Major League Soccer Week 18, Preview, Picks: Brian Mullan's Absence Takes Out Stuffing

This isn't the most interesting week on the MLS schedule. There are only a few games between two sides with reasonable playoff aspirations. One game that did have some promise to be must-see-TV was Brian Mullan's first appearance at CenturyLink Field since breaking Steve Zakuani's leg back in April. The game is scheduled for Fox Soccer and who doesn't love to see a player showered in boos? 

Well, Gary Smith, for one. The Rapids coach elected to leave his left winger at home, leaving us with just a mildly interesting game between two teams jockeying for position in the Western Conference.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake, 4 p.m., Saturday

Tom Soehn has created quite the situation for himself. Since taking over the Whitecaps after firing Teitur Thordarson, his team has gone 1-1-5. All the while, he's been inserting "his guys" into the lineup and even go as far as shipping out players who were brought in by the old regime (over which he had significant personnel control, anyway). Maybe the signing of Mustapha Jarju will signal the turnaround point. Right now, though, it's hard to see how they beat a team like Real Salt Lake, who might not be quite as good as originally believed, but are still among the three or four best teams in the league. Pick: RSL 2-1

Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids, 4 p.m., Saturday (Fox Soccer)

This was supposed to have Game of the Week written all over it, as Brian Mullan was expected to make his long-awaited return to Century Link Field where he would presumably be showered in boos. Gary Smith had different ideas, though, and left his somewhat ailing left midfielder at home. You can see why Smith might not feel his team needs any distractions as they've won just 3 of 17 since starting out 3-0-0. His team is slowly returning to health, but they will face a Sounders team that is playing as good as any other in the league. Pick: Sounders 2-1.

Columbus Crew vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m., Saturday

At the start of the season, much was made of the Crew's insistence that this was not a rebuilding year despite their jettisoning nearly all of their experienced players during the offseason. I and many other had a good laugh at their expense, in fact. Regardless of how it plays out from here, Robert Warzycha deserves some credit for his team's start. Through 18 matches, he has the Crew sitting at 27 points, just one behind the Eastern Conference leaders. It hasn't always been pretty, but there are no style points in this league. Pick: Crew 1-0.

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City, 8:30 p.m., Saturday

As bad as the Dynamo have been at times this season, most of their struggles have been on the road. Through nine matches away from Robertson Stadium, they are winless and have claimed just three points. At home, it's been a different story where they are a much more respectable 5-3-2. Facing a Sporting KC team that has held its own on the road since their awful start, this seems to have tie written all over it. Pick: Tied 1-1.

Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers, 8:30 p.m., Saturday

The shine sure has washed off the Timbers, hasn't it? Suddenly a team that was unbeatable at home and was talking almost openly about riding that form into the playoffs is merely good at home. They are still awful away from Jeld-Wen Field, though, having claimed a league-worst two road points through seven matches. The Fire will be looking to win just their second home game this season, but have also lost just once at Toyota Park. A tie seems a reasonable prediction. Pick: Tied 1-1.

FC Dallas vs. DC United, 9 p.m., Saturday

A little more than halfway through the season and it's hard not to marvel at the job that Schellas Hyndman has done since taking over at FC Dallas 2.5 years ago. Despite lacking his best player, this might be the best core in all of MLS, despite their loss to RSL last week. Even with that loss, this team has won 9 of 14 since David Ferreira went down with a season-ending injury. They face a United team that has proven capable of beating almost anyone, but also capable of falling apart regardless of the opponent. This is their biggest test to date. Pick: FCD 2-0.

Chivas USA vs. New York Red Bulls, 10:30 p.m., Saturday (Galavision)

Scorn was heaped upon Red Bulls coach Hans Backe basically elected to remain home and train his first-choice team rather than risk fatigue during their midweek U.S. Open Cup match. If there are soccer gods, they will punish his well-rested side this week when they face a surprisingly mediocre Chivas USA team that has put itself in the thick of the playoff picture with three straight results. If they do end up making the playoffs, Nick LaBrocca will have to get some consideration for MVP honors. A win might be too much to ask, but a tie seems perfectly reasonable. Pick: Tied 2-2.

New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union, 7 p.m., Sunday

The Revolution seem to be getting hit from all sides lately. Their on-field product is bad (3-8-6), most of the off-field attention they've received is best classified as "public-relations nightmare," and even when they manage to draw 51,000-plus for a friendly against Manchester United, it only seems to magnify how badly the team is otherwise run. It's been almost the complete opposite in Philadelphia where the team currently finds itself tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference in just its second year of existence. Pick: Union 1-0.

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