The first month of the MLS season comes to a close this weekend with a pair of early season, interconference matchups that are more enticing now than they were a few weeks ago.
While both of them were called up to the US National Team, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman have been compared to each other all week in the runup to Toronto FC’s meeting with Real Salt Lake due to a comment made by RSL midfielder Nat Borchers who said that his teammate, Beckerman, was the better player. Safe to say, the comparisons that went on between the two kept many observers busy throughout the week.
The Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders were known for their standout offensive players but it is their respective defenses that have stood out early on. The two teams meet in Seattle having combined to concede a total of three goals between them so far this season. Both of these games have the potential to be the game that could have a butterfly effect later on this season when the Supporters Shield race intensifies.
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
RFK Stadium, Washington, Saturday 4 pm
REF: Jair Marrufo
News: The Chicago Fire (0—2—1, 2pts.) had forward Mike Magee return to the starting lineup for last week’s draw with the New York Red Bull but are going to be without both starting full backs for a second straight game as Gonzalo Segares is still recovering from an ankle injury while Lovel Palmer is suspended for a second game. Dily Duka is a big question mark to feature at left wing while Patrick Nyarko is available after serving a one-game suspension.
D.C. United (0—0—2, 0pts) have yet to score this season as they were shutout in Toronto last weekend. While the club have struggled out of the gate, they received a small ounce of good news as Davy Arnaud recovered from a scary clash of heads with Michael Bradley to be declared fit to start. This is a matchup of two goalkeepers called up to the US National Team: Bill Hamid with DC United, Sean Johnson for the Fire.
Montreal Impact vs. Philadelphia Union
PPL Park, Chester, Saturday 4 pm
REF: Edvin Jurisevic
News: The Montreal Impact (0—0—3, 0pts) have not scored in more than three hours. Fortunately, their leading scorer from last season is now available as Marco Di Vaio has served his three-game suspension levied at the end of last season. Andres Romero is also available after serving his suspension as well. Heath Pearce played his first minutes of the season coming off the bench after missing the last nine months due to hip surgery and may see more playing time at either left back or center back.
The Philadelphia Union (1—1—1, 4pts) are developing a dangerous trend of poor set-piece defending as they conceded from a corner for the second time in three games in last week’s loss to the Columbus Crew. Philadelphia may be without center back Austin Berry for a second game as he is gradually recovering from a hamstring injury. If Berry misses out, expect Aaron Wheeler to feature for a second consecutive game. Forward Conor Casey will likely be in the 18 again and could start for Jack McInerney, or at least replace him in the second half as he has yet to play this season.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids
Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Saturday 6 pm
REF: Jose Carlos Rivero
ARs: Gregory Barkey, Brian Dunn
News: Sporting Kansas City (1—1—1, 4pts.) recorded their first win of the season last week against the San Jose Earthquakes and finally enjoyed a week’s rest after a congested start to their season. Sporting KC may have right back Chance Myers available after he fully participated in training on Thursday. Former Celta de Vigo left back Toni will be in the matchday squad after signing with the team earlier this month.
The Colorado Rapids (1—0—1, 4pts.) picked up their first win under Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni last weekend against the Portland Timbers. Although they both have been sidelined for most of the early going this season, left back Chris Klute and goalkeeper Clint Irwin were rewarded with new contracts on Friday. Klute will miss a third game due to a hamstring injury while Irwin may feature. Midfielder Dillon Serna will be unavailable due to an ankle injury suffered this week in training while Jose Mari is suspended after being sent off last weekend.
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
BC Place, Vancouver, Saturday 7pm
REF: Kevin Stott
ARs: Adam Wienckowski, Felisha Mariscal
News: The Houston Dynamo (2—0—0, 6pts) are the only team to have not conceded this season. A stat, of course, partially aided by the early bye week the team had. Nonetheless, the biggest way the Dynamo may benefit by that week of rest is by seeing their midfield recuperate from injuries as Brad Davis is fit enough to be included in the US squad for the midweek friendly against Mexico after suffering a hamstring injury two weeks ago. Right winger Tony Cascio is also fit after suffering a knee injury in the season opener.
The Vancouver Whitecaps (1—2—0, 5pts) came away with draws in both of their games during a two-week road trip and will look to come with a second win in as many games at home. While the Whitecaps will have center back Jay DeMerit available after he was rested for last week’s draw against the New England Revolution, Vancouver will be without midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker who suffered a concussion and facial injuries tripping over a bicycle rack on his way to training earlier this week. Gershon Koffie looks set to replace the former Aston Villa man at midfield. Pedro Morales will likely come off the bench again as Head Coach Carl Robinson revealed his plans to limit Morales’ minutes while he recovers from a lingering back issue.
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Saturday 8:30 pm
REF: Sorin Stoica
ARs: Kermit Quisenberry, George Gansner
News: The Portland Timbers (0—2—1, 2pts) have struggled to score so far this season and it is the second straight year that the Timbers have struggled in the early going under Head Coach Caleb Porter. Last year, the Timbers drew and lost their first two games before going on a 15-game unbeaten streak. The Timbers have all three center backs available after Pa Modou Kah replaced Noberto Paparatto in the lineup last week. Max Urruti was also benched for Steve Zakuani and if the latter move is made again, expect Gaston Fernandez to start again up top with Zakuani at left wing, Diego Valeri in the hole and Darlington Nagbe at right wing. Nagbe scored in all three games the two teams played in last season. Andrew Weber will start in goal after Donovan Ricketts was sent off in last week’s loss.
