The question I wrestled with in my head last night was this: if there were no playoffs or a playoffs with just four teams instead of 10, would this weekend be as exciting? Regardless of how you feel about the playoff format or the playoffs in general, the answer I came up with was YES. Looking at the fixture list, there are some damn good matches this weekend. Would, for example, the New York and Portland match be as exciting if they were not in a playoff race? My answer is most definitely, for reasons listed below.
The fact is this weekend’s action is a mixture of generally good matches, critical playoff-push games, and injury drama all around. Here is part one of a guide to this weekend’s matches (all times ET), with a key to each game and a prediction that undoubtedly will be horribly wrong. Share your own predictions and keys to the games below. Part 2 will come out tonight or tomorrow morning.
Sporting Kansas City v. Philadelphia Union (Friday, 8:30 PM, Fox Soccer)
The odd thing about this game is that after this weekend the winner could be in first place in the East while the loser could conceivably be outside the tenth playoff spot. Philadelphia is one of a couple of MLS teams that broke a long winless streak last weekend, but as NY showed getting that second win in a row can be tough especially against a good opponent. The Union are thin right now and missing Sheanon Williams is a HUGE loss for a defense that had been struggling recently. The bench is thin, so the visitors need their offense to be ready to score, while Kansas City as usual needs to hold off late comebacks and play some defense.
Prediction: Sporting KC 3, Philadelphia Union 2. I like there to be some goals in this game, with the magic of LIVESTRONG winning out
FC Dallas v. Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Telefutura)
Is Brek Shea tiring at the wrong time after a much increased work load? This is the type of game where Dallas will need their A-game from their stars. A key to this game is who wants it more, and the answer may be the visitors. Fourth in the West may be an ideal playoff position, while Houston is in a battle just to qualify. With a Champions League trip to Tauro FC on Wednesday, maybe Dallas pumps the breaks just a little.
Prediction: FC Dallas 1, Houston Dynamo 1. A spirited game that drags at the end.
DC United v. Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 7:30 PM)
The Chivas draw on Wednesday makes this an almost must-win for DC, and they face the hottest team in MLS right now who will be getting local boy Kyle Beckerman back. Ben Olsen called out his team in public on Wednesday, so who knows what was said in the locker room or the effect it will have. The key to this match will be if RSL can shut down Andy Najar and Santino Quaranta on the wings; DC’s offense stagnates without being able to spread the field.
Prediction: DC United 1, Real Salt Lake 1. DC takes an early lead and loses it in the second half. I’ve seen this movie before
Columbus Crew v. Los Angeles Galaxy (Saturday, 7:30 PM)
This game seems like the lock of the weekend – the Galaxy can basically seal the Supporters Shield against an injured and struggling Columbus Crew squad. But here are a few reasons Columbus could pull the surprise: Chad Marshall and Emilio Renteria could both be starting for this game, although Renteria is more likely to come off the bench. The Galaxy, while not taking this game lightly, have a must-win CCL match on Wednesday. And with their depth not being superb and some starters having nagging injuries, the starting XI for the Galaxy might not be their ideal XI.
Prediction: LA Galaxy 3, Columbus Crew 1. Remember what happened last time the Galaxy lost a midweek CCL game?
New York Red Bulls v. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 7:30 PM)
Wouldn’t it be great if MLS could flex schedule games? Who wouldn’t want to watch this soap opera? Let’s go out on a limb and assume Rafa Marquez doesn’t play. Does that mean a return to the solid defense NY showed against FC Dallas last week? Normally you would assume a team besieged by controversy and full of talent would rally at home against a team with a miserable away record. But nothing has been normal about this season for New York.
Prediction: New York 2, Portland 1. For one day, NY settles some controversy and slides into a wild card slot.
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