All of the hype and eyes of the American soccer community will be on MLS Live Saturday night (yes, someone forgot to negotiate this game into NBC or ESPN’s deal) as Sporting Kansas City host Real Salt Lake in the Battle of First Place Teams. With both teams playing so well, the hype is justified and I think a well played match is in the making. But while I plan on watching the match either that night or the next morning, I am more excited about any number of matches this weekend. Why? First, because I love being a contrarian and throwing out controversial topics to rile up you readers. But after looking at the entire schedule, you can make a case for why every other game this weekend could potentially be more interesting to watch than the “most important” one of the year.
Let’s take each one in chronological order:
Philadelphia Union v. Columbus Crew: This one is the NBC Sports game of the week (insert joke here) but this is an important early season match for both teams. While neither team can be said to be “out of the race” this early in the season, the result of this game should give the potential winner a major shot of emotion. For the visitors, they are coming off a beat-down by the Red Bulls and will be looking to right the ship after what they hope was just a speed bump. Making the task a little harder is that starting keeper Will Hesmer is now out for the next few weeks. For Philly, it’s simple. This may be the best chance to get a win for a few more weeks so they need the points. Look for a desperate, potentially open game.
New England Revolution v. DC United: Both of these teams are mid-table in the East and arguably punching above their weight the past few weeks with some very eye-catching results. Winner moves ahead in the “Surprise team of the year” race and begins to garner legitimate early-season buzz. DC actually hasn’t beaten New England since 2008, but the Revs will be without a few key starters for this match. Classic MLS match.
Seattle Sounders v. Colorado Rapids: From a more unfortunate perspective, this is the first time Brian Mullan will face the Sounders crowd after his famous leg-breaking tackle on Steve Zakuani. How the ever creative Seattle fans will respond will be of interest. Seattle needs this win badly to reestablish some momentum after a draw to DC and a home loss to the ‘Quakes. This has seen them slide a bit in the standings, behind…. Colorado. For the Rapids, a point or three would be a major statement on how good they are.
Toronto FC v. Chivas USA: Is Toronto this bad and is Chivas USA this good on the road? This is a good chance to answer both questions, and the answer may have more results in the standings than the more hyped KC/RSL match.
New York v. San Jose: I’d argue this is the best match of the weekend. We know the New York story – FIFA12-esque scoring ability from the unstoppable Henry-Cooper duo makes this a very scary New York team suddenly. But consider the number 2. As in the number of goals allowed by San Jose this year with a schedule that has included offense heavy teams like Seattle and Vancouver. Frank Yallop has the ‘Quakes playing like world beaters by beating you with speed down the flanks and tightening up the defense in front of goal. This will be one of the best defenses New York will face in its early season schedule and, if they drop another 3-4 goals on the visitors, they will shatter the impression of an improved San Jose team. But what if the ‘Quakes escape with a point or three points? They could arguably be the best team in the West, depending on how other matches fall out.
FC Dallas v. Montreal Impact: Ok, this one was a bit harder to get excited about, but this is a good test for Dallas. They had a strong win last week that signals they may be entering into their annual late-spring/summer run. For Montreal, four points in two games would be great, and let’s be honest, watching Jesse Marsch’s team is still kind of a cool new experience.
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Portland Timbers: People like to stare at car wrecks so how would this be that much different? In all seriousness, this is the type of desperation game that could lead to a ton of goals. Both teams need a spark to begin their climb out of the bottom of the league, and the last time LA was at home in this position they pasted DC United 3-1. These are two of the league’s most talented teams, so throw out the records and enjoy what should be an entertaining match.
Chicago Fire v. Houston Dynamo: If you feel like you don’t have a handle on either of these teams it’s because you probably don’t. Both have played only three times this year and Houston hasn’t played since March! Both teams, who should be in the upper half of the Eastern Conference come September, will be playing with some “name” starters injured, including the Dynamo and their three second-string midfielders. This could be a 2012 playoff preview.