It’s a bit of a down weekend for Major League Soccer, with two of the league’s big three skipping weekend action. For Columbus, that description comes with an asterisk, as the Crew beat Philadelphia 2-1 on Thursday night, but for Los Angeles it’s a welcome reprieve, carrying the hope a weekend friendly at the Rose Bowl against Real Madrid can serve as a diversion. Amongst the league’s elite, only Real Salt Lake plays in league. A win would pull them within three points of conference-leading L.A.
Not every weekend can be an eight-match smorgasbord. A few times each season we have to find our own fun, which isn’t that difficult. For example, Sunday’s match at Toyota Park could feature five designated players. Qwest will host a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals, while for the second week in a row, a playoff contender tries to get three in Commerce City.
But as we approach the last third of the season, these matches are going to be as much about how a team plays as who they play. All points are created equal, but until August starts winding down, the stakes are going to be manageable. Later in the season, when you’re battling for seeds and playoff spots, the bottom line is all that matters. Before those crucial matches of September and October are here, teams need to figure out their capabilities.
Best Match: New York (SBN Rating: 62) at Chicago (52)
This is actually the second highest-rated match, but being the first Major League Soccer match to feature five designated players, Sunday’s game at Toyota Park gets my special consideration. While it’s not a given that we’ll see the likes of Nery Castillo (yet to play for the Fire) or Rafa Márquez (just signed by New York), former teammates Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg should share the pitch, joined by former EPL opposition Juan Pablo Ángel. Not most talent ever on a Major League Soccer pitch, but probably the most expensive.
Because Chicago’s DPs have failed to inspire, there’s been very little discussion of Sunday’s match being an example of the new era of Major League Soccer. Fans seem much more fascinated with the potential of New York, with some seeing the signing of Márquez as the birth of the first MLS super club. Though New York is the first team to three designated players, Seattle and Los Angeles could soon follow, creating the league’s first arms race. Five weapons in that build-up will be in Brdigeview on Sunday.
While signing designated players is currently a bit of a free-for-all, as the MLS arms race develops, maximizing the value of your designated player slots will become a more important factor in distinguishing teams. The ability to cultivate players like Marco Pappa and Wilman Conde can quickly be neutralized if you make poor decisions on designated players.
Most Competitive Match: San Jose (52) at Colorado (48)
For the second week in a row, the Earthquakes are in the most competitive match. Last week they were undone by July’s Player of the Month, Fredy Montero. This week, Frank Yallop has to worry about stopping Omar Cummings without Ike Opara, out indefinitely with a broken foot. The rookie defender’s absence also takes away San Jose’s main threat on set-pieces with Opara’s three goals ties him for second on the team behind Chris Wondolowski’s six. Cummings, when on his game, can be as influential as Montero. Without Opara, will San Jose be able to curb that influence?
Colorado may also be missing a source of goals, a head laceration keeping Conor Casey questionable. Without him last week against Dallas, Gary Smith’s team was unable to generate opportunities for Cummings. With the Jamaican international operating as a lone striker, Colorado’s only goal came off a gift handball from Atibi Harris. While Opara’s absence will help, Colorado’s 19 goals scored this season (fourth-worst in the league) hint the problems go beyond one game player match-ups.
That low goal total, coupled with above average defending, leads to more draws than you would expected from a team with a +2 goal difference, part of the reason why Colorado is coming off their second consecutive one win month. The Rapids’ six draws is the second-highest total in the league.
Least Competitive Matches: Real Salt Lake (100) at Kansas City (14); Philadelphia (0) at FC Dallas (76)
Remember the beginning of the season? When RSL seemed to be playing contender after contender, a series of tough matches leading to a (ill-) perceived slow start? The champs are in the middle of an evening-out period: Chivas USA (1-1), DC United (3-0), this weekend’s match at Kansas City, then Philadelphia. Of course, given what happened to the Crew and Galaxy last weekend, caveat Kreis.
Real Salt Lake’s handling of United last weekend hints the champs may not be a susceptible as Columbus and Los Angeles; however, Kansas City took a point from the Galaxy at home in April. While that match was played in a rainstorm, the Wizards still showed themselves capable, if only occasionally.
FC Dallas returns home for the first time in league play since knocking-off RSL 2-0 on July 17. Since, they’ve drawn at Toronto and Colorado, and while they have the fewest losses in the league, Dallas is only fourth overall. Nine draws have most overlooking Dallas’s quality, but with Philadelphia travelling to Frisco on short rest, the Toros are set-up to make an impression.
Worst Match: D.C. United (0) at New England (14)
Through to the finals of SuperLiga, it may be too late for New England in league. Althgouh the eight point distance between the Revolution and eighth place can be traversed in their 14 remaining matches, New England will have to outplay six other teams to get the final playoff spot. To this point, they’ve outplayed only one: their Saturday opponent.
For United, it will be the first match since firing Curt Onalfo, with assistant coach Ben Olsen taking the reigns in the interim. An unspectacular hiring after Tom Soehn moved-on, Onalfo was given eight months to turn-around United. Many have said that’s not enough time, but with spirits around D.C. United at an all-time low, management may have asked themselves how long the situation would have to persist before they made a change. While many of the problems surrounding the team have nothing to do with the coach, the coach is the easiest change to make.
Optimism can be precious when you’re at the bottom of the league, and if casting a popular former player as coach generates some positivity, at least you have something to build-on. While that’s a very silver lining-way of looking at the move, silver linings may be all United has. For now.
Much Better Last Year Match: Houston (14) at Seattle (62) - Sounders have gone a month without a loss, pushing themselves into playoff position and Champions League group phrase. Houston’s coming-off a Thursday, SuperLiga loss to Morelia, but in league play, the Dynamo can their hard-fought point last weekend against New York, where a late goal gave 10-man Houston a result.
"So, Uh, Are You Guys Serious" Match: Chivas USA (14) at Toronto FC (48) - Preki welcomes his former team to BMO, with Toronto coming off their midweek result in Honduras, helping TFC advance in Champions League. Chivas USA will be looking to build upon last week’s surprise result against Columbus, keeping visions of the postseason dancing in their head. Toronto’s been strong at home all season, and with ex-Goat Maicon Santos recently added, we still don’t have a grasp on Toronto’s new potential.
Best, most, and least competitive matches are determined by the SBNhanced Power Rankings. Best match features the highest combined rating. Most competitive features the two most closely-rated, while least features the greatest disparity. This methodology is nowhere close to original and really shouldn’t be associated with a term like "methodology."