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Friday, 10 August 2012

Foresight - MLS Round 21 Weekend Preview

    Four questions to be answered in this the twenty-first round proper of MLS weekend action.

In a clash with top of the conference ramifications can the defeated overcome in a rematch?

    A peculiar Friday night home-and-home series between New York and Houston began a week ago in Texas with Houston maintaining their undefeated home record with a 2-0 victory.

    The return sees New York’s undefeated home form come under fire as an in-form Houston seeks to solidify their position at the top of the Eastern Conference.

    Houston leapfrogged over their foes last week and hold the slightest advantage over Kansas City. Should New York win they can retake the top, if only for a night.

    Despite winning their last five and having gone unbeaten in eight, Houston are in tough, as they have never won in New York.

    New York have lost their last two matches, but will welcome back Dax McCarty – suspended for yellow card accumulation last Friday – and will hope to limit the amount of time and space they allow the Houston attack, a weakness that was exploited last meeting.
   
    The home-and-home series between Vancouver and Salt Lake though separated by two weeks off for the Canadian side and matches against Colorado and Costa Rica’s Herediano for RSL should be an equally entertaining clash.

    Time aside, this meeting with table ramifications of its own, should feature a Vancouver side desperate for revenge and to close the gap between themselves and the conference leaders, thereby reinforcing their place in the running for the playoffs.

    Salt Lake have lost their last three road trips and have gone nearly three hundred minutes in the league without scoring – closer to four hundred, all competitions. Vancouver is without first choice keeper Joe Cannon, sent off in the previous meeting for handling outside the box, who will be replaced with understudy, Brad Knighton, in his first start for the club.

A pair of crucial Western Conference tilts headline the weekend’s schedule; which heated foe can steal the three points from their rivals?

    The final match of the weekend, late on Sunday night, pits Los Angeles-based opponents against each other in the third and final SuperClasico of the season.

    The Ameri-Goats took the first meeting 1-0, but the Galaxy took the second 3-1.

    Winner takes all in this installment with valuable points on the table as Galaxy current hold the fifth and final Western Conference playoff spot with Chivas on their coat-tails and with games in hand.

    LA will hope that the return to fitness of the first-choice back-line from last season – Omar Gonzalez, AJ DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin, and Todd Dunivant – and the scintillating former of their trio of designated players will be enough to overcome the charging Goats.

    Saturday night’s finale sees San Jose and Seattle in another top of the conference clash at rustic Buck Shaw Stadium.

    Seattle has dropped off the blistering pace set by San Jose and Salt Lake, but the three points on offer would go some way to making up that gap.

    The Sounders lost the first meeting at home on a controversial penalty awarded when Steven Lenhart was barged over off the ball by Marc Burch; they found a measure of revenge in a hard-fought US Open Cup match – 0-1 – that ended in fisticuffs, Eddie Johnson supposedly laying one on Jed Zayner - who did not take kindly to EJ’s celebrating in front of the Earthquake bench - in the aftermath.
   
    This one has the potential to be explosive.

With the culmination of the US Open Cup midweek, controversially decided between Kansas City and Seattle, on penalty kicks, will either side experience the dreaded cup hangover?

    Seattle will feel hard done by the 3-2 loss on spot kicks following a 1-1 score-line after regulation and extra time, precipitated by the blast of the referee’s whistle that allowed Paulo Nagamura to retake his saved attempt when Michael Gspurning was adjudged to have left his line early.

    How the Sounders will rebound from the failure to capture their fourth consecutive Open Cup – will they use it as motivation to mount an assault on the table or drop off with the disappointment – will be determined against San Jose as described above.

    Kansas City, who clinched their first trophy since the 2004 USOC, will ride that high into Saturday’s match at home against DC United.

    United have dropped from their lofty place above the East, but will welcome back Andy Najar from the London Olympics - facing a fellow Honduran Olympian in KC’s Roger Espinoza.

    With five teams within five points at the top of the Eastern Conference, this match could see KC move to the top or DC pull back with a single result of the leaders Houston.

The international transfer window may have recently shut, but several imports have yet to make an appearance and the domestic movement has continued. A variety of players may make debuts for their new clubs this weekend, who, if any, makes the most impact?

    Ricardo Clark rejoined Houston from Germany, English defender Andy O’Brien and Brazilian midfielder Thiago Ulisses in Vancouver, full-back Mike Chabala for DC – acquired from Portland, Medhi Ballouchy moved from New York to San Jose, Troy Perkins swapped for Donovan Ricketts by Montreal, and the return of Bakary Soumare against his former side, Chicago, in Philadelphia.

    The talent rotation keeps on turning in the league. Which debutant will be the sensation of the round?

Note – Columbus’ match against Toronto was postponed until August 22nd in order to allow the club to travel to the Chicago suburb of Lombard to attend the funeral of teammate Kirk Urso. 


New York v Houston; Vancouver v Salt Lake; Columbus v Toronto (Postponed to August 22nd); Kansas City v DC; Dallas v Colorado; San Jose v Seattle; New England v Montreal; Philadelphia v Chicago; Chivas v Los Angeles.

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