Friday MLS Forecast: Week 3 - Addressing challenges domestic and foreign

The Forecast contemplates the real start to Houston's season, explains Aron Winter's teamsheet headaches and offers its Week 3 predictions.
1. Houston's road trip kicks into high gear in Seattle: The season-opening victories at Chivas USA and San Jose served as a manageable preamble for the Dynamo. Those showings weren't pretty, but they were effective enough to put six points on the board. A trip to Seattle presents a considerably stiffer challenge for Dominic Kinnear's side and signals the start of the real work that lies ahead. The defensive organization and the spirit are never in question, but can the Dynamo find a way to piece together a better performance from the run of play? Even if Brad Davis and company nick a goal off a set piece, they'll have to show more in midfield in order to emerge from CenturyLink Field with a result tonight.

2. Aron Winter's selection quandary: The Toronto FC boss wants to name a strong side for San Jose's visit on Saturday afternoon, but he needs to also keep his starters fresh for Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg encounter against Santos Laguna at BMO Field. Winter's squad simply isn't strong enough to handle both matches properly, especially with Torsten Frings sidelined with a right hamstring strain. Will Winter prioritize one game over the other or will he try to nurse his team through both games? It's a tough call to make with another important league match (home to Columbus) on tap next weekend.

3. Philadelphia takes its currently chaotic setup on the road: Union captain Danny Califf and manager Peter Nowak met earlier this week to clear up any confusion about Califf's demotion to the bench. All is apparently well between the two, but the platitudes from both men won't silence the commotion in Chester these days with a tricky trip to Chicago on the docket Saturday night. For a Union side that found itself ripped apart twice on the counter by Colorado in last Sunday's defeat at PPL Park, this speedy Fire outfit presents a particularly difficult challenge to overcome. Sheanon Williams' unanticipated absence due to U.S. Olympic qualifying duty won't help the efforts to subdue Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko, either. A third straight defeat to open the season would only exacerbate the tensions in the Union camp as Nowak attempts to right the ship over the next few weeks.

4. Real Salt Lake aims to create a little distance atop the Western Conference: Jason Kreis' side made it two wins out of two by continuing its dominance over New York last weekend. If the shorthanded Claret-and-Cobalt can make it three from three with a home victory over Chivas USA on Saturday, then they could push six points clear of idle Los Angeles and at least three points clear of Seattle. It is far too early to anticipate how that advantage might help at the end of the campaign, but any edge is a good edge to have in the competitive race at the top of the West these days.

5. Step forward, Rafa Márquez: The much-maligned Mexico international will reclaim his starting role in central midfield against Colorado on Sunday afternoon after finishing up his two-match ban. His return comes at the perfect time for a Red Bulls side lacking some polish in that central midfield department. The potential absence of Teemu Tainio (questionable – right ankle contusion) further increases Márquez's importance to the project, but he will ultimately prove his worth by providing the right type of service to Thierry Henry up front.

“It’s huge,” Henry told reporters about Márquez's return during the Red Bulls' media day on Thursday, according to a club release. “I think people didn’t realize last year how great Rafa was. I think they realized the last two games. Rafa will play on the defense, he plays the ball long, short, his vision, we all know that, so hopefully having him back is going to be something great.”
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Last week: 6/9 (67%)
This season: 11/17 (65%)


Houston @ Seattle (10:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) – match preview
Overview: File this contest in the “It'd be nice to get something, but...” folder for the Dynamo after two wins to open the season. Seattle must pay careful attention on set pieces, but Sigi Schmid's group should push onwards after that resounding 3-1 victory over Toronto FC last weekend.
Prediction: Seattle win.


San Jose @ Toronto FC (1:00p.m., TSN/RDS) – match preview
Overview: This particular affair could head in one of several directions depending on Aron Winter's starting XI. In the midst of such uncertainty, the middle road – especially with these two sides and their penchant for inconsistency – appears safest.
Prediction: Draw.

Portland @ New England (4:00p.m.) – match preview
Overview: New England has struggled to contain physical forwards in its first two matches. A meeting with Kris Boyd makes it three strong target men to neutralize in three weeks. It isn't the ideal proposition for a Revs side down to one available and healthy central defender (and a midfield group likely without the injured Benny Feilhaber).
Prediction: Portland win.

Montréal @ Columbus (4:00p.m.) – match preview
Overview: The Crew spent last weekend brushing aside collegiate foes and tending to the walking wounded. This weekend must include the collection of three points if they want to make that early period of rest and repose pay off in style.
Prediction: Columbus win.

Philadelphia @ Chicago (8:30p.m.) – match preview
Overview: The prospect of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro mounting raid after raid behind the Union defense won't calm the jangling nerves in Philadelphia.
Prediction: Chicago win.

Chivas USA @ Real Salt Lake (9:00p.m.) – match preview
Overview: RSL has performed too well over the opening two weekends to slip up in a home game against this impotent Red-and-White outfit.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.

D.C. United @ Vancouver (10:00p.m.) – match preview
Overview: Ben Olsen kept his charges out on the west coast after Sunday's 3-1 defeat at Los Angeles. It is the sensible move on paper, but will the extra bonding time help a disjointed United side find its rhythm? Perhaps it will, but the leaky defense still has to keep out the Whitecaps' high-powered attack.
Prediction: Vancouver win.


Colorado @ New York (4:00p.m., ESPN/ESPN Deportes) – preview
Overview: Striking the right balance looks like the key here for New York. Oscar Pareja's side absorbed plenty of pressure at Philadelphia and punished the Union on the break. If the Red Bulls push too many numbers forward at the wrong times, then they could meet the same fate even though the Rapids won't have the suspended Jeff Larentowicz to help fuel the transition. If they can manage that task wisely, then they should snap the Rapids' two-match winning streak.
Prediction: New York win.

FC Dallas @ Sporting Kansas City win (7:00p.m., Galavision) – preview
Overview: Expect Sporting to watch the tape of FCD's late show at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park a time or two before this game starts. The visitors will find that success hard to replicate with Fabián Castillo injured and Brek Shea away on U.S. Olympic qualifying duty.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
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