Week 8 of the MLS season brings us a couple of things we've been awaiting for quite some time: Fox Soccer Channel making a real commitment to the league and five Designated Players all starting in the same game. Both are significant for entirely different reasons.
"Soccer Night in America," which debuts Friday when the Portland Timbers host the Philadelphia Union, promises to be the kind of showcase event followers of MLS have been wanting for years. Top-notch graphics, numerous camera angles and super slow-motion replays are the kinds of things the U.S. sports fans have become accustomed to, but MLS has never really had any of that until now.
The congregation of five DPs at once is something we've been expecting for a while now, but various circumstances have kept all of them from starting. Now, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez all appear to be match fit and should be ready to go.
Last week's predictions: 5 of 9
Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union, 10:30 p.m., Friday (FSC)
It's a well-worn fact that teams tend to perform better at home than on the road, but few teams take that extreme to the levels of the Timbers. On the road, they are downright awful, claiming just one point in four matches and posting a league-worst -7 goal-difference. At home, the Timbers are a perfect 3-0-0 with a +4 goal-difference. That difference of 11 goals is five more than any other team. Luckily for them, this one is being played at the friendly confines of Jeld-Wen Field. The Union have gotten off to a fast start, claiming 13 of 18 possible points so far this season, but they've done it while having the worst offense in the league. Somehow a fifth 1-0 wins does not seem to b a likely outcome in this one. Pick: Timbers 2-1.
Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA, 4 p.m., Saturday (Telefutura)
In the span of a little more than a week, RSL had two rather impressive streaks broken. Their 37-match home unbeaten streak across all competitions was snapped during the April 26's loss to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final and their 18-match MLS unbeaten streak was broken when they lost to the Timbers on Saturday. But there's still one more record streak that is intact -- RSL's 26-match home unbeaten run against MLS teams. Although the Goats have looked much better in recent weeks, compiling a five-match unbeaten streak of their own, they still seem an unlikely candidate to win at Rio Tinto Stadium. Pick: RSL 2-0.
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 7 p.m., Saturday
In a league with as much mediocrity as MLS, figuring who the worst team is can sometimes be as hard as figuring out who's best. Right now, though, it's hard to argue against the Reds being at the bottom. Their -6 goal difference is the worst in the league and they are one of only three teams to have been outscored at home so far this year. Considering it wasn't so long ago that BMO Field was considered a fortress, this is a particularly tough pill. The Dynamo, though, are coming to town on short rest and are coming off just their second loss of the season. The availability of Geoff Cameron will probably be key. Pick: Tied 1-1.
New England Revolution vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
It's been a couple weeks since Benny Feilhaber joined the Revs and ever since then I've been saying they have the most talented group of central midfielders. Of course, that's only theoretical as Ousmane Dabo has yet to make an appearance, and now it looks like Steve Nicol may be switching to a 4-4-2, which would render the value of three very good CMs essentially meaningless. Despite their 3-0 loss at Chivas USA last week, this still seems like a team that has better days ahead. The Rapids snapped a four-match winless streak and should be getting a little healthier. They've never been a great road team, but if they can get some of their injured bodies back, they should be fine. Pick: Tied 1-1.
Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Injuries and absences have been hanging over the Sounders seemingly all season and they seemed to really catch up to them on Wednesday. Fredy Montero did not look comfortable in his cast, Mauro Rosales was essentially dead weight for the final 10-15 minutes, the team does not have a 90-minute fit target forward ... the list goes on. Now, they have a match on short rest facing a team with a six-match unbeaten streak that hasn't lost at home. Of course, that team is the Crew and they still don't look all that impressive on paper. They've yet to score two run-of-play goals in a single game and their defense has looked solid, but not dominant. A win here wouldn't silence their critics, but it would be another step in that direction. Pick: Crew 2-1.
Neither of these teams were looking particularly good a week ago, but after each won their last game, some signs of life seem a little more apparent. Charlie Davies showed some serious speed in scoring his league-leading sixth goal and picking up an assist on United's other goal during their 2-1 win on Wednesday. Their defense still has some issues and Bill Hamid was the only thing that stood between them and a much less satisfying result, but talk of this team not being any better than last year's outfit should probably just stop. It's still unclear how the Toros will deal with the loss of David Ferreira in the long term, but the 4-2-3-1 they featured last week with Fabian Castillo as a lone-striker seemed to work OK. The torrential downpour, though, made any real assessment difficult. Pick: Tied 2-2.
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 8:30 p.m., Saturday
Oh man, this is not what they call "must-see TV." Both teams got off to promising starts, but now have combined for 12 straight matches without a victory. Neither team looks particularly awful, and both have some obviously talented players, but neither is close to being able to define themselves by anything. Predicting an outcome in this one seems rather ridiculous. Let's just hope for a shootout. Pick: Tied 2-2.
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls, 11 p.m., Saturday (ESPN2)
Assuming no one comes up with a last-second injury, this should be the first time five Designated Players start in the same game. Befitting the occasion, all of them are legitimately among the biggest names in MLS and have careers befitting their salaries. Making this an even more intriguing match is some of the supporting characters, like U.S. national teamers Omar Gonazles, Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo, as well the likes of Dwayne De Rosario, Dane Richards and Juninho. Maybe it will fail to live up to the hype, but at least there's some legitimate hype to be had. Pick: Red Bulls 2-1.