Kickin' it: MLS game-by-game analysis

May 21, 2008 |
By: Ben Woolf
Kickin' it: MLS game-by-game analysis

D.C. United at Toronto FC – Wednesday

United are struggling in a big way. Last year they won the Supporters’ Shield for having the best record in the regular season but this year they’ve lost six out of eight games. 

Directly above them in the eastern conference lies Toronto FC. However, Toronto has five more points and has lost only two games all season.  At home, Toronto hasn’t lost and has only surrendered one goal. Additionally, Toronto is on a five-game unbeaten streak.

D.C.’s problems stem from a lack of team cohesion. They have the talent, but it hasn’t clicked on field. If coach Soehn can unify the team around playmaker Marcelo Gallardo they should start to win games. Unfortunately for D.C., they have to travel to Toronto, one of the toughest places to play in the league.

Toronto fans are the “12th Man” for the reds. Corner kick takers will be covered in streamers while being belittled verbally. Toronto FC has one of the best home-field advantages thus far. Their single goal surrendered at home does not bode well for D.C., which has scored just one goal on the road. 

Amado Guevara will look to spark the Toronto offense from his attacking midfield role as he regains his 2004 and 2005 form. So far he has changed the dynamic in Toronto and should cause problems for D.C. United.

Houston Dynamo at San Jose Earthquakes – Thursday

In this week’s ESPN prime time battle, Houston face the city where they started, San Jose. Houston is slowly coming out of their 2007 championship hangover. After beating a strong Chicago side this weekend they are no longer lame ducks in the league. Dwayne De Rosario is reasserting himself as the leader of the team. Meanwhile, San Jose continues to struggle. They’re at the bottom of the Western Conference suffering from the typical expansion team blues. They don’t have a go-to player to carry them through tough times and will continue to struggle through the season, picking up wins against teams who give them easy goals. The “Haitian Sensation” Peguero Jean Philippe, hasn’t hit his stride and is searching for his first goal as a Quake. Four Earthquake players are tied at one goal apiece…that is it.  Houston should be able to reassert themselves in the weak Western Conference against an easy foe.

New England Revolution at Columbus Crew – Saturday

This has to be the marquee match up of the weekend. The Crew are the surprise early-season leaders having won six of eight matches thus far. They’re led by Argentinean legend, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Since arriving in Columbus in 2007, Barros Schelotto has been the center of the Crew’s attack, scoring six goals and making sixteen assists between this and last season. Young American Robbie Rogers has added to the attacking prowess of the Crew. 

On the other side of the field will be the third ranked team in MLS. New England has had some great wins thus far in addition to some shocking losses. Their defense has not been as strong as in previous years and I think this will be where the game is won. If New England’s defense holds up, they should be able to find success on the road. If not, Columbus will run all over them. If New England doesn’t have star forward Taylor Twellman due to his ankle sprain, they lose their most consistent scoring threat. Without Twellman the team has been forced to rely on a pair of under-20 players from Gambia, Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally, who both have two goals this season. Their youth will not help them playing against the top team in the league. 
Toronto FC at D.C. United – Saturday

In a rematch of our Wednesday game, the biggest change here will be venue. While United’s home stadium isn’t as tough to play in as Toronto’s, D.C. does have some of the most passionate, vocal fans in the league. The two teams will know a lot about each other having just played and will use the break between games to make tweaks to what didn’t work.

If D.C.’s slide continues on Wednesday, expect changes on the field from a coach who is seated firmly in the hot seat. If D.C. can reverse fortunes on the road Wednesday, look for a similar lineup on Saturday hoping to build on consistency. United are the most storied club in the league and are looking to pull out of their current nose dive. I’d be shocked if this happens, but two losses in a week to Toronto F.C. could spell the end of Coach Soehn in D.C.

Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas – Saturday

Salt Lake has struggled on the road in 2008, losing all four of their road matches while only scoring two goals. FC Dallas has not been able to make Pizza Hut Park in suburban Dallas a fortress either, winning only one of four home matches.

