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Friday 27 April 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 8 Weekend Preview

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

For old rivals does familiarity breed contempt?

            The weekend’s opening match sees Portland head into Montreal for a first-MLS meeting between old rivals. Both clubs graduated to the top flight of North American soccer after long histories spent in a variety of second tier competitions.

            Montreal took the head-to-head series in the NASL in 2010, but Portland dominated their last two seasons in the USL.

            Adding to that relation are the ties between the leaders – and captains – of each side. Both formerly of the Kansas City Wizards, Portland’s Jack Jewsbury and Montreal’s Davy Arnaud are very familiar with at least one opponent against whom they will be lining up.

            Teammates; roommates; friends; each has faced a similar path the past few seasons. On the outs at a rebuilding KC side under Peter Vermes, seeing their playing time dwindle, and eventually being moved on to expansion sides – Jewsbury in the expansion draft; Arnaud in exchange for Seth Sinovic who was selected in the following year’s edition of that same draft.

            In a new city, with a new club, each has flourished under the pressure and expectations put upon the captain of an expansion side. The loser buys dinner, but how will it play out on the field?

How will the ties that bind manifest themselves in a battle for the top of the Eastern Conference?

            It’s too early to hand the conference title to Kansas City, though they have done well to put themselves well in front. But following on their trail are Houston and DC.

            Two of the sides expected to challenge for the playoff spots take to the field on Saturday evening in a match that brings more former associates together.

            Dwayne De Rosario, now with DC, spent three glorious years with Houston, twice winning the MLS Cup. Danny Cruz too spent three years – albeit less successfully – in Houston, while DC’s assistant coach Pat Onstad spent five season in Texas with the Dynamo.

            On the opposite side of the trenches, Bobby Boswell spent three years in the American capital, while Andre Hainault will be more than familiar with his Canadian National teammates De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic.

            In the quest for the playoffs in the eastern conference which side can draw first blood?

When defense meets attack, who emerges unscathed?

            Two straight wins, unbeaten in three, all while going three-hundred-and-thirty-three minutes without allowing a goal. Philadelphia sounds like a team that has found some consistency – defensively at least - after struggling in their first three matches.

            Top of the Western Conference, undefeated in five, without a loss on the road, and Chris Wondolowski in fine form - tied for the league lead amongst goal-scorers with Thierry Henry. San Jose, following a busy offseason that saw them add depth and variety to a team hampered by injuries last season and have thus been transformed into a contender.
            As the schedules start to become hectic, any and all point acquired will be helpful in the hunt for the title. For San Jose this match kicks off a series of three in seven days, while Philadelphia faces that same challenge the following week, for different reason though, as they will host FC Schalke 04, in an early summer international friendly on May 9th.

When Talismanic front-men return to the lineup, what kind of impact will they make for their struggling sides?

            Two sides languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference – Colorado and Chivas – take to the pitch in one of the later matches Saturday night.

            Both find themselves in awkward positions. Hosts Colorado have lost their last three, as the side has struggled to find its shape since new manager Oscar Pareja instituted changes in the offseason. Chivas are in the unusual headspace of being winless - and pointless in four matches – at home, yet flawless on the road, having won all three of their away matches.

            Both sides will be welcoming back their talismanic strikers – for Colorado Conor Casey has healed up an Achilles’ injury that ended his season last, and overcome a bout of Strep throat that saw him banned from the team facilities last week; for Chivas Juan Pablo Angel made a cameo appearance in the final half-hour of last weekend’s explosive clash with Philadelphia and featured in a midweek reserve match, even managing a goal from the penalty spot in the losing effort against Seattle. 

            Angel could be handed the start – especially given Alejandro Moreno will be unavailable with a concussion concern of his own – while Casey is more likely to see limited action at the end of the match. 

The final match of the weekend sees Los Angeles host Dallas late Saturday night. LA’s multi-pronged strike-force appears to have found its feet these past weeks, collecting wins versus Portland and at Colorado.

Dallas, on the other hand, have struggled mightily to put out a consistent lineup this season through injury and suspension, and are winless in their last two matches. The lone bright spot – aside from the flamboyance of Brek Shea – has been the play of Honduran striker Blas Perez.

Three goals and three assists in seven matches, Perez was forced to sit out their midweek draw against Salt Lake, but will likely return to the starting eleven against LA.

Can any of these strikers help to change the fortunes of their side?

Bonus: Rematch of last season’s US Open Cup pits Chicago – this time at home – against Seattle.

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

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