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The Forecast takes a moment to highlight Santino Quaranta's improbable return to U.S. national team before laying out this week's picks.

By Kyle McCarthy

Not even the most accomplished of prognosticators could have predicted Santino Quaranta's rise from the nadir of drug addiction to the pinnacle of scoring his first international goal in front of his home fans.

Quaranta had to play his way back into MLS at the start of the 2008 season after less-than-successful stints with Los Angeles and New York left him on the scrap heap. United handed him a chance to resurrect his career where it started and Quaranta repaid them by cleaning up his life and rediscovering his form. That form led him to the Gold Cup squad and set up his triumphant return to the international stage.

“I just wanted to come back and be a good person,” Quaranta said after the United States' 2-0 win over Honduras on Wednesday night. “I’ve just been enjoying life and I’ve been very happy off the field. I think being so happy at home has done well for me on the soccer field.”

Quaranta's 75th minute winner – the tidy culmination of a sweeping move – just provided the coup de grace. The United midfielder said it was special to score his first goal for the U.S. in front of his wife and two children, but noted the opportunity to take the field was perhaps the most important moment of all.

“It was a very special night for me personally,” Quaranta said. “But to be back wearing the jersey was probably more special. Just to be back on the field with the team, and to listen to the anthem was very emotional for me. It’s been such a fun and long road back.”

While the Forecast could never have predicted Quaranta's fairytale story two years ago, it can try to tackle a Week 17 slate including important matches at the top of the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Last week: 3/6 (50%)
For the season: 44/99 (44%)

Saturday

Houston @ Seattle – 4:00p.m.

Can't Sigi Schmid convince his children that a nice December wedding would be the perfect way to celebrate a marriage? For the second consecutive season, the Sounders FC head coach will miss a regular season game due to a child's nuptials. He won't be the only one missing from Qwest Field. Both sides are ravaged by multiple international callups with Tyrone Marshall and Brad Evans stripped from Sounders FC and Brian Ching, Andrew Hainaut and Stuart Holden unavailable to the Dynamo. The suspended Dynamo defensive duo of Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell won't be here either while Osvaldo Alonso (quad) will be a game-time decision. All of the absences rob a lustrous fixture of most of its sheen. Fortunately for the spectacle, Seattle will have the in-form Fredy “The Punk” Montero and perhaps even Freddie Ljungberg to lend a bit of star power. Houston always seems to find a way to pick up points, but this looks like too much of a task even for them.

Prediction: Seattle win.

Kansas City @ New England – 4:00p.m.

Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo handed Montero his new nickname in post-match frustration after the Colombian striker dove (and later copped to it) to win the match-deciding penalty late in Seattle's 1-0 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory over the Wizards in suburban Seattle on Tuesday night. Chances are Onalfo won't give Steve Ralston a similar appellation if the Revs captain makes his expected return from a hamstring injury in this contest. Onalfo may not have liked the result on Tuesday, but he certainly likes seeing the battered Revs – add Wells Thompson (suspension) to the lengthy list of unavailable players for this one on the heels of a 1-0 loss in Los Angeles last Saturday – on the docket for the third time in 29 days. Kansas City has won the last three meetings between the two sides, including a 3-1 win in K.C. on June 13 to open the season series. The recent results are persuasive, but perhaps the best statistical observation isn't specific to these two sides. In New England's three previous Gold Cup tripleheaders, there have been no fewer than five goals shared in the match between the two MLS teams. Two of those three matches ended in 3-3 draws and the Revolution won the remaining match 3-2. An encore of those two high-scoring draws would certainly fit the bill here.
 
Prediction: Draw.

