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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 18 Weekend Preview

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

It’s another rivalry weekend here in MLS, with two of the more bitter contests the league has to offer scheduled for Saturday night: The Los Angeles derby, or SuperClasico, between the Galaxy and Chivas; the Rocky Mountain Cup between Salt Lake and Colorado. When hated foes tangle, who comes undone?

    There are a few so-called rivalries that have failed to find that emotion or passion that a good local derby ignites. Chicago and Dallas – too far away and Brimstone? Really? Toronto and Columbus – too one-sided – so far…

    But these two… well… they have some teeth.

    The shame is that they kickoff and run concurrently – 10 pm (ET) Saturday night, surely one could have been moved to Sunday to allow the hardcore voyeur to feast on the glory.

    The SuperClasico - but different this time.

    Unlike past years where one side has outperformed the other, this one has some gravitas. The Galaxy lead the Ameri-Goats by a mere four points in the conference table, but the redheaded cloven-hoofed step-child has three games in hand. Things are getting interesting in LA.

    The second meeting of the season – Chivas, the nominal home team in the first, won 1-0 last match off the strength of a Jose Correa penalty kick after David Junior Lopes was judged to have handled to ball on the goal line to prevent Correa scoring in the run of play and dismissed – is a Galaxy home match, but both sides will take to the familiar pitch in good form.

    Neither has lost in a combined seven matches – LA: four; Chivas: three. Chivas has not allowed a goal in over three hundred minutes of play, but will be without their midfield ogre – meant in the nicest possible way – Oswaldo Minda, out with a shoulder injury – not yellow card suspension.

    Meanwhile, another middle-game will be taking place in Salt Lake.

    RSL, who hosted the first match as well, will look to wrap up the series with another win over Colorado.

    When the two last met at the start of April, goals from Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola on either side of half time were enough to overturn the Rapids. The match got testy in the closing half hour; that bad blood will likely carry over to Saturday night.

    It is unfortunate that Salt Lake is hosting a second consecutive leg, as the third meeting – at the start of August - could be rendered a dead-rubber, should Jason Kreis’ charges seal the Cup with a victory in this match.

    Which to watch? Which to watch? Either should prove intriguing. Why not both?

Another tension filled match - though this one not an official league-sanctioned rivalry, of yet - sees Philadelphia trek into New York with Red Bull playing host to the Union. These two cities, regardless of which sport is on tap, do not like each other. Will the stifling afternoon humidity soothe the flame, or will the heat spark the kindling?

    Adding an extra layer of spice is the arrival of former Philly fan-favourite, Sebastien Le Toux, in New York last week.

    The Philadelphia faithful have not forgiven Piotr Nowak for trading away their hero and Le Toux pulled no punches, responding Nowak got what he deserved when questioned about his thoughts on his former manager’s firing.

    The first meeting was an entertaining 2-3 win for New York on the road, aided by the first half dismissal of Fredy Adu for a controversial second yellow card for diving after having a great start to the match.

    Even at one when the half-time whistle blew, Philly struck in the first minute of the second and held that lead, despite being short-handed, into the final twenty minutes or so of play. Marcus Holgersson leveled with a header from a corner kick before Kenny Cooper bagged the winner ten minutes later, latching onto a Rafa Marquez pass, rounding the keeper and sliding the ball into the open net from a very tight angle.

    The two will meet again at the end of October.

Some rivalries are innate, others are born of repeated clashes over time, but some, often the best, are born of a single act of treachery. Will the fireworks that ended the last meeting between Houston and Montreal continue in the second?

    These teams do not like each other.

    It began when Montreal overlooked the league’s general pattern of back-scratching, announcing themselves and their methods to all and sundry, by selecting Brian Ching in the expansion draft.

    Most clubs would not have had the temerity to select a legend who had threatened to retire if necessary to stay with his beloved club. Not satisfied with merely rocking the boat, Montreal flipped it upside down and jumping on it by announcing him as their “first” selection, a qualification that was wholly unnecessary as there was no competition in the draft, just a list of ten names.

    The next transgression was the ruthless pursuit of local boy Andre Hainault, holding the homesick Captain in ransom, a pawn in their dastardly schemes. Though they did eventually relent, most likely with some gentle nudging and annoyingly repetitive refrains of “Come on, Please. We’ll be your best friend.” either from Houston, the official suits, or both.

    Then finally, when they first met on the pitch little over a month ago, a hard-fought, high-scoring contest ended with Adam Moffat seeing red for a heavy foul, borne of frustration, on Felipe, Montreal running out 4-2 winners, and accusatory allegations of finger-pointing and shouting in the tunnel.

    Separated by seven points on opposite sides of the playoff divide, this one should be spicy.

    Montreal put aside a short troublesome spell with a strong win over New England midweek; Houston remains undefeated at home, in part due to red cards shown to their last two visitors.

    What odds on there being another dismissal this weekend?

If Houston and Montreal are jockeying for playoff position, then the stakes in Dallas and Portland are much, much higher. Which will emerge from the Western Conference basement or will both remain wallowing in mediocrity with a draw?

    The dreaded battle for the basement.

    The East provided such a contest just a few short rounds ago - Toronto arrived in Philadelphia with a chance at finally – with a hefty win, granted – putting that woeful start behind them and with it such a lowly ranking. Philly however, would have none of it, tearing the Reds apart, winning 3-0, in the process widening the gap and have not looked back since.

    Dallas and Portland find themselves in just such a duel this round; both have been wrestling with difficult stretches of late.

    Dallas finally snapped a thirteen-match winless streak, only to fall midweek to San Jose, the loss was irrelevant given what transpired off the pitch. Brek Shea, their young, flamboyant, American starlet and weathered coach Schellas Hyndman exchanged unspoken words of disagreement that saw the bleach-blonde rooster sulk on the bench following his removal from the action and absent from training on Friday.

     Portland, fresh off firing coach John Spencer, in an effort to turn around a sophomore slump of a campaign, have lost their last two matches under new boss Gavin Wilkinson, stretching the current losing streak to three.

    To make matters worse, LA shattered the illusion of a strong home fortress at JELD-WEN Field, in a romping 3-5 win and on the road the Timbers are simply abject. Without a win in their travels, picking up two points from nine matches, they haven’t even found a goal in over six hundred minutes as the visitors and are fast approaching a MLS record for futility.

    Which of these strugglers will set aside their troubles and take advantage of a down-trodden opponent? Or will it be a tie?

    Probably a tie; possibly goal-less.

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

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