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Major League Soccer Weekend Preview: BMO The Proving Ground For Aspiring Elites

FC Dallas looks to build off last weekend's upset of Real Salt Lake, while Toronto hopes to stay undefeated at home.

FRISCO, TX - JUNE 5: Brek Shea #20 of FC Dallas celebrates his goal  with fans against the San Jose Earthquake at Pizza Hut Park on June 5, 2010 in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
FRISCO, TX - JUNE 5: Brek Shea #20 of FC Dallas celebrates his goal with fans against the San Jose Earthquake at Pizza Hut Park on June 5, 2010 in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
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Major League Soccer’s weekend started Thursday with league-leading LA Galaxy continuing their summer regression, salvaging a point with a late goal from Landon Donovan, leaving the match drawn at two. A second minute goal from Bobby Convey gave the Earthquakes a shock early lead, with Los Angeles taking 57 minutes to set-up Edson Buddle for a controversial equalizer. Former Galaxy player Brandon McDonald converted a corner kick 12 minutes later to give San Jose a lead that held until the 90th minute.  Then, Earthquake goalkeeper Jon Busch’s poor handling of a speculative Tristan Bowen shot gifted Donovan’s goal.

The point puts Los Angeles on 40 for the year, having played two more matches than Eastern Conference-leading Columbus (31 points) and Western Conference-chasing Real Salt Lake (30 points). This weekend, each of those teams have home matches in which they’ll heavily favored to close the gap on the Galaxy, though the league’s best match-up will feature two teams looking to ascend to the LA, Crew, RSL level.

That match kicks-off our weekend on Saturday at BMO:

Best Match: FC Dallas (SBN Rating: 81) at Toronto FC (62)

Dallas is unbeaten in six coming off a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake, a performance that should garner them consideration as the league’s fourth elite team. They’ve lost only twice in fifteen matches, their last defeat coming two months ago against the Galaxy. Since, they’ve allowed three goals in six matches, outscoring their their opponents by six, serving as another example of why the three point win, while providing incentives for aggressive tactics, often overstates the differences between teams. All-Star David Ferreira and last week’s hero Brek Shea have Dallas playing like a dark horse contender.

Toronto, like Dallas, has slowly climbed the standings after a slow start, carrying an undefeated home record into Saturday’s match. In eight league matches at BMO, Toronto has five wins, scoring 11 goals while allowing only three. Contrast that with a road record that has earned TFC only four points in seven matches and you see a team much more capable of beating an elite team in Ontario. Of the league’s top three, only Los Angeles has gone to BMO this year, the match ending in a 0-0 draw.

Saturday could see the first MLS action for Mista, the Spanish striker Toronto added to their roster earlier this week. The 31-year-old attacker’s moved to Toronto from Deportivo La Coruña, the Spanish Primera Division club where he spent the last two seasons, scoring twice in 26 league appearances.

Each team will enter Saturday’s 4 p.m. Eastern start in third place in their respective conferences, though neither can vault into second place this weekend.

Most Competitive Match: Colorado Rapids (67) at Seattle Sounders FC (29)

This match is not as closely-rated as Dallas-Toronto, but do you want to hear about that one again?

The focus around Seattle is Freddy Ljungberg - will he stay or will he go. Regardless, it is unlikely we’ll see the attacking midfielder this weekend, ostensibly sidelined with an injury that’s kept him out of the Sounders’ last two matches. Coincidentally (perhaps causally), Seattle’s got four points from those two matches, snapping a three game losing streak that helped anchor the Seattle near the bottom of the West.  Though it's a place in the standings they've occupied for most of the season, it’s going to take a little longer to get used to seeing Seattle, the arguably the league’s most talented team, hanging around the conference's cellar.

In Sunday’s Fox Soccer Channel match, Seattle hosts fourth-place Colorado, who come into the match having only lost one match since May 5 - a figure which belies the Rapids only registering four points from their last five games.

That uninspiring form could see an uptick on Sunday, with Gary Smith sending forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings against a Seattle team depleted by injuries. At the back, Tyrone Marshall is questionable, while Jhon Kennedy Hurtado continues to be a long-term absence. Midfielder Brad Evans joins a questionable Ljungberg as likely ommissions, while Osvaldo Alsono and Kasey Keller struggle with injuries.

Countering Casey and Cummings, Seattle has their own premier striking tandem, with Blaise Nfuko ready to make his MLS debut in front of Fredy Montero, whose improved play has helped Sigi Schmid temporarily get Seattle back on course.

Least Competitive Match: Chivas USA (0) at Real Salt Lake (100)

The Salt Lake juggernaut was turned on its ear last weekend in Frisco, with FC Dallas handing RSL it’s first loss since the end of April. While Chivas USA has salved memories of a six match losing streak with four points in their last two matches, don’t expect the Goats to be as competitive tomorrow as they were at Home Depot in May, when a late Fabian Espindola goal was all the separated the sides. Chivas will have a difficult time replicating that result at Rio Tinto, where RSL has outscored teams 20 to 5 while posting a 6-0-2 record.

The rest of this weekend’s schedule around MLS:

League Matches

Houston Dynamo (33) at Columbus Crew (100)

Houston’s goal difference (-1) hints at a team that can turn-it-around at any time, but a trip to Ohio this weekend (while coming off mid-week Superliga action) hints that the Crew are catching the Dynamo at the right time. Only Chivas USA separates Houston from the bottom of the Western Conference, a surprising state for last season’s conference finalists, while Columbus has assumed their customary place atop the East.

Houston was able to muster a 0-0 draw against Columbus in their last MLS match (July 10), but the change of venue alone might be enough to tip the rematch.

International Friendlies

Three English clubs help continue MLS’s summer slate of friendlies, the most prominent of which has Manchester United, after stops in Toronto and Philadelphia, in Kansas City to take on the Wizards. The Red Devils’ intracity rivals, Manchester City, is at Red Bull Arena to take on New York while recently relegated Portsmouth is in the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United.

Off: Chicago, Philadelphia

Best, most, and least competitive matches are determined by the SBNhanced Power Rankings. Best match features the highest combined rating. Most competitive features the two most closely-rated, while least features the greatest disparity. This methodology is nowhere close to original and really shouldn’t be associated with a term like "methodology."