Columbus @ Chicago – 8:00p.m. (ESPN2)

Chicago made quite the statement in its 2-1 win over Colorado last weekend. The Fire haven't quite lived up to the preseason hype so far this season, but the impressive first half against the Rapids served as a reminder that the Fire is among the league's elite when everything is clicking. The scary part for the rest of the Eastern Conference is that the Fire is tied with D.C. United atop the East even without hitting its stride. Columbus won't be an easy three points in this one, even without key contributors Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall in the fold. Robert Warzycha's side has lost just once since April 11 (5-1-6), though they haven't exactly scintillated over the last two weeks with a narrow win over New York and a fortunate home draw against D.C. United in the ledger. The stakes are certainly high enough to dampen the Eastern Conference final rematch as a spectacle; a win would hand either side sole possession of first place in the East, while Chicago can also nudge ahead with a draw. Perhaps the Fire will finally obtain the measure of revenge they couldn't extract in the 2-2 draw in Columbus on April 25.

Prediction: Chicago win.

FC Dallas @ Colorado – 9:00p.m.  

These two sides played to a 1-1 draw in this very same venue on June 24 as Colorado had the better of the play, but couldn't convert its territorial advantage into three points. For the Hoops, that match was the middle game in their current three-game unbeaten streak. It may not seem like much, but it's all about the baby steps in Frisco right now. Another pair of goals by Jeff Cunningham wouldn't hurt the cause; Kenny Cooper's absence makes the veteran poacher's job easier because he simply plays better when he knows the attention is on him. The Rapids submitted a rather meek first-half performance on its way to a 2-1 home defeat to Chicago last Saturday. With Colin Clark and Omar Cummings away on Gold Cup duty, Colorado is struggling to hide its lack of attacking depth. The depth in the back will be tested as well with Cory Gibbs suspended for the match. Julien Baudet isn't yet available, so Gary Smith will have to dip into his bag of tricks to figure out a temporary solution with Scott Palguta the likely replacement. Not much in this one to sway the result to either side, it appears.

Prediction: Draw.

Toronto @ San Jose – 10:30p.m.

Interesting contrast in transfer ambition between these two sides. San Jose has apparently taken to trawling the deep blue sea for new players; Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Densill Theobald was linked with the Quakes this week after washing out with Seattle during the preseason. Theobald would be perhaps the most distinguished of a rather underwhelming crop of reinforcements – perhaps with Cornell Glen granted amnesty due to his visa issues – to a rather underwhelming team. Toronto FC is on the complete opposite end of the scale with reports out of Canada suggesting TFC has tabled a big money offer to Deportivo's Canadian international midfielder Julian de Guzman. It makes all the sense in the world to bring an accomplished star home, except that it doesn't at all appear sensible in this case. De Guzman wants to play in Europe, would be significantly overpriced at the proposed salary, would merely provide an upgrade to a position already adequately covered by Carl Robinson and Sam Cronin and wouldn't fill either of TFC's two biggest needs: central defender and striker.

Befuddling transfer moves aside, this match has a couple of issues worth watching. Nick Garcia hopes to face his former team for the first time since his recent trade (though he'll have to shake off an adductor injury to do so), O'Brian White (knee) could make his long-awaited MLS debut as a substitute and Ramiro Corrales (ankle) will watch from the sideline. This could be a fun one because neither side is particularly adept defensively. Favor the team with the in-form strikers.

Prediction: San Jose win.

Los Angeles @ Chivas USA – 11:00p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)

Everyone can unite in the hope that the second edition of SuperClasico is far more entertaining than the card-marred snoozefest of a 0-0 draw these two teams blessed us with earlier this season. Landon Donovan missed last Saturday's 1-0 win over New England with an illness that was well-timed to give him an extra weekend of rest after his Confederations Cup exploits, but he is expected to feature in this contest. Donovan may just hold the key to making this a more entertaining game this time around, though his presence didn't help much in the April 11 affair. Chivas USA hasn't played a league match in over a month and had won just one in six prior to that break. With the Goats seemingly out of form after a disappointing SuperLiga campaign and the Galaxy always willing to grind a match into submission, perhaps the neutrals should plan to find alternative programming.

Prediction
: Draw.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/kylejmccarthy

For more on Major League Soccer, visit Goal.com's MLS page.

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