Week 8 Preview: Playoff rematches in Seattle, New England; new tests for D.C., New York
Week eight of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Seattle and Montréal, with weekend’s eight-match slate also featuring two rematches from the 2013 postseason. Here is our quick look at the coming weekend of MLS action.
Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.
Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have become Major League Soccer’s closest thing to must-watch television. At least, come the last 10 minutes of the game they are. In each of the league three weeks, the Sounders’ forward tandem has produced at least one goal in the last 10 minutes, helping Seattle to seven points over its three-game road trip. They’re not necessarily unstoppable (they seem to be picking their spots), but since the calendar turned to April, nobody’s been able to keep the Sounders’ high-price tandem from taking over the game’s final moments.
Now it’s your turn, Drew Moor. And Shane O’Neill (assuming you start over Marvell Wynne). Same goes for José Mari or Jared Watts, as well as Dillon Powers and Nick LaBrocca. The team you faced in last year’s Western Conference 4-5 game? They’re much, much better now. Here’s your chance to step up.
As Matt Hedges found out two weeks ago, and Bobby Burling learned last week, tracking two forwards who can be as dangerous in front of a defense as running through it stresses but your decision-making. It also provides a huge challenge the defense’s organization. Come the 80th minute, we’ll find out if Colorado’s up to the challenge.
IF WE WIN THIS ONE, WE’VE REALLY GOT SOMETHING
D.C. United’s enjoying a four-game unbeaten run, but with its two wins coming at home against New England and New York, there are some strength of competition concerns. With FC Dallas visiting RFK Stadium, however, those concerns disappear. Perhaps a flat Dallas will leave us questioning if their hot start has fizzled out, but if Óscar Pareja’s team plays like it has over the season’s first seven weeks, United will face its stiffest challenge since week one.
For New York, two convincing wins in a row have quelled concerns the team’s slow start was more than an unexpected trough, but as is the case with D.C., there are questions about the competition. Philadelphia and Houston wavered between impotent and inept. Columbus, who D.C. (to its credit) took a draw from last week, will present a stiffer challenge.
One team will have Álvaro Saborío, Javi Morales, João Plata, Olmes Garcia, and Devon Sandoval. It’s a diverse arsenal of complementary pieces, one that’s capable of being deployed a variety of ways - whatever way annoys the opposition most.
The other team will have Darren Mattocks. And Kenny Miller. As well as Kekuta Manneh, Sebastián Fernández, Russell Teibert, and Erik Hurtado. If his back allows it, former Chilean international Pablo Morales will be there, too. It’s the deepest, fastest, and possibly the most athletic attack in the league. They’re also highly skilled, too. While the ... septet? ... doesn’t form the same well-tuned machine we see from RSL, Carl Robinson’s crew has the potential to exceed that standard in the long-run.
Unfortunately, the Whitecaps are unlikely to let those talents loose at Rio Tinto. On the road, we’ve seen Robinson employ somewhat conservative approaches. Against the last undefeated team in the league, the Whitecaps may elect for wait for their opportunities instead of pursuing them.
BE AN MLS ULTZY, EMBRACE
#11 Houston Dynamo vs. #15 Portland Timbers, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston drew in Philadelphia, 0-0, but also lost 4-0 to New York midweek; Portland lost at RSL, 1-0
Want to impress all your friends and followers? Who doesn’t? Reinforce your growing MLS ultzy reputation by noting: This is a clash of philosophies. It’s the unwavering pragmatism of Dom Kinnear against the dreamer’s idealism of Caleb Porter.
Contrast the record of one of the league’s most accomplished head coaches against that of one of the profession’s newest stars. Note how much each team’s has struggled this season, use a cool clichés (“something’s got to give” or “rock and a hard place”), and see those shares and retweets grow. You are the master of your ultzy domain.
#10 New England Revolution vs. #1 Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: New England drew at Chicago, 1-1; Sporting slaughtered Montréal, 4-0
The last time Sporting was in Massachusetts, they saw Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe give the Revolution a 2-1 lead after leg one of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal. But Rowe, hobbled with a hamstring problem, isn’t expected to play. Nor is Jose Gonçalves. Juan Agudelo is gone, and although he’s been replaced by former Sporting forward Teal Bunbury, the Revolution don’t have the same punch. Jay Heaps’ team is still building toward last year’s level.
Sporting Kansas City, however, looks like its title-winning self. Coming off a 4-0 win on Saturday, Peter Vermes side has hit an early stride, one that’s allowed it to pull away from March’s Champions League disappointment. And in contrast to New England, Sporting returns almost all the pieces that produced last year’s title.
Jimmy Nielsen may no longer be around, but Sporting’s still the best team in Major League Soccer. For now.
Let’s try to make the best of these two, shall we ...
The good news about the game in Montréal: You have options. Seattle and Colorado kick off at the some time. Though this game has the potential to be interesting if Philadelphia’s midfield is clicking, the teams’ first meeting doesn’t offer much hope. This match’s equivalent of Dempsey and Martins is either Andrew Wenger and Conor Casey or Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney. Wait for the highlights before you commit the full 90.
As for San Jose-Chivas, I’ve spent a good chunk of time defending San Jose this week, explaining why I see them as better than their 0-2-3 record. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom about the Earthquakes’ entertainment value. Unless you’re a huge fan of good defensive tandems and want to zero in on Víctor Bernárdez and Clarence Goodson, this game may not offer much.
If Saturday comes and you find yourself watching this one, hit me up on Twitter. We’ll be each others’ sponsor.