Friday MLS Forecast: Week 20 - Welcoming familiar faces back to the fold

The Forecast ponders the meaning of Ricardo Clark's return to Houston and reviews the rest of the weekend slate.
1. Welcome back, Ricardo Clark...: The former U.S. international midfielder brought a frustrating sojourn to Europe to a close yesterday by securing his return for a second spell in Houston. It may take him a few weeks to obtain a roster spot (no match action until Geoff Cameron seals his move to Stoke City in a work permit appeal hearing on Aug. 8 and clears the necessary budget room) and work his way back to match fitness. Once he accomplishes those two tasks, he should provide a significant boost as a holding midfielder in the Dynamo's 4-3-3 setup if he has retained his mobility and his range.

2. ...but there are more pressing concerns for the Dynamo at the moment.: New York visits BBVA Compass Stadium for the first match of a makeshift home-and-home series over the next eight days. The term six-pointer gets thrown around an awful lot, but it well and truly applies here now that Houston has climbed to joint second in the Eastern Conference after a seven-match unbeaten run. Tim Cahill and the battered Red Bulls will do their best to end the Dynamo's torrid stretch of form at this juncture and extend their lead over Dominic Kinnear's side to four points, but Houston will like its chances to claim victory with Dax McCarty suspended and with the first match taking place in The Oven.

3. Tactical alterations afoot in Montréal: Impact coach Jesse Marsch will likely trot out a revamped defensive group when Philadelphia arrives in town on Saturday night. Matteo Ferrari could feature on the left side of a three-man setup after he watched most of the victory over New York from the bench with Alessandro Nesta and Nelson Rivas preferred in central defense. Three-man defensive setups – even if Hassoun Camara is asked to play a wingback role on the right side to supply additional cover – aren't common on this side of the pond these days for a reason. If the Union stretch the field horizontally (it may even make sense to give Antoine Hoppenot a second straight start to help in that endeavor) as most MLS teams would do, then those veteran defenders may find it a hard slog indeed.

One other point worth noting: Marco Di Vaio will miss the match to attend match-fixing hearings back in Italy. Marsch told reporters he isn't worried that his striker will incur a ban that would cause him to miss MLS matches, but he probably isn't thrilled to lose Di Vaio after he finally scored his first league goal last weekend. Andrew Wenger is expected to start in his place.

4. How will New England react to life without Shalrie Joseph?: Veteran midfielder Joseph will continue his career with Chivas USA after the Revs surprisingly traded him to southern California on Wednesday. Even though Joseph had slipped out of the starting XI, the move will undoubtedly exert a significant impact in the locker room. It isn't always easy to come to terms with such a significant departure, but the Revs will have to recover quickly in order to welcome a Sporting Kansas City side always in search of goals.

5. Fixture congestion could prompt squad rotation over the weekend: Seattle faces the most significant selection questions with Sunday's home match against Los Angeles located in the middle of a CONCACAF Champions League game (Thursday's straightforward 3-1 home win over Caledonia AIA with a mixture of starters and reserves) and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final (Wednesday's trip to Sporting Kansas City). Several other teams – including Sporting with the Open Cup final at home in midweek, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC after Champions League games and Los Angeles after a friendly with Real Madrid on Thursday night – must wrestle with similar considerations.

Last week: 2/9 (50%)
This season: 68/166 (42%)


New York @ Houston (8:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) match preview
Overview: Several key players will miss this match for one reason or another, but one man will be missed above all others: suspended Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty.
Prediction: Houston win.


Philadelphia @ Montréal (7:30p.m., TVA Sports) match preview
Overview: John Hackworth's young guns face a tricky task against a revamped Impact side stripped of its best forward for this match. The circumstances may favor a result for the Union, but this particular group fell short in its last big road task, at New York, and may struggle to produce the necessary display at Stade Saputo.
Prediction: Montréal win.

Columbus @ D.C. United (7:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: United must keep the tempo high to stretch a Crew side that doesn't often lose its shape. Most of the onus – as usual – falls on Dwayne De Rosario to find those little crevices and strike quickly through them in order to ensure United puts its peculiar July (two losses in two matches) aside.
Prediction: D.C. United win.

Sporting Kansas City @ New England (7:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: The tactics that worked for the Revolution at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park – sit back, frustrate and break forward occasionally – won't work quite as well at home. If the Revs push too much, then Sporting will exploit the space rarely afforded to them at their own ground these days.
Prediction: Draw.

Toronto FC @ Chicago (8:30p.m., GOL TV Canada) match preview
Overview: At some point, the Reds will fall off the pace if they can't freshen up the starting XI just a bit. This match – particularly with the Fire in decent form – seems like a potential spot to drop a few points.
Prediction: Chicago win.

Real Salt Lake @ Colorado (9:00p.m.) match preview
Overview: Colorado must overcome a terrible run of form – including four home defeats in their last five outings and a streak of six consecutive losses in league play – to register a result against their Rocky Mountain rivals. RSL may face more trouble than expected with a dose of squad rotation on the docket after the 1-0 defeat at C.S. Herediano on Tuesday and the injury suffered by Jámison Olave in that match.
Prediction: Draw.


FC Dallas @ Portland (7:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) match preview
Overview: Brek Shea continued to make amends for his recent outburst this week. Those steps should pave his way back into the squad for a match between two struggling Western Conference sides. FCD is in better form at the moment, but the Timbers are due for a bit more luck in front of goal after a frustrating home defeat to Chivas USA last weekend.
Prediction: Portland win.

Los Angeles @ Seattle (9:00p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes) match preview
Overview: The limited availability of several key figures – even the players rested in the comfortable CONCACAF Champions League win over Caledonia AIA on Thursday night – could prove a hindrance too great for Sounders FC to overcome.
Prediction: Los Angeles win.

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