Even if you consider the Thursday ESPN2 match part of Major League Soccer’s weekend, MLS rarely has a full, eight-match weekend. Starting tomorrow, MLS kicks-off its second act with all sixteen teams in action over two days, with seven matches scheduled for Saturday. The day kicks off in Columbus at 4 p.m. Eastern and doesn’t finish until close to midnight on the east coast, with 10 p.m. Eastern kick-offs in Los Angeles and San Jose.
I have little idea why we don't see more eight game weekends. There is the Thursday match, but often one of the Thursday participants ends-up with a weekend match (as Philadelphia will do next week). With the All-Star Game on Wednesday, there was not Thursday match, allowing us to have our full weekend, but typically, one team has the week entire week off. Why?
Every time I've asked that question, I've gotten valid reasons, none of which trump the rebuttal: "Well, with sixteen teams, doesn't it make sense to have eight matches per weekend?
"I'm just saying."
Unfortunately, despite the wealth of games, there are no headline match-ups, with the league’s big three each facing struggling, bottom-of-the-standings clubs. But as any experienced concert-goer or fight fan knows, often the opening acts are the show, and on a weekend where the league’s elite will be expected to collect three points, matches in Houston, Denver and San Jose should feature more uncertain, competitive contests.
One of those matches, per SB Nation Soccer’s Enhanced Power Rankings, is the best match on the card, sharing its place with a game featuring one of the elites:
Best Matches: FC Dallas (SBN Rating: 81) at Colorado (52); Chicago (33) at Los Angeles (100)
Perhaps I’m taking this column’s rules too seriously, but I was remiss to move the Chicago-Los Angeles match out of this slot merely because the Galaxy will be a big favorite. The match is, after all, as highly rated as Dallas-Colorado even if Chicago’s struggles make them a marked underdog. Still, Los Angeles has one win in five matches and is coming off a smashing at the hands of the Puerto Rico Islanders. They haven’t kept a clean sheet this month, allowing 12 goals in six games. Chicago may be in the third-tier of SBN’s Power Rankings, but they’re still a talented squad, and if Los Angeles plays as they did on Tuesday, Chicago will get three points.
The better match-up is in Commerce City, with two Western Conference aspirants meeting in a match where home field advantage could cancel out form. That’s what happened last week, when a Dallas team coming off a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake was drawn by Toronto FC at BMO Field. On Saturday, a Colorado team with an identical record to TFC hosts Dallas. While it could be argued that Toronto is the better home team (undefeated at BMO this year) and carried better form into last Saturday’s match, Colorado still has the talent to get a result from Dallas.
Most Competitive Match: Seattle (48) at San Jose (67)
Last Thursday’s ESPN2 match was the last time we saw the Earthquakes, with the team riding high after taking a point at Home Depot. Great accomplishment right? Yeah, about that. Now, it seems so long ago that San Jose drew Los Angeles.
While Puerto Rico has helped put the Galaxy’s struggles into alarming context, San Jose’s performance shouldn’t be so readily dismissed. The two goals they scored on Los Angeles are 20 percent of the Galaxy’s goals allowed on the season, and only four teams in the league are averaging more goals per game than Frank Yallop’s crew.
That attack might find success against a Seattle team that’s allowed 25 goals in 18 matches, fifth-worst rate in the league. While there has not been a notable change in goals allowed since Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s injury, that comparison is highly influenced by one, outlying (four goals allowed) game. Seattle’s going to have to solve their leaking defense without their best defender.
Least Competitive Matches: DC United (0) at Real Salt Lake (100); Columbus (100) at Chivas USA (0)
As the Galaxy return to Earth, RSL and Columbus are set to meet them, and emboldened by matches like Saturday’s, that meeting may be soon. Columbus is currently six points back with a game in hand while Real Salt Lake is another three back. If the Galaxy stumble on Sunday, the Crew could be within one game’s points by the time they kick-off on Thursday against the Union.
These are the kind of mid-summer, grind-it-out matches that can decide who wins the Supporter’s Shield. After a slow start last season, Columbus went on a run through the heart of the schedule to finish atop the league for a second straight season. Now, the Crew look posed to make another push, which means getting three points instead of one in matches like these. It is, after all, a few one-point matches from L.A. that allowed Columbus back into the race for the shield.
It’s a road match, a late start, and all-the-way across the country, but it’s also a team at the bottom of their conference. Robert Warzycha should expect three.
Worst Match: New England (10) at Philadelphia (10)
Technically, this could also be called the most competitive match, but from here forward, I’m going to require one team be amongst the league’s top eight to fit that billing. With both teams sitting on 14 points - nine points and four teams back of a playoff spot - the Union and the Revolution should be more concerned about stringing together results than fighting for the playoffs.
For New England, that string may have already started, if you consider SuperLiga play. There, New England won three consecutive 1-0 games which, combined with a July 10, 2-0 win over Los Angeles, puts them on a four match winning streak. In addition, New England faces an incredibly light schedule ahead, not playing a current top-eight team until September 22. Even if New England drops a few of those eight league matches, they have a playoff run in them.
Others: New York (62) at Houston (29); Toronto (67) at Kansas City (0)
Second and third place in the east on the road, each trying to keep Columbus on the horizon. New York is expected to start Thierry Henry, the Frenchman making his Major League Soccer debut. Kansas City’s riding high off a victory over Manchester United, and after Wednesday’s All-Star Game, Twitter-overreaction math tells us the Wizards are better than the MLS All-Stars.
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."