The three Canadian sides must grapple with the fixture congestion caused by their domestic championship as they approach their MLS obligations this weekend.
1. Canadian clubs must strike balance with Canadian Championship second legs ahead: All three sides sent out rather mixed signals about their intentions for the first legs in midweek. A raft of reserves took the field for Montréal and Toronto FC in the Reds' 2-0 home victory on Wednesday night. Vancouver boss Martin Rennie fielded a stronger lineup at FC Edmonton, but his players still managed to leave it late to snatch a 3-2 victory at Commonwealth Stadium. With both ties still in the balance, all three coaches must ponder their priorities this weekend and tinker with their lineups accordingly. The team selections in MLS play should offer a hint as to how much emphasis – if any at all – these clubs place on success in that cup competition.
2. Time for FC Dallas to run and hide: FCD currently sits eight points clear of second-place Los Angeles (two games in hand) and Real Salt Lake at the top of the Western Conference. A second road win of the season at Vancouver – brushed aside in Frisco last weekend and burned with the issues discussed in the previous point – on Saturday could push that margin into double digits with the right set of results. It is far, far too early to talk about securing that perch at the end of the season, but FCD would prove wise indeed to collect points during this fertile run of form and compile a bit of a cushion in its bid to return to the playoffs.
3. Injury doubts leave Los Angeles in flux: Landon Donovan (leg strain) and Robbie Keane (ankle) could play limited roles at Real Salt Lake on Saturday as they cope with lingering knocks. Injury reports out of Galaxy camp always deserve a grain (or a heaping spoonful) of salt, but the prospect of tangling with the Claret-and-Cobalt (presumably bolstered by the return of Kyle Beckerman) isn't particularly alluring for the MLS Cup holders given the magnitude of the task ahead at Rio Tinto Stadium.
4. Dax McCarty's absence deals Red Bulls a blow: The bustling central midfielder pulls things together for New York in the middle of the park. The former FC Dallas man doesn't always attract credit for his energetic and tidy displays with the luminaries sprinkled around him (though he did step into the spotlight a bit last year), but he usually fulfills a vital role for Mike Petke's side. He won't perform his regular tasks this weekend after suffering a right quadriceps injury during a training session on Wednesday. If Petke and his players cannot find a way to adequately compensate for his absence at Toronto FC, then the Red Bulls may once again take a step back after moving forward in the 4-1 home victory over New England last weekend.
5. Careful words should prompt concern in Chicago: Fire investor/operator Andrew Hauptman held an impromptu meeting with reporters on Thursday and told them he hoped his team would make a couple of signings before the transfer window closes on May 6, according to MLSsoccer.com. That assertion piles the pressure on Frank Klopas and Javier Leon to deliver reinforcements – likely in the attacking third – before the summer hits. Even with the recent uptick in form (including the 1-0 home victory over Columbus last weekend), the Fire still require another option or two to ensure more reliable production in front of goal.
Last week: 5/9 (55%)
This season: 24/67 (36%)
Toronto FC – New York (2 p.m., TSN/RDS) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Mike Petke's volatile side may benefit from Juninho Pernambucano's extended ban, but McCarty's absence might once again lead to a setback after a success.
Prediction: Toronto FC win.
Montréal – Chicago (4 p.m., NBC Sports Network/TSN/RDS) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Wells Thompson's belated one-match ban might alter the calculus a bit for the visitors, but the operating principles – both teams waiting patiently for the right moment to break forward – remain the same.
Prediction: Montréal win.
Vancouver – FC Dallas (6 p.m., Univision Deportes) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Two poor performances in a row – one in Frisco, one in Edmonton – leave the Whitecaps with plenty of work to accomplish at B.C. Place. Expect a modest and potentially effective response.
Prediction: Vancouver win.
Columbus – D.C. United (7:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Ben Olsen's side must improve significantly in order to get a result against the generally unforgiving – if somewhat chastened after last week's performance at Chicago – home side.
Prediction: Columbus win.
New England – Philadelphia (7:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: This particular affair – especially with Conor Casey bullying defenders once more and Jack McInerney in torrid form – isn't the ideal time for the Revolution to establish a new partnership at center back.
Prediction: Philadelphia win.
Sporting Kansas City – Portland (8:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Caleb Porter has improved this side significantly in his first season at the helm. This visit to Blue Hell offers a nice measuring stick of the progress made so far.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
Real Salt Lake – Los Angeles (9 p.m., MLSsoccer.com) – Goal.com preview
Overview: This match should function fairly tightly given the tactical discipline practiced by both sides. One moment of brilliance or one well taken set piece could tip the scales.
Chivas USA – San Jose (10:30 p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Consider this match as the perfect test of the Red-and-White's depth. El Chelís must find a way to compensate for the suspensions of Bobby Burling and Edgar Mejía. Does he have the right players available to plug those gaps?
Prediction: San Jose win.
Houston – Colorado (5 p.m., UniMas) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The likely absence of Deshorn Brown (thigh) and several other Rapids should make the Dynamo's quest for a 36th consecutive home result fairly straightforward even without the suspended Jermaine Taylor.
Prediction: Houston win.