without Wondolowski's output San Jose would have just 10 goals, still double Chivas's haul, but certainly not nearly conference-leading kind of numbers. Unfortunately for Chivas, Wondowloski will be playing. And I expect the man with a point to prove to continue doing so quite well.
Prediction: SJ 3-1 CHV
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Did I give KC too much credit? Not enough to Philadelphia? How big of a boost will the new stadium be for Houston? Voice your opinion in Facebook comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a regular contributor to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears weekly. Jacob also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. His love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at email@example.com.
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