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Friday MLS Forecast: Week Fifteen

By Kyle McCarthy

In the wake of the United States' stunning 2-0 victory over Spain on Wednesday, the mainstream media has opined endlessly about what the victory means for American soccer on the international stage ahead of next year's World Cup.

In this space, we'll leave that question to others and focus briefly on a question that pertains solely to the domestic game.

What does the win over Spain mean to MLS?

The answer depends on how the question is approached.

In practical terms, it means very little. Only two starters – Landon Donovan and Ricardo Clark – and two late substitutes from the win currently ply their trade in MLS. The two starters could see an uptick in transfer interest and perhaps could seal a lucrative move to Europe given the added publicity, but that would do little aside from boosting the league's bottom line. The interest generated among the American populace probably won't transfer over to additional curiosity about MLS either; MLS has struggled to capitalize on notable external events in the past because its product is far different than that on offer in major international competitions and top European leagues. Basically, the one-off win won't reap any substantial long-term benefits or inroads for the league.

But in terms of validation and morale, it means a little something. The surprising victory should further cement MLS' growing reputation as a viable talent developer for top-level football. Although only two starters are currently domestically based, seven members of the starting XI had spent time in MLS. Those players didn't just breeze through the league either; all of them spent at least two years playing Stateside before heading off to Europe. While Americans have yet to consistently earn playing time at elite European clubs, this performance serves as a reminder that the MLS-developed skills possessed by top American players certainly have considerable value to clubs located outside of Madrid and Manchester. Such statistics aren't likely to persuade those at home and abroad who disparage MLS, but they do further buttress the notion that MLS provides a fertile breeding ground for young American players.

The Forecast can only hope to develop a few of its own predictive skills and apply them to the abbreviated Week Fourteen slate. After going an unofficial one-for-two regarding the U.S. - Spain game in midweek (no on the U.S. win, yes on the match being one to savor), the Forecast returns its sole focus to the domestic scene for the weekend.

Last week: 2/5 (40%)
For the season: 39/89 (44%)

Saturday

New York @ Columbus – 7:30p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)


Much has changed since these two teams last met in MLS Cup last November. The Crew lost its celebrated coach in the offseason and stumbled to start the season, but recently ripped off a nine-match unbeaten streak that was surprisingly snapped by FC Dallas' 2-1 win last Saturday. New York splashed out the cash in the offseason to build on its surprising MLS Cup appearance and ended up regressing to the point where the Red Bulls now inhabit the Eastern Conference basement and cope with the looming threat of losing their embattled coach. The Red Bulls are always in danger on the road; they haven't won in 21 consecutive road matches (0-15-6) and have been outscored 16-1 in games away from Giants Stadium this season. It took two moments of brilliance from Eric Avila to undo the Crew on the road last weekend, but the Red Bulls don't have the requisite ingenuity with Juan Pablo Angel a question mark after being substituted at halftime in Wednesday's 2-0 reverse in Toronto with hamstring tightness. Albert Celades and Mac Kandji are also fighting hamstring complaints, leaving the Red Bulls rather hamstrung in attack. These three points should be almost compulsory for the Crew given the circumstances and the short turnaround.

Prediction: Columbus win.

Toronto FC @ Real Salt Lake – 9:30p.m.

RSL will have to make at least two changes from the side that creditably drew 1-1 in Houston last Saturday. Will Johnson will be with the Canadian national team ahead of the Gold Cup, while Jamison Olave is suspended after picking up a rather foolish second yellow card against the Dynamo. In more positive team selection news for RSL, Robbie Findley could shake off an ankle injury to play for the first time in three matches. Toronto FC rested Danny Dichio in its 2-0 win over New York on Wednesday night ahead of this crunch clash as it seeks to continue a three-match winning streak in all competitions. The caveat to that little run? The three wins have come over New York (twice) and reserve-laden Montreal in the Canadian Championship. With RSL perking up over the past couple of weeks and TFC rather futile on the road (1-2-2 this year, 5-23-7 all-time), this one needs to be a home banker for Jason Kreis' side considering the recent improvement in form.

Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.

Sunday

Colorado @ Seattle – 4:00p.m.  


This could be the first time in Seattle's brief existence that another soccer game played at the same time as a Sounders FC match could take precedence. The end of the U.S. - Brazil game will overlap with the start of this match, creating a terrible dilemma for the Rave Green fanbase. Sounders FC is trying to figure out a way to alter the game time or otherwise accommodate its fans, but there could be an uptick in Slingbox sales in the Seattle metropolitan area over the next few days if those contingencies falter. Seattle has struggled recently (one win in its last nine), but Fredy Montero has started to round back into the impressive form he showed earlier in the season. Colorado could only manage a 1-1 home draw against FC Dallas in midweek despite maintaining the majority of the play. Omar Cummings scored his third goal in two games late to save the Rapids' blushes and extend their unbeaten streak to eight matches. Cummings' pace has always unsettled defenses, but he has improved his final touch in this campaign. Since Seattle has drawn three of its past four league matches at Qwest Field, a draw looks like the fair result here.

Prediction: Draw.

Houston @ Los Angeles – 10:00p.m. (ESPN2)


The best news for Houston in last Saturday's 1-1 draw came when Brian Ching took the field. The big Hawaiian had been struggling with a hamstring knock since early June, but shook it off in time to make a second half appearance and score the 89th minute equalizer. Unfortunately for the Dynamo, Ching recovered just in time to make the U.S. Gold Cup roster. Ching and Stuart Holden will link up the U.S. squad next week, but Andrew Hainault will miss out after already joining the Canadian squad. Los Angeles needs a boost after a 2-1 loss to San Jose in Oakland last weekend and could see two missing starters return. Dema Kovalenko could return to the side after missing that match with a calf contusion, while Eddie Lewis is an almost certain starter after returning from a one-match ban. The Galaxy will need Kovalenko's bite and perhaps some additional cover in the back to help out the struggling Gregg Berhalter in order to end the Dynamo's 11-match unbeaten streak. Those alterations probably won't be enough to stop the Dynamo from establishing a club-record unbeaten run in this one.

Prediction: Houston win.

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://twitter.com/kylejmccarthy.


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