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Saturday, 14 July 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 17 Weekend Preview

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

Will the new coach bump spark Portland’s sinking season?

    The John Spencer-era in the Pacific Northwest has come to an end.

    Monday saw the club pull the trigger on the beleaguered manager, who will be replaced by general manager – and long time servant – Gavin Wilkinson on an interim basis.

    Stuck at the foot of the Western Conference, the 3-0 loss at Salt Lake last weekend was the final straw for Spencer, who leaves the club after a year and a half long tenure.

    The decision to make a change midway through their second season comes as a surprise, prompting some around the league, most notably Jason Kreis, to lament the lack of time given to a manager in a situation Kreis himself once endured.

    The club will hope the move will spark a revival, as similar moves in Toronto and Philadelphia have, and their first chance to do so comes in the final kick off of Saturday night, playing host to Los Angeles.

Speaking of Philadelphia and Toronto, which of the basement lodgers will use this weekend’s fixtures to begin their ascent up the table?

    Three of the league’s strugglers have an opportunity to make up points on their closest rivals this weekend.

    Philadelphia plays host to Montreal in the opening match of the round. The Union are four points adrift of the expansion side and as such, securing a win, continuing their strong form since the departure of Piotr Nowak, would see them move within striking distance.

    For their part, Montreal will hope that last weekend’s comeback defeat of Columbus and a solid week of rest will arrest their slide and mount an assault of their own up the ladder.

    Toronto faces New England a half-hour later, in the search of some small measure of vengeance for the ninety-fourth minute equalizer the Revolution handed them when the sides last met in June.

    A strong midweek performance, exhibiting their new found resilience under Paul Mariner, saw Toronto defeat their Canadian neighbours 3-2. Though a 3-0 loss in Philly last weekend has left them unable to catch the Union this weekend, there is a chance that with a win they could climb out of last spot in the league for the first time this season.

    Should Toronto find an elusive road win, they will be counting on Dallas to continue their struggles and a four-goal swing could see that tag of worst in the league transferred between the two trading partners.

    Dallas, still mired in a thirteen-match winless streak head to 2010 MLS Cup Final opponents Colorado on Saturday night, looking to not only snap the streak, but also to possibly overtake Portland to move off the foot of the Conference.

    Plenty of time to achieve post-season relevance, but the clock is ticking.

Swapping positions is one thing, put swapping teams is another; with so many transactions this week, who features and who makes an impact?

    Inbound - Jairo Arrieta in Columbus, Jerry Bengston in New England, Alessandro Nesta and Dennis Iapichino in Montreal - moved on - Julian de Guzman to Dallas, Sebastien Le Toux to New York, Dane Richards to Vancouver, Andrew Wiedeman to Toronto, Tyson Wahl to Colorado, Justin Braun to Salt Lake, Bill Gaudette to New York – and shipped out – Joao Plata back to Ecuador, Nick Soolsma, Chiumiento to Switzerland, Tressor Moreno and Anthony Ampaipitakwong out of San Jose.

    The silly season has come, bringing with it a flurry of transactions that will see some clubs dramatically alter their constitution.

    The de Guzman-era at Toronto has come to an end; Vancouver is undertaking a transition under Coach Martin Rennie; Montreal continues to evolve.

    Though Canada has taken the initiative, plenty more moves are in the works before the transfer window slams shut once more on July 27th.

    Which, if any, of these transplanted players will play a role this weekend? Who’s absence will be felt the most? What stunning move is lurking around the corner?

Wait and see.

Though off-field machinations have stolen much of the spotlight this week, be it firings, transfers, or investment – in DC United case – what really matters is the matches and this round serves up some good ones; how will the table look at the end of play?

    Several matches amongst clubs currently inhabiting the playoff spots could alter the constitution of the race come Monday morning.

    In the East, table-toppers Kansas City face the staunch defense of Columbus at Crew Stadium on Saturday. Jubilant after securing their place in the US Open Cup Final midweek with a win over Philadelphia, KC must put revelry aside and secure the three points, lest DC catch them up and take over top spot.

    DC head to Houston on Sunday for a rematch - of the stiflingly hot opener of BBVA Compass Stadium - with their fate in their own hands. While Houston must take points to stay clear of the chasing pack in the final post-season spot in the East.

    Two cross-conference matchups see some numerical symmetry come to play: third meets third, while fourth meets fourth.

    New York hosts Seattle in the only other Sunday affair – the battle of thirds.

    Red Bull could overtake first place with a win, granted other results go their way, while Seattle, fresh off cup success of their own over Chivas and having snapped a long winless streak, need a win to claw within striking range of the top.

    Chicago welcomes Vancouver for a battle of fourths on Saturday. Both well-positioned for the race to begin, but valuable points are always welcome, especially in the few remaining cross-conference games.

    Meanwhile in the West, perhaps the headline match of the weekend pits the top two clubs in the league against one another; their third meeting of the season.
    San Jose leads Salt Lake by a single point, with a game in hand, and has won both previous meetings this season with late-game winners – as is their wont.

    Clear the calendar, set an alarm, pop some popcorn, and settle in early for what should be another dramatic clash.

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

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