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Friday 4 May 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 9 Weekend Preview

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

Can Toronto avoid a loss of historic proportions?

    There’s no point in avoiding the obvious, most of the league will be watching in interest when Toronto attempts to avoid officially achieving the worst start in MLS history.

    Zero wins, eight losses; a disappointment of epic proportions. The first match on Saturday afternoon sees TFC play host to DC United.

    The Toronto faithful will follow the proceedings on tenterhooks, muttering prayers to any god who would listen with bated breath.

    To make matters worse a duo of former Reds captains will be leading United, in an attempt to doom their past employers to the annals of the record books.

    Dwayne De Rosario will shake and bake; Maicon Santos will shoot on sight - things look bleak for the home side. A dire 0-0 draw midweek on the shoddy carpeting of Montreal’s Stade Olympique did little to encourage those around the club, but the players saw the clean sheet as a stepping-stone.

    Will TFC overcome the weight of the occasion? Will former representatives affect the outcome?

Speaking of mounting losses, a handful of clubs will be hoping this is the weekend that sees them turn their stumbling seasons around and begin anew?

    Chivas and their peculiar home streak - winless in four matches, yet to score at home, all while winning three difficult away matches – while be tested when they host Chicago on Friday night; will they finally score at home and win?

    Columbus - also winless in four – travel to Portland, who are themselves struggling to find the goals necessary to turn results in their favour.

    Portland has won recently – a 1-0 win over Kansas City on the strength of a Chance Myers own-goal – as have New England – 2-1 over Colorado - and Colorado – 4-0 over Chivas - but all sides are at risk of slipping further behind the pace, should their bad form continue.

    New England faces the daunting task of heading into Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto and Colorado fly south to Dallas to tangle with their unbeaten home record.

As losses accumulate, so to do injuries; several clubs will be missing key contributors this weekend. While crisis is a word too strong, who can overcome the injury setbacks?

    Dallas has been hamstrung all season with an injury list that has ravaged their roster, forcing manager Schellas Hyndman into fielding different starting elevens in each of their nine matches thus far.

    David Ferreira, Ricardo Villar, Bobby Warshaw, Carlos Rodriguez, and Kevin Hartman are all currently unavailable; add suspensions and international commitments and Dallas has struggled to field a full strength side in any match this season.

    The lone Sunday match sees Dallas host New England.

    Seattle too have had issues with the injury bug and though the likes of Mauro Rosales and Adam Johansson have returned to fitness, one key player will be missing this weekend.

    Austrian keeper Michael Gspurning was charged with the unenviable task of replacing club legend Kasey Keller following his retirement this offseason. Now that task falls on the young shoulders of Bryan Meredith, who made his debut replacing Gspurning at half time in their midweek match against Los Angeles.

    Gspurning looks set to miss out this weekend as a hip injury will force him to the sidelines for a couple of weeks. How will the young keeper perform in his stead when the Sounders welcome the Union on Saturday?

    Philadelphia’s players have been instructed to shoot on sight in an effort to test the replacement keeper’s ability to handle the pressures of the big show. It will be interesting to watch.

    DC United, who will attempt to doom Toronto to that unwanted slice of history must do so with a weakened back-line; one torn apart by San Jose midweek.

    Centre-backs Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakovic, utility defender Ethan White, and defensive midfielder Marcelo Saragosa are all set to possibly miss out on the proceedings, offering a glimmer of hope to the Reds in the face of ignomity.

Perhaps the only club more adversely affected by injuries than the three considered above is New York. In the lone meeting of the season between Los Angeles and New York, which struggling giant will seize the bragging rights?

    The marquee matchup between opposite coast rivals takes prime position smack in the middle of the Saturday night schedule.

    LA rested key players – David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Todd Dunivant – midweek, fielding a weakened eleven in a 2-0 loss to Seattle on Wednesday night.

    New York can count amongst their wounded, virtually their entire first-choice back-line – Conde, Keel, Solli, and Miller; defensive rock Teemu Tainio, and now prolific striker Thierry Henry; add to that the continuing suspension of Rafa Marquez and one can assume a healthy portion of the Red Bulls salary budget will be sitting out the high-profile match.

    Interestingly enough, it was in the face of such difficult stakes that New York was able to keep their first clean sheet last weekend against New England after Henry had put them in the lead with a marvelous finish, looped over Matt Reis in goal.

    The Red Bull back-line had a sum of less than thirty matches of MLS experience, but were able to see out the result, earning goalkeeper Ryan Meara his first shutout of a young and promising career.

    Will they be able to hold out against the coming onslaught of a hungry Galaxy side at home? Or will they crumble into embarrassment when LA attempts to reestablish its dominance on the league?  

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

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