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Saturday 4 August 2012

Foresight – Round 20 Weekend Preview

        Four questions to be answered in this the twentieth round proper of MLS weekend action:

With revenge on the mind, can the oppressed get one over on their former oppressors?

    Three matches in particular feature the possibility for the home side to have the chance to exact a measure of revenge for past defeats.

    Montreal was not best pleased when two minutes after drawing level in the eighty-ninth Carlos Valdes was able to knock home a stoppage-time winner – a trait that has become common place during the John Hackworth era - when Philadelphia hosted the Impact in the middle of July.

    On Saturday night, the Union travel north of the border to face an Impact side intent on pressing home the advantage, riding a three-match winning streak at Stade Saputo. They will likely be without the services of Marco Di Vaio, who returned to Italy to face prosecutors regarding his involvement in recent match-fixing allegations in his homeland. Andrew Wenger appears set to start in his absence.

    All indications point to Montreal making use of their defensive depth, starting all three high profile centre-backs – Alessandro Nesta, Nelson Rivas, and Matteo Ferrari – with Ferrari likely to shift out to full-back.

    Philadelphia has some quandaries to work out, as well: Does Antoine Hoppenot, previously held in reserve as a super sub, get a second straight start? Is this the match that the fit again Bakary Soumare makes his debut and if so, what to do with Amobi Okugo who has deputized in the centre of defense so well?

    In Colorado, though the Rocky Mountain Cup has already been lost, the Rapids have the chance to get one over on their tormentors when Salt Lake comes to town.

    A pair of 2-0 wins at the Rio Tinto saw Salt Lake wrap up the two-team trophy for the sixth straight year, but with Colorado mired in the midst of a six-match losing streak, could a match at home against hated rivals be just the remedy they require?

    Salt Lake will be disappointed with losing in Costa Rica against Herediano 1-0 in their opening match of the CONCACAF Champions League and a win would see them leap-frog the inactive San Jose Earthquakes for top spot in the West.

    Sunday sees what has the potential to be the most explosive of these rematches, as Portland plays host to Dallas.

    When the two sides last met just over two weeks ago, Dallas embarrassed their opponents, rolling out 5-0 winners in Frisco, a shocking result as both had struggled to find the back of the net.

    Portland’s struggles have continued – a scoreless streak of nearly three hundred minutes hangs round their necks – while Dallas has not been able to translate that performance into further success.

    Overshadowing the match remains the spectre of the Brek Shea absence, precipitated by poor form and a spat with coach, Schellas Hyndman. Adding to the tension is the return of James Marcelin to his former stomping grounds after being summarily tossed aside by the Timbers and picked up by Dallas.

    Just how this one plays out is anyone’s guess, a repeat of last season’s five-goal thriller? Tune in to find out.

In this odd refrain, do the results change?

    The restructuring of the league season was bound to cause some peculiarities – New York and Houston’s home-and-home Friday night series that began last night is one such example – but the sense of déjà vu from the weekend of July 21st is uncanny.

    Four matches to be played this weekend are rematches from that round: Colorado-Salt Lake and Portland-Dallas, as discussed above, have a certain weight attached because of how events transpired.

    The other two, though less-dramatic results, still carry a sense of familiarity, especially as they are continuation of duels that date back to the origins of the league.

    Columbus rolled out 1-0 winners when the two met on that fateful date, with Chris Birchall scoring his first goal for his new club to hand DC a second-straight loss. In an even more intriguing twist, that was the last league match United played.

    Columbus has won three of their last five trips to the American Capitol and arrive in good form as winners of their last two. DC, on the other hand, have slid down the table – in part due to inactivity.

    When New England hosts Kansas City, also on Saturday, it will not only be a rematch of the 0-0 draw from two weeks ago, but also a clash of ideologies.

    Two of the sides that initially struggled as MLS transitioned into what is commonly referred to as MLS 2.0, KC has undergone a rebirth that began with the investment in their glorious new home Livestrong Sporting Park, while New England finds themselves going through a philosophical transition under coach, Jay Heaps.

    Both sides have not won in some time – New England four matches; KC three – and this match is as good a chance as any to arrest that slide. Their first meeting of the season, marred by the questionable early dismissal of Stephen McCarthy for manhandling CJ Sapong – as if anyone could – and KC ran out 3-0 winner at home.

    For New England a new era begins, as Shalrie Joseph the spiritual centre of the club was traded midweek to Chivas USA in exchange for Blair Gavin.

    This one has some intrigue to it.

The midseason transfer merry-go-round has been in full swing with Joseph moving to the West Coast just one of many deals that took place. How will these acquisitions factor in their new sides action this weekend?

    Tim Cahill in New York, Bakary Soumare for Philly, DC picked up midfielder Raphael Augusto from Brazilian side Fluminense, KC snapped up Barcelona product Oriol Rosell, Christian Tiffert in Seattle, Darren O’Dea in Toronto, and Gonzalo – sorry, Federico – Higuain in Columbus; some could potentially see some action this weekend.

    Alessandro Nesta in Montreal, Sherjill MacDonald in Chicago, and Jairo Arrieta in Columbus, have all played some part in recent matches and will look to increase their importance in this weekend’s round.

    Not to mention the cross-league transactions involving Alvaro Fernandez and the aforementioned Joseph-Gavin trade.

    It’s a busy time of year for MLS transfers, but who will have the greatest impact on the playoff race?

And finally, with so many clubs involved in midweek exertions, be it Champions League or Friendly, how will the energy reserves hold up in this trying time?

     The CONCACAF Champions League kicked off on Tuesday night; three MLS clubs got their first taste of international competition for some time: Salt Lake travelled to Costa Rica and lost – as discussed above; Toronto hosted CD Aguila of El Salvador and dismantled an exhausted opponent 5-1; Seattle hosted T&T side Caledonia AIA and strode out 3-1 winners.

    The international friendlies continue to pass with little fanfare: New York lost to Tottenham Hotspur 1-2; San Jose drew Swansea 2-2 on late goals from Steven Lenhart; KC drew Stoke City 1-1; Los Angeles were soundly outclassed by Real Madrid 1-5 on Thursday. 

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

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