FC Dallas (2—1—0, 7pts) broke through in the second half of their win against Chivas USA last week and are off to an impressive start under new Head Coach Oscar Pareja. Pareja will have a tough task ahead of him if he wants to keep the early unbeaten streak in tact as Dallas will be without three midfielders for Saturday’s game. Andrew Jacobson and Adam Moffat are injured while Hendry Thomas was sent off in last week’s game. Michel is a likely option to start but if Pareja maintains his 4-2-3-1, he would likely have to either give Victor Ulloa his first ever start or return Kellyn Acosta to the midfield even though Acosta was converted into a right back. Acosta can only move there if Zac Loyd is finally fit to start.
Toronto FC vs. Real Salt Lake
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Saturday 9:30 pm
REF: Baldomero Toledo
ARs: Mike Rottersman, Fabio Tovar
News: Toronto FC (2—0—0, 6pts.) has had its best ever start to a season with Jermain Defoe scoring all three goals for the team this season while Michael Bradley has been a presence in the midfield. Bradley has been helped out by his midfield partner Jonathan Osorio but Osorio will likely be unavailable for Toronto after suffering an injury in training. Jeremy Hall and Dwayne De Rosario are the likely options to replace Osorio in midfield. Winger Jackson was suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for an off-ball incident that occurred in TFC’s win last weekend. Mark Bloom looks set to move up to right wing with Bradley Orr moving to right back.
Real Salt Lake (1—2—0, 5pts.) move on from a string of meetings with the LA Galaxy to a home meeting against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. While the team has impressed under new Head Coach Jeff Cassar, RSL is still dealing with a rash of injuries. Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez, defender Aaron Maund, forwards Robbie Findley and Joao Plata are all confirmed out, forward Devon Sandoval and defenders Jordan Allen and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are questionable. Expect Cuban forward Olmes Garcia to start up top alongside Alvaro Saborio.
Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders
CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Saturday 10 pm
REF: Allen Champman
ARs: Jeff Muschik, Jeremy Hanson
News: The Columbus Crew (2—0—0, 6pts.) recorded maximum points from their first two games for the first time in franchise history on the back of a revamped back four led by captain Michael Parkhurst who earned a recall to the US National Team. The Crew have yet to lose under new Head Coach Gregg Berhalter dating back to the preseason. Berhalter said he is open to changing his lineup despite the success and good health and discipline of his team. If he were to make a change, it would likely be to include the team’s leading scorer from last year, forward Dominic Oduro, who did not start in last week’s win after missing the season opener due to suspension.
The Seattle Sounders (2—0—1, 6pts) are also crediting their solid start to their defense, in particular their new center back Chad Marshall, formerly of the Crew. The Sounders still do have one personnel question remaining as left back Leo Gonzalez has recovered from offseason groin surgery but may not be matchfit for Saturday’s game. Gonzalez should at least be in the matchday squad and if he cannot start, Dylan Remick will start for the fourth time this year. Right winger Brad Evans is questionable with calf contusion that could also force him out of the US National Team roster for Wednesday while Clint Dempsey will serve the second game of his two game suspension but was included by US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the friendly against Mexico.
New England Revolution vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose, Saturday 10:30 pm
REF: Dave Gantar
ARs: Baboucarr Jallow, Marco Arruda
News: The New England Revolution (0—1—2, 1pt.) have more points than goals through three games this season. The Revolution have been solid defensively and are helped out by the fact that center back Jose Gonclaves has put his contract frustrations behind him for the moment but the tough task of creating goals will be made even more difficult as midfielder Kelyn Rowe will not be available after suffering a strained hamstring late in last week’s draw with Vancouver. The injury will force Head Coach Jay Heaps to use his fourth different starting lineup in as many games with Daigo Kobayshi set to replace Rowe at midfield. Andy Dorman looks set to earn his second straight start at defensive midfield.
The San Jose Earthquakes (0—1—1, 1pt.) have dealt with fixture congestion and injuries throughout the month of March and have yet to win a game as a result. Their schedule is beginning to clear and now, their bill of health is starting to get cleaner. Left back Jordan Stewart and right backs Brandon Barklage and Andreas Gorlitz are all questionable. The Earthquakes may give winger Yannick Djalo a debut on right wing as his visa was finally processed and approved. Djalo, on loan from Benfica, participated all week in training and is available for selection by Head Coach Mark Watson.
Chivas USA vs. New York Red Bulls
Red Bull Arena, Harrison, Sunday 3 pm
REF: Juan Guzman
ARs: Sean Hurd, Scott Kachimarik
News: Chivas USA (1—1—1, 4pts) for all their struggles in recent years, have not lost at the Red Bulls since 2010. It is a factoid that should not go unnoticed given their decent start to the season so far. However, the team will have some injury problems to deal with as midfielder Oswaldo Minda and center back Bobby Burling are both questionable coming into Sunday’s game. Chivas USA will have Agustin Pelletieri available after he served a one-game suspension and he can replace Minda in midfield. If Burling cannot start, Eriq Zavaleta, on loan from Seattle Sounders, will likely start his second straight game at center back.
The New York Red Bulls (0—2—1, 2pts.) battled to a draw at the Chicago Fire last week using their third different backline in as many games due to center back Armando’s suspension. Armando is now available to start for Head Coach Mike Petke but it remains to be seen if he actually will start or if Petke will remain with Ibrahim Sekagya at center back. New York has had struggles looking for a playmaker in midfield to partner with Dax McCarty and may look to Peguy Luyindula to fulfill that role after an ineffective outing from Eric Alexander.
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