Almost literally from the moment the Seattle Sounders joined MLS, they have been connected with the Columbus Crew. One of the first things the newly minted MLS franchise did was hire coach Sigi Schmid away from the Crew, triggering accusations of tampering.
It didn't take long for the rivalry to be taken to the field. Their first meeting featured 36 fouls and six cards, including a red to Sounders defender Tyrone Marshall, who got into some kind of altercation with the Crew's Steven Lenhart during stoppage time. The next time the team's met, the Sounders pulled out a 1-0 victory after Guillermo Barros Schelotto missed a penalty in the 81st minute, which was followed by accusations that Marshall had purposefully put a divot in the penalty spot.
Since that first year, tensions have cooled a bit, but Schmid has continued to haunt his former team. The Sounders have gone 3-0-3 against the Crew, including a win in last year's U.S. Open Cup championship game. In the first meeting this year, they played to a 1-1 draw at Crew Stadium.
Meeting No. 7 comes on Saturday with both teams in top form and at or near the top of their conference standings.
The Sounders are in the midst of a run in which they've won 5 of 6 across all competitions -- including back-to-back 1-0 road wins at FC Dallas and Monterrey -- and have lost just once in their past 15 MLS matches. They've rocketed to the top of their CONCACAF Champions League group, find themselves in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup and have collected the second most points in MLS.
The Crew have been one of the biggest surprises this season after jettisoning most of their veterans following last year's late-season collapse. They have now won 4 of 5 and sit atop the Eastern Conference standings after beating the Philadelphia Union last week.
Beyond the history and current form, this match is interesting for its contrasting tactics. While the Sounders have recently shown they can bunker-and-counter with the best of them, they are at heart a team that likes to move the ball up the field with quick passes and favors build-up over long-balls. They've used this to compile the fifth most goals (36) in the league, while getting contributions from almost every player on their roster. The Crew have done it almost entirely with defense, as their 24 goals allowed are more than just two teams.
Time: 4 p.m., Saturday; Pick: Sounders 2-1
Toronto FC vs. Earthquakes, 7 p.m., Saturday
If either of these teams hope to maintain any kind of hope to make the post season, three points is key. Regardless, it's doubtful anyone will really notice. Pick: TFC 2-1.
The Dynamo have quietly put together a five-match unbeaten run that has seen them claim 11 points and climb into third place of the Eastern Conference. Their bugaboo continues to be the road, where they are one of just three winless teams. If ever there was a winnable road game, though, this is it. Pick: Dynamo 2-1.
Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m., Saturday
Sporting have picked up right where they left off following the loss to the Sounders a couple weeks ago. After their 1-0 win over DC United last week, Sporting have now lost just 1 of 17 and have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference. They have won ugly, won pretty and generally look like a team that could make a serious run for the East's crown. The Toros have not looked quite as hot in recent weeks. They haven't won a match since July (0-2-1), have been forced to travel all over the continent and have battled injuries to some of their top defenders. They are still one of the more talented teams in MLS, but after being forced to play 1.5 games in two days this week, you have to wonder how many players Schellas Hyndman will feel compelled to rest. Pick: Sporting 2-1.
After their midseason lull, the Rapids were kind of a forgotten piece in the MLS picture. But ever since Conor Casey went down with an injury, they've managed to be one of the top teams in the league, going 4-0-2 in their past six to move within two points of third place in the Western Conference. Mostly they've done it with offense, which has registered 19 goals in their past eight matches. The Fire continue to be one of the more frustrating teams to watch, even after last week's win which snapped a 10-match winless run. Pick: Rapids 2-0.
Just a few weeks ago, the idea of Chivas USA beating RSL was a bit far-fetched. But the Goats have been surprisingly steady over the past couple of months (going 3-2-5 since July 2), while RSL has lost 4 of 5. It might even be a stretch to say that RSL is the favorite over Robin Fraser's team at this point in the season. Newly acquired Juan Pablo Angel should be fully rested and Dan Kennedy continues to flash the kind of skill that should make him a contender for Goalkeeper of the Year. Pick: Chivas USA 2-1.
Hurricane Irene updated
All three games scheduled on the East Coast this weekend have been moved. The New York Red Bulls-Los Angeles Galaxy match has been moved to Oct. 4, the Philadelphia Union-New England Revolution match will be played on Sept. 7 and the DC United-Portland Timbers match has been moved to an as-yet-to-be-determined date.