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Saturday 16 June 2012

Foresight - MLS Round 13 Weekend Preview

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

Coming off the long break how will the teams begin this second phase of the season?

    Many of the clubs who take to the pitch this weekend will not have played a match in a very long time. The last three weeks were dotted with a limited number of fixtures: there were two league matches, many clubs were involved in the US Open Cup, Philadelphia had a couple of friendless, and there were several reserve matches.

    Toronto and Montreal have faced the longest layoffs; a whopping twenty days since they last played a competitive match. That is an incredible break to have in the midst of a season and judging how they will fare in the return the pitch is almost impossible.

    To some, the break will have been good, a chance to rest some tired legs and refocus on the remainder of the season. To others, the rust of not playing will have accumulated and it will show on Saturday.

    Adding to that uncertainty is the disappointment that many MLS clubs felt falling to lower league opposition in Cup play.

    Portland lost to amateur side Cal FC; Salt Lake paid to have their match moved to their home field, only to fall to Minnesota in a depressing fashion; Dallas to stumbled at home to Charlotte, a result and performance that head coach Schellas Hyndman could only echo the sentiments of one fan, stating it was an unacceptable performance.

    Rebounding from such embarrassment can be treacherous; do they try too hard, do their heads drop at the first signs of trouble.

    On top of all that there is the question of health surrounding a number of players who return from international duty. Playing for one’s country can be exhausting. Extended travel, stepping away from the comforts of home and a series of difficult matches can really wear on a player and returning to the club, road weary and exhausted is not helpful.

A single shot in the Battle for Texas, who gets to keep El Capitan?

    El Capitan, a nineteenth century Mountain Howitzer cannon that becomes the property of the winning team over the course of the season between Dallas and Houston.

    With the unbalanced schedule in effect, the two teams will only meet once this year, and so State bragging rights, points, and the prize are on the line when they take to the pitch in the first match of the evening on Saturday.

    Houston gets to host the match, which has been rescheduled to 7:30 pm for some unknown, most likely weather related, reason.

    The Dynamo will try and rebound from a disappointing display in Vancouver last weekend that saw them fall 3-1 to the Whitecaps. Houston were missing a number of internationals and were forced into making several changes to a side that had been unbeaten in four matches since opening their new stadium.

    Dallas has been plagued by injury and inconsistency for much of this season. They come into the derby with seventeen days off, though the rest has done littler to assuage their physical woes. Making matters worse striker Blas Perez, returned from international duty with Panama carrying a knock and will be a game-time decision.

    Expect a feisty, hard-fought match. And check out the video Dallas released in the build up to the match, the much maligned organization did a great thing putting this together.

How will the new managers adapt their clubs for their first match in charge?

Two of the league’s struggling clubs – Toronto and Philadelphia – finally pulled the trigger over the span of the break, removing their in situ managers and installing new ones.

    Though in many ways the change was an expected consequence of poor performances, both moves were oddly timed. Neither side took advantage of the long break, making the switch at the beginning, in order to hand the new man time to plan and work with his new charges.

    Toronto and Aron Winter parted ways, with Paul Mariner taking over. Philadelphia and Piotr Nowak ended their love-hate relationship, with John Hackworth manning the helm.

   Both clubs are mired in the basement of the Eastern Conference and will hope the decision to move on their managers will see the players dig deep and find a new level of performance that had not been present in the past.

    Toronto must head into Kansas City, while Philadelphia has a grudge match with DC after the two played out a tense US Open Cup match less than two weeks ago that ended in red cards.

What will the renovated Stade Saputo look like and how will a proper home play for Montreal?

    Saturday evening witnesses the grand re-opening of Stade Saputo as Montreal plays host to Seattle in their upgraded home ground.

    The construction was rushed, and at times it appeared it would not be completed, but most everything is ready and the match kicks off at 7:30 pm.

    Montreal has spent much of the season on the road, with intermittent returns to town to play in the gargantuan concrete palace that is the Stade Olympique. A horrid patchwork pitch and a cavernous, uncomfortable feel, was all the solace they could count on at home.

    Will this return to their spiritual base help spark the side as they mount an expansion season assault on the post season and count the days until Marco Di Vaio joins at the end of the month?

    One thing to count on, it will be loud and intimidating with the roof containing the sound made by their passionate, not-yet-jaded fan base.

    Seattle enters that newly-minted hornet’s nest riding impressive road form. Though they are winless in their last four matches, they are carrying a ten-match unbeaten streak on the road, dating back to August 6th of last season.

    Success on the road is difficult to find in MLS and they are approaching the all-time record – twelve; set by Dallas between May 1st and September 25th of 2010. Stealing points off the hosts is a surefire means of raising one’s head above the parapet, and Seattle has found great joy in beating others.
To hand defeat to Montreal, former rivals in the USL, in their first-ever MLS meeting would indeed  be sweet.

    Will they spoil Montreal’s homecoming party? Or will the Impact make an impact on the Sounders?

These are just a few of the many storylines to watch out for this weekend; there are many others. The next few months will be hectic; many clubs are faced extended stretches of action with very little rest between matches. The long summer stretch has begun and the scrap for positions has begun.

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

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