Last weekend FC Dallas gave up five goals to the surging L.A. Galaxy.  Fortunately for Dallas, Salt Lake doesn’t have anyone with the talent of Landon Donovan or David Beckham. Salt Lake is going to try to get the offense running through Javier Morales, but he is listed as questionable on the injury list.  Midfielder Kyle Beckerman will do the dirty work for Salt Lake and will look to attack when he has a chance. 

For Dallas, Kenny Cooper will be the main scoring threat.  He is a big kid and has a nose for goal when provided with good service. Dallas doesn’t have any major injury issues so should be able to start their normal roster. On the other hand, coach Steve Morrow may be forced to make some changes after the terrible display against LA last week. 

Furthermore, their defense will be without hard man Adrian Serioux after his reckless tackle on Beckham and subsequent red card.  Look for Arturo Alvarez speeding up and down the flank. He’s trying to punch his summer Olympic ticket and will need to impress. 

Update: Dallas head coach, Steve Morrow, has been fired.  Supposedly, the owners don’t like losing 5-1 at home. Marco Ferruzzi has been elevated from assistant to head coach on an interim basis while a successor is found.

Chivas USA at Colorado Rapids – Saturday

The Colorado Rapids are off to a solid start this year. They have four wins and four losses and sit atop the Western Conference at this early point in the season. Omar Cummings is turning into the go-to goal scorer on a team that badly needs one. Christian Gomez is adding the spark the team hoped when they pulled off a major trade to acquire him. Colorado has been a streaky, unpredictable team after beating solid teams like New England and losing to the lowly expansion San Jose Earthquakes. Which team will show up on Saturday?

Chivas USA sits four points down the Western Conference standings having lost the same number of games but tying two that Colorado won. Their defense has not been as strong as in the past but they still have one of the best young American goal tenders in Brad Guzan. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan has been hot, scoring four goals and making three assists thus far in 2008. Chivas USA will need a strong performance from Kljestan and Guzan to keep Colorado from earning the three points at home.

Kansas City Wizards at Los Angeles Galaxy – Saturday

Kansas City started hot and has cooled down lately, having not won in three games. Los Angeles is headed in the opposite direction after starting off cold and slowly heating up having won, tied and lost over the past three league games.

Obviously, L.A. is banking on star power to win games and when the two stars, Landon Donovan and David Beckham, align, they get the result.  Last weekend they were helped by streaky striker Edson Buddle who registered a hat trick in Dallas. Donovan and Beckham had a hand in two of Buddle’s goals. The entire league knows they have to defend Donovan and Beckham, so expect to see Kansas City key on the two of them.

Kansas City has its own designated player to match up with Beckham. Claudio Lopez has been successful in Europe and at home in Argentina and is now helping to add some magic in Kansas City. Their recent rough patch could turn this weekend with such a potent attacking threat facing an L.A. defense that has surrendered sixteen goals, second most in the league. Lopez has some solid attacking talent surrounding him. This should be the weekend they regain their early-season form and gain three points.

Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls – Sunday

Chicago versus New York has provided some entertaining games in the past. In 2008, both teams have designated players and young talent to compliment them. Juan Pablo Angel will be looking to strike the back of the net for New York and has a good chance every time he steps on the field.

Of all strikers in MLS, Angel is the most deadly in front of the net. He’s played all around the world and knows how to score no matter who is defending. His playing time has been limited this season due to injury and that has put more focus on the young American starlet, Jozy Altidore. When both are healthy and on the field they form a great forward partnership.

The best performing goalkeeper in the league this year will be trying to keep Angel and Altidore from scoring. Jon Busch is a league veteran and is playing like a man possessed this year. In eight games he has faced 46 shots and saved 41 of them, giving him a 0.62 goals against average. A number like that is an unheard and will undoubtedly go up as the season progresses.

In front of Busch you have one of the best young defenders in Bakary Soumare and the hero of Mexican futbol, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco scored an amazing goal from 25 yards out last week and will look to add to his tally against New York. 

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