Friday MLS Forecast: Week 23 - Heralding the return of a fabulous mullet

The Forecast ponders the implications of Juan Toja's return to MLS and sorts through the weekend slate.
1. Juan Toja makes his triumphant return to MLS...: Perhaps those words overstate how the 27-year-old sealed his second move to America on a free transfer yesterday after stops in Romania and Greece, but the former FC Dallas midfielder still represents a good addition for the league. In his best form, Toja influences games down the left or through the middle with his considerable skill, his impeccable timing and relentless work rate. Whether MLS will receive that type of player straight away or whether Toja will need some time to locate his fitness and his sharpness remains an open question at this point.

2. ...and New England holds the key to his future: Toja will find out his destination through the allocation process over the next few days because FCD sold his rights to Romanian side Steaua Bucharest in 2008. New England currently sits atop the allocation order and will use that spot to select Toja. That decision does not necessarily rule out a trade, though Toja won't make his way elsewhere for a song. In fact, the situation gives the Revolution leverage to seek a market-value deal if the club chooses to do so. Also worth noting: Toja's potential arrival in New England could also prompt offers for Benny Feilhaber – last seen coming off the bench for the Revs at Toyota Park – if opposing clubs believe they can get the U.S. international midfielder at a discount.

3. Sporting Kansas City hosts New York in yet another top-of-the-table clash: Hans Backe's side labored through its expected reprieve against Portland last weekend before securing the points, but the Red Bulls will enjoy no such luxury at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Sunday night. Backe will have to stop tinkering in midfield – Tim Cahill as the attacking midfielder and Dax McCarty as the holding player works just fine – and trust Kenny Cooper to partner Thierry Henry up top to avoid the problems encountered at Red Bull Arena. Even if the Red Bulls sort out their own selection issues, they face a particularly difficult task to cope with in-form Sporting. The prize for yet another formidable home performance by Sporting: a victory would push Peter Vermes' side five points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference.

4. CONCACAF Champions League and domestic demands could lead to squad rotation this weekend: Two teams to monitor in particular: Houston and Los Angeles. Most of the Dynamo's regulars watched Wednesday's straightforward 3-1 victory at C.D. FAS (El Salvador) on Wednesday, but Dominic Kinnear must still figure how to employ to parcel out the minutes with a home date against Toronto FC on Saturday and a potentially decisive visit to Olimpia (Honduras) looming on Thursday. Bruce Arena used his starting XI in Thursday night's wacky 5-2 home victory over Isidro Metapán (El Salvador), but he must weigh how many of those players he can bring back on relatively short rest to face the usually energetic FC Dallas. Seattle (at Caledonia AIA on Thursday after a visit to Chivas USA on Saturday) and Toronto FC (versus Santos Laguna on Tuesday after a visit to Houston on Saturday) also face some CCL-related fixture congestion issues, while Columbus and D.C. United must wrangle with particularly hectic domestic slates (last Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday).

5. Suspensions will further muddy the selection waters: Montréal (Hassoun Camara and Nelson Rivas) and San Jose (Victor Bernárdez, Jason Hernandez and Steven Lenhart) will face significant difficulties in defense. Portland (Diego Chará), Philadelphia (Sheanon Williams) and Vancouver (Gershon Koffie) must also accommodate for the absence of critical regulars. In all five cases, the opposing sides could see a potential avenue to exploit given the enforced omission of important contributors.

Last week: 4/9 (44%)
This season: 80/191 (42%)


Real Salt Lake @ Philadelphia (7:30p.m., NBC Sports Network) match preview
Overview: Call this one a gut feeling: RSL doesn't play on national television often and may enter this match against the freewheeling Union with a touch of additional motivation. Between the extra bit of vigor and the tempting gaps left by the Union, the visitors may just snatch a road victory.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.


D.C. United @ Montréal (4:00p.m., TSN 2/RDS) match preview
Overview: Go ahead and try to figure out how this one will unfold with one team riding high after a midweek win over Chicago and the other team scrambling to field a viable back four. United looks more than capable of snatching the points here, but the Impact tends to find a way to churn out results at Stade Saputo regardless of the circumstances.
Prediction: Montréal win.

New England @ Columbus (7:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: Remember how Chris Rolfe exposed the Revs time and again with his movement last weekend? That experience doesn't bode well for the visitors as they prepare to face Jairo Arrieta, Federico Higuaín and the resurgent Crew.
Prediction: Columbus win.

Toronto FC @ Houston (8:30p.m., TSN 2) match preview
Overview: Paul Mariner probably would have preferred to see a few more Dynamo regulars take the field in Central America.
Prediction: Houston win.

Colorado @ San Jose (10:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: One of the rather underrated aspects of this Earthquakes side: its depth. It isn't an ideal situation to play without both starting center backs, but Frank Yallop can cope if Ramiro Corrales and Ike Opara produce decent performances as part of the revamped rearguard. One other tidbit to watch: Hendry Thomas could make his debut for the Rapids if Oscar Pareja believes the Honduran international is fit enough to feature at some stage.
Prediction: San Jose win.

Vancouver @ Portland (10:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: Gavin Wilkinson said this week that the Timbers have looked better over the past few games. His point isn't poorly taken, but it may not hold up when the Whitecaps come to visit. Vancouver isn't in good form at the moment, but the Whitecaps still should overcome Koffie's suspension (particularly with Chará also banned) to retain their shape and slip through the Timbers' rearguard frequently enough with their movement and their work rate.
Prediction: Vancouver win.

Seattle @ Chivas USA (10:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: The crux in this particular debate: mobility. Seattle has a surplus of it, while Chivas USA struggles to control it.
Prediction: Seattle win.


FC Dallas @ Los Angeles (7:00p.m., NBC Sports Network/TSN 2) match preview
Overview: Tempo stands out as the key to this particular fixture. FCD has enjoyed success against the Galaxy in the past by relying on its significant speed advantage to spring quick counterattacks. If the Galaxy can find a way to limit those forays (as they have also done occasionally), then the balance tips a bit toward the home side.
Prediction: Los Angeles win.

New York @ Sporting Kansas City (9:00p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/GOL TV Canada/RDS 2) match preview
Overview: The most pressing issue in this affair comes on the left side of the Red Bulls' defense. Roy Miller's poor form places Hans Backe in a significant bind. Should he stick by his left back (as he did to the press earlier this week) to ensure his central defensive pairing is settled? Should he make a change to address the issue and potentially cope more adequately with the spaces Graham Zusi will expose in that area of the field? If so, what sort of shifts are involved (perhaps Connor Lade to the left, Jan Gunnar Solli on the right, Sébastien Le Toux into midfield and Kenny Cooper up top)? There isn't one perfect answer, though Zusi (if selected on the right wing again), one might suspect, has his own take on the issue that likely involves the status quo.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.

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