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Saturday 26 May 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 12 Weekend Preview

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

Will Houston exact revenge in a rematch of last season MLS Cup Final?

    The first match of the weekend pits old foes against one another.

    Dating back to Houston’s previous incarnation as the San Jose Clash there is a long history to be considered, including one of the most dramatic finals ever - the 2001 overtime win by San Jose on the strength of a Dwayne De Rosario strike.

    In last year’s final, the Galaxy handled the Dynamo easily, defeated Houston 1-0 – a score-line that served them well that campaign – at the Home Depot Center on the strength of their three designated players. A ball out of the back from was flicked on by David Beckham, into the path of Robbie Keane, who set-up Landon Donovan for the evening’s only goal.

    This year the defending champions have struggled mightily since falling disappointingly to Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League. They currently sit bottom of the Western Conference in the midst of a winless streak of six matches and travel to Houston without Donovan and Keane, both away on international duty with the USA and Ireland respectively.

    In Houston, they must not only meet the Dynamo, but also a new stadium. BBVA Compass Stadium, resilient in a blinding orange, the new – and long-awaited - home of the Houston Dynamo has been kind to their tenants. Two matches played - a win and a draw in close succession - have put Houston in a good position to begin their own climb up the table.

    Seven road matches to open the season as the finishing touches were applied to the ground sees the Dynamo poised to challenge in the East with plenty of home matches remaining - thirteen points from ten matches thus far places them seventh in the table.

    Does the Compass point Houston to victory or is this the time LA finds the grit needed to turn their season around?

With road fans attending in numbers, will the home side silence their visitors, or will the long bus ride home be a celebratory one?

    Three matches this weekend should see a decent amount of travelling support.

    Chicago is sending some six-hundred odd red-clad fans to nearby Columbus as part of a ticket drive campaign that has proven rather successful.

    An arrangement made with the supporter’s section that for each season ticket sold in their area of the ground a seat on a bus would be made available for the shortest trip of the season across state lines to Ohio.

    The same occurred last season, spurring the Fire onto victory behind their boisterous fans at Crew Stadium. Both clubs played on Wednesday night, will the atmosphere elicit an energetic performance?

    Though numbers remain unofficial, the DC-New England match is sure to inspire some to travel the short distance – by MLS standards, at least – between cities.

    A meeting that dates back to the origins of the league, but one that has been overshadowed by a mutual dislike for New York.

    Both sides have emerged from difficult seasons to find new life under young, former players now in coaching roles. Parallels between Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps could be made; each has, in their own way, revitalized creaking giants into contenders in the East.

    DC, despite a rigourous schedule to begin the season and a fair share of injuries, has risen to the top of the Eastern Conference, in second-place with twenty-four points. New England, has had mixed results, but has shown flashes of brilliance in the young season, sit mid-table and poised to be in consideration for the playoffs.

    It should be noted that Olsen is in second full season as coach, while Heaps has just begun his first.

    Speaking of travelling fans…

In the second match of the Cascadia Cup can Vancouver head into Portland and seize the advantage, or do the Timbers get one over on the Canadian rivals?

    Vancouver-Seattle began the Cascadia Cup with a 2-2 draw last weekend, kicking off the annual tournament between the three Pacific Northwest clubs. 

    Seattle won last season’s trophy by dint of going undefeated in matches against their opponents.

    Portland has been resurgent of late, firstly by tightening up the defense and then finding a pair of goals in their last match – something that had eluded them for some time. Vancouver will be hoping to shake-off the disappointment of a midweek failure, falling to Toronto in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup and handing TFC their fourth consecutive title of Canadian Champions.

    The Timbers won both meetings last season as the two clubs joined MLS for lacklustre – though expectedly so – inaugural campaigns. If last weekend’s Whitecaps-Sounders match was any indication, this one will be intense and contested at breakneck speed.

When like-minded opponents meet, who will take the cake?

    This weekend pairs to sets of clubs in similar circumstance together.

    Saturday sees two clubs wallowing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference against one another.

    Toronto sit bottom, eight points behind their guests Philadelphia, still winless and pointless on the season. This is their final match before a needed rest as international action takes precedent.

    Philadelphia have yet to find themselves after an off-season that saw coach Piotr Nowak rebuild a winning club with further youth and foreign talent. The outline of a contender is there, but it has yet to come together into a successful form.

    Does Toronto ride the high of winning the Voyageur’s Cup, take their first win and enter the break on a positive? Or does Philly end their own winless streak of four matches and inflict further despair upon the host club and their fans?

    At the other end of the spectrum, the lone Sunday match pits top of the table contenders Kansas City and San Jose. Kansas bolted out of the gate, seven straight wins to open the season, a pace that has since waned after a stretch of four matches without a win, dropping them from first to third in the East.

    San Jose started less-spectacularly, but built steadily. Rather than dominating, they have done just enough to win, often relying on a late surge to grab all or a share of the points.

    Alan Gordon has been the timely hero in the last three matches, scoring the winning or tying goal after the eighty-eighth minutes in each match; the Earthquakes as a club have performed a similar feat in five of their last seven matches and lead the league in goals scored in the final fifteen minutes of matches.

    In a battle of entertainers, which will grab the prize? 

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

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