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Saturday 19 May 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 11 Weekend Preview

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

When the Cascadia Cup begins this weekend, who can strike the early blow against their heated rival?

    The first match of the weekend pits Western Conference rivals Vancouver and Seattle against one another. Vancouver sits in fourth place, on seventeen points; Seattle are in third, on twenty-two.

    Table position aside, this one is for early season bragging rights. The first in the season long series of Pacific Northwest battles to determine which club will rest atop the pile some the end. For Vancouver it is the next of a series of difficult matches.

    Starting with the opening leg midweek of the Voyageurs Cup, the Whitecaps host Seattle, then fly to Toronto for the second leg on Wednesday, before heading to Portland next weekend for another Cascadian meeting.

    Both sides have seen winning streaks snapped – Vancouver’s three-game run ended in last weekend’s 4-1 loss in New England, while Seattle five-game spell fell to Salt Lake 0-1 at home; both find themselves facing selection issues – Vancouver needs to choose wisely in this test of endurance, while Seattle could see their top four attacking talents (Montero, Johnson, Rosales, and Fernandez) together on the pitch for the first time if they rest the kids that have done so well of late.

    Neither is a particularly disparaging problem to have, but still something that must be considered.

    Some claim the rivalry dates back to 1974 and includes some one-hundred-twenty-five matches. Spurious as that may be, the recognition of the past is something to be appreciated.

    Interestingly the only player on Vancouver to have any experience of the pre-MLS encounters is Sebastien Le Toux, who took the field for Seattle in the USL. Seattle has a pair of players – Zach Scott and Roger Levesque – who have extensive knowledge of those early days of the affair – with twenty-nine and twenty-two against Vancouver to their careers respectively.

    Last season Vancouver lost their home meeting 1-3 after Camilo gave them the lead after twenty minutes, only to be hit for three answered – Brad Evans with the first from the spot and a brace from Fredy Montero.

    A big match for the early season, who will earn the result?

In a meeting of old foes, with a fair bit of history of their own; New England hosts Houston, who wins?   

    Having met in the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup Finals with the Dynamo emerging victorious on both occasions, there may still linger some ill-will from the Boston-area side towards their Texan opponents.

    Gone is Steve Nicol, the coach who took the Revolution to those finals, but several key members of his team survive in Jay Heaps current incarnation. Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis will be very familiar with Dominic Kinnear led sides.

    Both clubs have evolved since those heady days and appear to be headed along the right path. New England, will be buoyed by a wonderful result against Vancouver; Houston coming off the high of finally opening their new stadium, a home to call their own.    

    When very different styles of play clash on the weekend - New England’s ball movement against Houston’s set-piece proficiency – who can take the points?

The SuperClasico, cross-hall cousins meet in Los Angeles; will the Galaxy get out of their funk or do the changes made midweek by the Ameri-goats help them get one over on their rivals?

    The third meeting of rivals this weekend sees Chivas USA host their cross-hall cousins the Los Angeles Galaxy in the late match Saturday night.

    It was a rollercoaster week for Chivas, another late match concession – this time against San Jose – saw them drop points on the weekend and Coach Robin Fraser shuffled his lineup in a pair of intriguing trades midweek.

    Danny Califf and Juan Agudelo arrived, while Michael Lahoud and Heath Pearce – and substantial allocation - were shipped out to Philadelphia and New York respectively. Are they ready to contribute immediately as the interesting story that is Chivas continues to develop?

    Los Angeles’ season has been a disappointment thus far: winless in four straight, yet to record a single clean-sheet, mired towards the bottom of the Western Conference, and with a constantly rotating list of player availability.

    Robbie Keane will be leaving after this match to join Ireland prior to the Euros. Landon Donovan could miss time with the upcoming CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying matches. David Beckham will be returning from Olympic Photo-Ops on Thursday while Josh Saunders continues to deal with personal issues.

    Good news, in the form of Leonardo nearing his return from the knee injury that robbed him of all of last season and this, could spark a performance, while the knowledge that they have had their opponents under their thumb for the majority of their co-existence should prompt some of that enthusiasm that has been lacking.

    Will LA’s midweek trip to the White House remind them of what it means to be champions or will the new and improved Goats get one over on their big brother?

A handful of clubs are lost in the midst of soul-sapping slumps, who can shake off that rust this weekend?

    Toronto’s impressive record - zero wins, eight losses – aside, several other clubs have been facing a long stretch of futility.

    Portland host Chicago, in the lone Sunday match, winless in eight of their last nine matches, having not scored a goal of their own – Kansas City did them a favour scoring an own-goal in their meeting – in over four hundred minutes of action.

    On the bright side they have help their opposition scoreless in their last two matches and success is built from the back; will they find the goals they need this weekend/

    Dallas too has had a difficult season, winless in six matches, battling a lengthy list of injuries – Ugo Ihemelu, David Ferreira, and Ricardo Villar, to name a few - and suspensions – Zach Loyd and Brek Shea this time around.

    They host fellow strugglers Philadelphia – losers of three straight – who will be without star midfielder Freddy Adu, was dismissed in last weekend’s 2-3 loss to New York with a second yellow card for what was deemed a dive.

    But perhaps most concerning of the bunch is Kansas City. Seven wins to open the season had many pundits ready to anoint them as champions. But following a loss in Portland – 1-0, a Chance Myers own-goal – they have been defeated at home by Montreal and away to Chicago.

    Penalty kicks conceded by Aurelien Collin in each match have not helped, but more concerning is the lack of cohesion that has afflicted their once formidable attack. They were never a side to blow out their opponents, but recently collapses at the back combined with wasted chances have haunted them.

    They face a difficult task, ascending to the mountain top; heading into Colorado to take on Oscar Pareja’s much improved Rapids side.

    Colorado, though still struggling on the road, has enjoyed their time at home. Their improving possession game and the rigours of the thin air have served them well. With five of their next six matches at home, expect to see them climb up the Western Conference.

    Is this the weekend the slump ends? Please? 

Must See TV – It’s a tossup this weekend as to which rivalry match will prove the best: Pacific Northwest or the LA derby. The air of desperation surrounding the Galaxy and the Ameri-goats lends the impression they may just take the cake from their more relaxed neighbours to the north.

    Honourable mention to Montreal, they host New York in the final match at the venerable old Stade Olympic before moving the short walk across the complex to Stade Saputo.

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

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