It wasn't long ago that the Los Angeles Galaxy were considered shoo-ins to win the Supporters Shield. They had put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, with FC Dallas considered the most likely team to chase them down. Then the Galaxy defeated Dallas last month and it was over. The Supporters Shield was theirs, right? Maybe not.
Another team has jumped into the picture with an incredible run of form that has seen them go undefeated in August. The Seattle Sounders went 7-0-1 in August across three competitions, playing tremendous soccer and throwing them back into the race for the Supporters Shield. The Galaxy's draw on Monday allowed the Sounders to edge just a little closer and now with seven matches left in the season, Seattle sits just four points back of Los Angeles for the top spot in the league.
This weekend, Seattle will look to continue their hot streak when they host Real Salt Lake, another team that is making a move in the standings. Once seemingly destined to be a wild card team, Salt Lake is just four points behind Dallas for third place in the Western Conference and they have two matches in hand. If they can manage to pass up Dallas, Salt Lake won't have to play in the wild card round, making that third place battle crucial for both teams.
Consecutive losses to Toronto and Houston appeared to be the end of Salt Lake's claim of being an elite team, but they've since won matches against Chivas and Philadelphia, putting them back in the mix with the upper echelon teams. Beating Seattle at CenturyLink Field will be a whole other task though.
The key to the Seattle attack is the scintillating Mauro Rosales. With him roaming all around the field, he's difficult to keep tabs on. He pops up out of nowhere and creates goal after goal for the Sounders. It's no surprise that as he has taken him game to a whole other level in August the Sounders have caught fire too.
With Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers in the middle, RSL will be organized and strong in the center so they can deal with Rosales and Fredy Montero, but they might be a little weaker than usual. Kyle Beckerman is usually the steely force in front of the back line, but he is coming back from Belgium, where he played for the U.S. on Tuesday. Will he be fresh enough to help out the defense like usual? Not having Chris Wingert, who is out with a broken wrist, doesn't help either and give the Sounders a way through from the wing.
Time: 4:00 pm ET; Day: Saturday; Pick: Seattle 2-0
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids, 11 pm ET, Friday (Fox Soccer)
The only other match of the weekend between two good teams, Los Angeles needs to get three points from every home match if they are to hold off Seattle and win the Supporters Shield. That includes Friday night when Colorado visits the Home Depot Center. As Jeremiah Oshan brilliantly wrote, the Rapids have actually gotten better since Conor Casey was lost for the season thanks to the more multi-faceted impact of Sanna Nyassi. That will be huge against LA, who wouldn't have had much of a problem with the physically imposing Casey, but very well could be troubled by the speedy, shifty Nyassi.
The real battle of the match will be in the center of the pitch though. Los Angeles can be beaten there, with Juninho starting next to David Beckham, no one will call them a defensive force in the center. That's whee Nyassi could find space if he drops deeper. Meanwhile, LA will have trouble building through the center because of the rugged central midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz that Colorado deploys. Add in Robbie Keane returning from two tough Euro 2012 qualifiers with Ireland, making his fitness a question and possibly taking away the threat of his dropping deep to occupy by center and the Rapids could have some success here.
As is often the case with the Galaxy though, they're organized at the back and will not be sucked out easily. They dont necessarily need to win the middle of the pitch either or create chances from the run of play. Colorado gives away fouls and with Beckham sending set pieces into Omar Gonzalez, Gregg Berhalter, Robbie Keane and whoever else LA throws in there, they can very well get goals on set pieces then let Colorado flail away as they try to muster an attack. Pick: LA 1-0
Two teams. Neither are good. Both are going to be in the playoffs. Both might even skip the wild card round and finish in the top three of the Eastern Conference. Welcome to MLS 2011. More specifically, welcome to the 2011 Eastern Conference, aka, AYSO U-12 All-Stars. The Sporks have only lost twice since moving into Livestrong Sporting Park and will surely want to finish their nine-match homestand on a good note. They'll be without Aurelien Collin, who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, but that might not be a bad thing. Plus, the Dynamo's Bobby Boswell is in the same boat. All hail the Sporks, or maybe just don't vomit at them. Pick: Kansas City 2-1
New England Revolution vs. FC Dallas, 7:30 pm ET, Saturday
When you're the Revolution, going ahead 3-0 and then 4-1 in the first half isn't reason to celebrate because you are all too capable of blowing it. That's what they did on Wednesday when they let the Philadelphia come back to nab a point. Would you ever trust a team like that to win a match? Oh yeah, and FC Dallas is good. Pick: Dallas 2-0
New York can spend all the money they want and bring in all the stars they want. That doesn't change the fact that they are very much the team they have been for their entire existence. They are bad. Luckily for them, the Whitecaps are even worse. They are much, much worse. The Red Bulls have proven to be sensational at tying, but at home against the Whitecaps they have no excuse not to get three points. The Vancouver defense is atrocious and while the New York team has been getting into the fetal position, Thierry Henry has still been playing fabulously so he'll get himself a pair of goals in this one. Pick: New York 3-1
The Union better get three points in this match. Let's list the reasons why: 1) The Timbers are really bad at soccer. 2) The Timbers are extra bad on the road. 3) The Union are in a playoff race and the Timbers are just twiddling their fingers until the season ends. 4) Coming back from three goals down to win on Wednesday doesn't mean much when you crap the bed in your next match Pick: Philadelphia 2-0
I suppose some people still consider this a rivalry match. The Crew are top of the Eastern Conference, but that doesn't mean they're a good team. Toronto has actually been playing better of late so the world is a strange place. Occasionally it's nice to throw the Canadians a bone, but we can't pick them to win because they still have Andy Iro. Pick: Tie 1-1
If anyone watches this match and doesn't have a rooting interest he must hate himself. It's bad. It's really, really bad. It's the Fire so it will be a draw. Avoid this match at all costs. Pick: Tie, who cares
There are some attacking players worth watching in this match. Chris Pontius remains one of the more exciting and productive attackers in MLS who would get a lot of praise if his team didn't suck and Justin Braun is still very Justin Brauney. Nobody would recommend that you watch this match, but there are worse things you can do. Like watch San Jose vs. Chicago. Pick: Chivas 2-1