MLS Week 3 Preview, Picks: Hard-To-Predict Season May Be Taking Shape

CHESTER, PA- MARCH 26: Carlos Ruiz #20 of the Philadelphia Union celebrates after he scoring the game winning goal during the game against the Vancouver Whitecaps at PPL Park on March 26, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union won 1-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Two weeks into the 2011 season, it's safe to say things aren't quite playing out how we expected. The Sounders are winless through three matches, the Galaxy are owners of a -2 goal-difference, the Union are one of just three teams that have two victories and the Revolution and Fire are two of the six teams that haven't lost.

All of this has made for a difficult-to-predict start. Not to give myself too much of an excuse, but through 19 matches, I've correctly predicted the outcome of just eight. That's actually not as bad as I thought it would be, but hardly something worth bragging about either.

Some trends do seem to be emerging, though. The Union and Fire, in particular, look to be solid playoff contenders; the Galaxy are really not that deep; and the Rapids look intent on proving last year's MLS Cup was no fluke. 

Columbus Crew Vs. FC Dallas, Friday, 7:30 p.m. EDT (FSC)

Neither of these teams have started the way they wanted to, although it's considerably less surprising in the case of the Crew. Despite turning over a significant chunk of their roster in the offseason, the Crew maintained that they intended to be competitive this year. While that still may end up being the case, a loss to D.C. United and a tie at home against a severely depleted New York Red Bulls team does not speak well of their chances in 2011. Newly anointed Designated Player Andres Mendoza has so far been disappointing, logging more offsides calls (4) than shots on goal (1). The slow start is more surprising for the Toros, who were considered by many to be a Supporters' Shield contender at the start of the season. They've claimed just one point, despite opening with two games at home against less-than-elite competition (the Earthquakes and Fire). A big part of their problem has been a lack of stability at center back, where Brek Shea has played just 55 minutes after receiving a red card in his first game. The other problem, at least last week, was finishing with the normally reliable Milton Rodriguez missing several quality chances. Not exactly a must-win for the Toros, but this is definitely a game where they should claim points. Pick: FCD 1-0.

Toronto FC Vs. Chivas USA, Saturday, 1 p.m. EDT (TSN)

Perhaps no team has looked worse than the Goats during their first two weeks. After a pair of losses at home, they went on the road for a U.S. Open Cup qualifying match against the Portland Timbers and promptly lost that 2-0. Coach Robin Fraser seems intent on playing a 4-1-4-1 (although football-lineups calls it a 4-1-2-3), despite having personnel much more suited for a two-striker system. As a result, several players are out of position. TFC is also undergoing a bit of a transformation, although the early returns have gone a little better. They rebounded from 4-2 loss in their opener to beat the Timbers 2-0 at home. It's far too early to say that Aron Winter's overhaul has gone well, but he's brought in some players that have obvious skills. Javier Martina and Alen Stevanovic are definitely players to watch. Pick: TFC 2-1.

Vancouver Whitecaps Vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT

Almost universally picked to be among the worst teams in the league, the Whitecaps have so far proven to be at least respectable. After a big opening week win, they held their own on the road against a decent Union team. Now they'll be tested by another team against whom they will likely be battling for a playoff spot, but minus their DP Eric Hassli, who picked up two yellow cards last week. Three weeks ago, I would have said there's no one else on this team who's capable of picking up that scoring load, but playmaker Davide Chiumiento is expected to return to the lineup and should provide some kind of boost. It's still hard to know what to make of SKC. They'll be without DP Omar Bravo, who picked up a red card last week, but Teal Bunbury appears to be ready to start after recovering from an elbow injury. Finding a way to get points in games like this is going to be key for SKC as they continue their 10-game, season-starting road trip. Pick: Tied 2-2

New York Red Bulls Vs. Houston Dynamo, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT

On paper, these two teams got similar results last week. Both went on the road and earned a point. What might not be readily apparent, though, is the Red Bulls' missing four of their starters when they visited Columbus. Rafael Marquez, Juan Agudelo, Dane Richards and Roy Miller should all be available after missing last week's game with international duty. The Dynamo should probably have Jermaine Taylor back, too, but his absence had little to do with their being dominated in every phase of the game except the scoreboard against Seattle. If the Red Bulls are really as good as we think they are, this is a game they really should win. Pick: Red Bulls 2-0.

New England Revolution Vs. Portland Timbers, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT

Neither result the Revs have gotten in their first two games has been pretty, but those four points are all the same. Considering where they were a year ago, they aren't going to be turning their noses up at any points. That said, they are getting healthier with Kevin Alston and Didier Domi both returning to action last week. The Timbers, meanwhile, have had a rougher introduction to MLS than the probably expecting, currently owners of a league-worst zero points and -4 goal-difference. They have shown signs of life, and probably deserved better than their 2-0 loss at Toronto last week. A result here would not be a huge surprise. Pick: Tied 1-1.

San Jose Earthquakes Vs. Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EDT

This was supposed to be the year when the Sounders made the jump. After two years of first-round playoff exits, most of the offseason was spent discussing the need to challenge for MLS hardware. Three games into the season, they are stuck on one point and have scored just one goal. Now, they are dealing with a host of nagging injuries to starters like James Riley, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani that could have lingering effects. The Earthquakes continue to their difficult start, facing a third straight playoff team from last year. So far, they've held up well, dropping a 1-0 decision to RSL in Week 1 and beating FC Dallas on the road last week. Chris Wondolowski looks determined to prove that last year was no fluke and their defense is strong enough that Ike Opara can't get off the bench. This could very well be the Game of the Week. Pick: Tied 1-1.

Los Angeles Galaxy Vs. Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EDT

For a team that has made no effort to hide that this is a MLS Cup-or-Bust kind of year, the Galaxy's 4-1 loss last week had to be humbling, no matter how many players may have been missing. Landon Donovan is expected to be ready after missing Saturday's game with national duty, but the health of center backs Gregg Berhalter and Omar Gonzalez, as well as goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is still unclear. A year ago, this would have been seen as the perfect rebound game. After wins in each of their first two matches, though, the Union suddenly look like a team that could give the Galaxy some trouble. A pair of 1-0 wins against unlikely playoff teams hardly proves the Union are for real, but they have played solid defense in front of a capable goalkeeper and have more offensive firepower than they did a year ago. Pick: Galaxy 2-1.

Colorado Rapids Vs. DC United, Sunday, 7 p.m. EDT (Galavision)

Not to go too far off tangent, but why do the Rapids hate the U.S. Open Cup? Their loss on Wednesday means they'll miss the main draw for the fourth straight year and they only bothered to bring 14 players with them to Peoria, Ill., none of them normal starters, for their match against the Fire. The soccer gods can't possibly be happy about any of that. The Rapids are one of just three MLS teams to start the season with two wins, but United has looked good in each of their two games. Charlie Davies is tied for the league lead in goals and the backline has held up well. A win at altitude is probably too much to ask, though. Pick: Tied 1-1.

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