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Friday 30 March 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 4 Weekend Preview

Four questions to be answered in this the fourth weekend of MLS action.

Undoubtedly the biggest story to watch is Sebastien Le Toux’s return to Philadelphia, the club with which he spent two enjoyable and successful seasons. – How will the fans respond? How will the Union react to falling to 0-3 on the season?

    When asked about the quasi-homecoming coach Piotr Nowak was his usual curmudgeonly self, dismissing any notion of importance on the return of an exiled fan-favourite.

    Philadelphia fans are quickly falling out of love with the independent-minded leadership of Nowak and the team has started the season poorly, falling to three successive losses.

    Added to the Danny Califf controversy of the last two weeks, it sets up what should be a very dramatic clash between the Union and the Whitecaps.

    Recall their meeting at PPL Park last season; Vancouver’s first-ever MLS road match was a contentious affair. Seven cautions, two of which led to Eric Hassli’s dismissal; a savage tackle on Atiba Harris by Carlos Valdes that led began the Kittitian’s injury troubles, eventually costing him the entire season.

    With Vancouver rolling and Philadelphia stumbling, this revenge match should be fun to watch.

Which Rapids side will we see this weekend as they host undefeated Chicago on Saturday?

    Colorado is one of the more interesting clubs to keep an eye on this season.

    An MLS original, undergoing a major philosophical rethink as they seek to transition from the English-style 4-4-2 under former coach Gary Smith to the more Latin-influenced 4-3-3 under new boss Oscar Pareja.

    Wins over Columbus and Philadelphia in the first two weeks of the season were followed by a 4-1 dismantling in New York.

    Jeff Larentowicz is eligible having served his suspension and new additions Kamani Hill and Martin Rivero – finally – have been cleared to play following the receipt of their International Transfer Certificates, but Pablo Mastroeni remains sidelined with concussion concerns.

    Their opponents this weekend, Chicago, have begun the campaign well. A tense 1-1 draw with Montreal in the massive home opener was followed by a strong 1-0 defeat of Philadelphia at home the following weekend.

   Dominic Oduro has tallied both goals for the Fire as the freaky-fast Ghanaian hit-man looks to better his career-high 12 goals season in 2011.

Can Kansas City push for a fourth-straight league win to go to 4-0 on the season when they visit Chivas? Or will the Ameri-Goats continue to play spoiler as they did versus RSL last weekend?

    Sporting may be the most exciting team to watch in the league. Their clash with an undermanned Dallas side last week was easily the match of the weekend.

    Their strong defense is often overlooked for their flashy attacking verve, with a lively, young group of attackers – Kamara, Bunbury, Sapong, and Zusi – augmented by the savvy heads of Bobby Convey and Julio Cesar.

    A fourth straight victory would go some way towards laying a marker down as the class of the East.

    But in their opponents Chivas, they face a mystery.

    A club apart, the enigma of MLS; what exactly are Chivas? Disappointing home losses to Houston and Vancouver by 0-1 score-lines were followed by an excellent 0-1 road result of their own at the home fortress of Salt Lake.

    With rookie Casey Townsend in place of the injured Juan Pablo Angel – another concussion concern – and the impressive form of Dan Kennedy in goal, can the Goats emerge from the shadow of their more haughty Los Angeles neighbours?

    A result against Sporting would go some way to making that statement of intent.

With so many US under-23 international returning to their club sides following their disappointing performance in Olympic Qualifying, how many will see the pitch in the weekend action and how will they fare?

    Brek Shea returns to Dallas; Bunbury to Kansas City; Freddy Adu, Sheanon Williams, and Amobi Okugo to Philadelphia; Bill Hamid and Perry Kitchen to DC; and Sean Johnson to Chicago to name a few of the instances where players may be called upon to return to the pitch following such a dramatic reversal of fortunes.

    Johnson is unlikely to feature as Paolo Tornaghi has performed well in his stead, and the young American keeper may need a moment to collect his thoughts. Hamid returned carry an ankle injury and will not feature either.

    But the rest will be expected to shirk that feeling of despair and contribute.

    Given the youth and lack of experience amongst this group, it will be interesting to see who can rise above.

DC v Dallas; Toronto v Columbus; Philadelphia v Vancouver; New York v Montreal; Seattle v San Jose; Portland v Salt Lake; Los Angeles v New England; Colorado v Chicago; Chivas v Kansas City.

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