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Saturday 7 April 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 5 Weekend Preview

Four questions to be answered in this the fifth weekend of MLS action:

 When rivals meet, who will take the bragging rights and the points?

     This weekend makes a special occasion on the Canadian soccer calendar. For the first time, Toronto and Montreal will take to the pitch as equals to continue their age old conflict as the two original facets of Canadian society.

     Toronto, Upper Canada, the British stronghold in the region. Montreal, Lower Canada, the bastion of all things French.

     There have been battles - on the ice, in particular, but on the pitch as well, and now in MLS.

     Both sides are in desperate need of points. Montreal with a single, acquired in their lone home performance, a 1-1 draw against Chicago. Toronto trailing even that, pointless, as their concentrations have been focused on the Champions League resulting in three straight losses in the league.

     This is the first of five meetings on the season. Tasty.

     South of the border, some distance to the West, one of the fiercest of the manufactured rivalries , the Rocky Mountain Cup, begins its run of fixtures.

     Created in 2005 with the birth of Salt Lake as a franchise, the cup has evolved into one of the must-watch, grudge matches on the MLS calendar.

     The Rapids took the first two editions, only to lose each successive one to the Royals. With three matches scheduled for this season, best to see what unfolds in this the first leg of the series.

In the battle of the stingiest defences in the league who will emerge victorious? Or is a scoreless draw an unavoidable eventuality?

     San Jose has started off the season rather well. On opposite sides of 1-0 results against New England and Houston in their first two home games, they took to the road for two straight matches and returned home with the full six points.

     A 3-0 win in Toronto followed by a 1-0 win in Seattle sees San Jose as one of the top defensive teams in the league after four matches played, having allowed only the one goal to Houston.

     Tied with Kansas City - also conceded only one goal - one club has bettered that record- - their opponents this weekend, the Vancouver Whitecaps. In their four matches played, they have racked up four clean sheets - three hundred and sixty minutes of shutout ball, a mighty feat indeed.

     So as two of the top defensive teams come together in the Bay Area this match day, which defence will hold fast?

     History – last season's results – dictate that the match is destined to end in a draw. Scoreless is the obvious choice, as the Whitecaps have drawn their last two in such a manner, not even managing to register an official shot in that spell.

     If there is to be a goal, the safe bet is San Jose's Chris Wondolowski. Four goals on the season and eight in his last nine matches, he scored all three of his side's goal against Vancouver last season.

In the headline battle of heavy weights who will emerge?

     The undoubted match of the round sees undefeated Kansas City welcome a struggling Los Angeles into Livestrong Sporting Park.

     Sporting have amassed four straight wins to begin the season. In doing so they have become only the sixth club in league history to reach that mark.

     The Galaxy, on the other hand, have struggled mightily out of the gate, falling unexpectedly to Toronto in the Champions League, before going on to concede seven goals in three matches at their previously impenetrable home fortress.

     Is this just a blip as the club adjusts to life without Omar Gonzalez, injured in the preseason? Or is it a sign of something more?

     Landon Donovan is set to return, but David Beckham has not made the trip across the continent, whether due to back strain, or the damage inflicted upon his pride by a halftime substitution in their last match. At least they announced it on the injury report this time.

     The last three meeting in Kansas have ended in draws, but with this reborn Sporting flying high and the Galaxy floundering could be see a changing of the guard this weekend.

Which team comes out for Round 5?

     It feels as though each weekend one club or another comes out with a surprise performance. Whether it is New England's 1-3 win in LA, DC's 4-1 deconstruction of Dallas, New York's 4-1 and 5-2 hammerings of Colorado and Montreal in successive weeks.

     This early in the season teams are still finding their feet and shock, or unexpected results, have been the norm.

     So what new information will present itself for this week? Will San Jose and Vancouver's previously stoic defences provide an eight-goal thriller? Will Los Angeles reassert themselves as rightful champions, bowing down the pretenders as they take to the road for the first time this season?
Will the rivalries in Montreal and Salt Lake live up to the hype and provide the baying crowds with the instant classics they desire.

     Only way to find out what twists and turns the season will take is to tune in this weekend.

Bonus – I'm in Montreal, making the drive across the highway as have a thousand or so fellow Torontonians. What does this weekend hold for us, the travelling fan? Should be fun.

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

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