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Friday MLS Forecast: Week 31

By Kyle McCarthy

For the first time in a long time, it seems like things are falling David Beckham's way.

That isn't to say that Becks suffered through unendurable hardships as he rose to the highest echelons of world soccer, but the past few years haven't treated Beckham particularly kindly. Between his fall from the England captaincy, the disastrous start to the Galaxy experiment and the unseemly loan wranglings with AC Milan last winter, Beckham has overcome more obstacles than the typical world superstar usually has to hurdle.

The downward trend stopped once Beckham hit Italy and now Beckham's world looks considerably brighter. His loan stint with Milan proved to be a success and Beckham transferred his performances with Milan into his best run of form with the substantially improved Galaxy upon his return. On the international front, Fabio Capello regularly includes Beckham in his England squad and Becks' place on the plane to South Africa looks virtually assured once he finishes off a far-easier return to Milan on loan in the coming weeks.

Need more proof that Becks is back? Beckham picked up the Man-of-the-Match award after a second-half substitute appearance in England's 3-0 home win over Belarus. Beckham's introduction persuaded adjudicator Steve Bruce to hand him the award over two-goal striker Peter Crouch, who turned down a move to Sunderland in the summer. Take that, merit. When you're on a roll, you're on a roll, apparently.

The Forecast wishes it was on a Beckham-type run, but it went a piddling one-for-three during last weekend's shortened slate. Perhaps Bruce can hand the Forecast a bit of undue reward to help spark its prognostication powers for the penultimate week of matches.

Last week: 1/3 (33%)
For the season: 82/181 (45%)

The Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 31

(Note: End-of-season tiebreakers are not in play in this table.)
(X – Denotes clinched a playoff spot)

Eastern Conference

1. Columbus (13-5-10, 49 pts., 2 games remaining) - X
2. Chicago (10-7-11, 41 pts., 2 games remaining)
Western Conference
T1. Chivas USA (13-9-5, 44 pts., 3 games remaining) – X
T1. Houston (12-8-8, 44 pts., 2 games remaining) - X
T1. Los Angeles (11-6-11, 44 pts., 2 games remaining) – X
Wild Cards
2. Seattle (10-7-11, 41 pts., 2 games remaining)
3. Colorado (10-8-10, 40 pts., 2 games remaining)
4. New England (10-10-8, 38 pts., 2 games remaining)
==
Real Salt Lake (10-11-7, 37 pts., 2 games remaining)
FC Dallas (10-12-6, 36 pts., 2 games remaining)
D.C. United (8-8-12, 36 pts., 2 games remaining)
Toronto FC (9-10-9, 36 pts., 2 games remaining)
Kansas City (8-12-8, 32 pts., 2 games remaining)
San Jose (7-13-8, 29 pts., 2 games remaining)
New York (4-19-6, 18 pts., 1 games remaining)

Saturday

Real Salt Lake @ Toronto FC – 4:00p.m. (CBC)  


RSL did just enough to keep its hopes alive with a 2-0 win over New York on Wednesday night and most of the credit goes to substitutes Robbie Findley and Andy Williams. Findley and Williams combined on the counterattack to notch the first goal, pressing their claims for a starting berth in Toronto. It'll be interesting to see whether Kreis sticks with the diamond 4-4-2 he deployed at home or whether a more conservative formation will carry the day on the road. A draw does RSL little good and TFC even less good, so expect both teams to go forward once the nerves work themselves out. The odds favor TFC at home (7-3-4) against RSL on the road (2-10-2), but the Reds will absolutely have to find a way to close out the match. Perhaps the draw is most prudent here, but give the edge to the home side considering RSL's midweek match and its road struggles.

Prediction
: Toronto FC win.

Chicago @ New England – 6:00p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)


Make no mistake: this is a must-win game for the Revolution with a trip to Columbus looming next weekend. Revs boss Steve Nicol should have Edgaras Jankauskas (right adductor strain) and Jeff Larentowicz (right knee bone bruise) available. The question with Jankauskas is exactly how long he can contribute, but Larentowicz's return in central midfield gives Nicol the option to throw Shalrie Joseph up top if required. Chicago remains battered at the back with Tim Ward (broken left metatarsal) out and Wilman Conde (strained left hamstring) and Gonzalo Segares (sprained left MCL) still questionable. John Thorrington (sports hernia) won't feature either. With all of the injuries and the expected inclement weather, this match should settle right into the physical and rugged tenor typical of most meetings between these two teams. The odds favor the Fire for two reasons: New England played and lost a similar match against Columbus last weekend and hasn't fared very well against the Fire recently (1-6-1 in the past eight meetings).

Prediction
: Chicago win.

Columbus @ D.C. United – 8:00p.m.

Can United engineer a response after a dreadful effort two weeks ago in a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA? It could be  difficult given the plummeting morale and the absence of five starters. Ben Olsen (suspended), Chris Pontius (suspended) and Santino Quaranta (ruptured plantar plate) are the latest to join the absentee list with Bryan Namoff (concussion) and Josh Wicks (dislocated shoulder/MCL sprain) already there. Those absences heap pressure on the out-of-form Fred and Christian Gomez to start living up to those sizable pay packets. Columbus won't make it easy for United's flair players to find the ball after grinding out a 1-0 victory in New England last weekend. Chad Marshall (left MCL sprain)  and Emmanuel Ekpo (suspension) won't play, but the Crew showed once again last weekend that it doesn't particularly matter who takes the field in yellow. The return of Frankie Hejduk and Robbie Rogers from international duty surely won't hurt the cause, but the Crew should find a way to all but end United's season regardless of whether Rogers gets the night off or not after his exploits as a substitute at this same venue on Wednesday night.

Prediction: Columbus win.

Seattle @ Kansas City – 8:30p.m.

The Wizards are all but done in the playoff chase after last weekend's loss at Chivas USA. How will they react when presented with an opportunity to knock off a playoff-chasing side? Chances are K.C. interim boss Peter Vermes won't tolerate a drop off in effort or application from his players, a few of whom might be playing for their jobs heading into next season. As for Sounders FC, Seattle all but qualified for the playoffs with that 1-0 win in Columbus two weekends ago, but a win here would seal the deal mathematically. Can Seattle grab it? This isn't a venue that appears to suit Sounders FC particularly well with its narrow track and its emphasis on play in both boxes. If Seattle can maintain its recent run of road form (3-1-1 in its past five), the peculiarities won't matter. Put your money on Seattle finding a way to book its spot in the playoffs with one week remaining, though it won't be pretty.

Prediction: Seattle win.

Colorado @ FC Dallas – 8:30p.m.

Colorado coach Gary Smith will have considerable selection issues ahead of a match where he'd really, really like to scrape out a draw to wound FCD's resurgent playoff hopes. In addition to their continued problems in the wide areas, the Rapids will have to cope without the suspended duo of Julien Baudet and Mehdi Ballouchy. Both players are regular starters in the center of defense and center of midfield respectively, so Smith will have to have a think about how he wants to adjust his lineup to replace them. He'd certainly be better off trying to find some pace at the back – Cory Gibbs might even be fit enough to feature after recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle suffered on Aug. 30 – to try to mitigate Jeff Cunningham's quickness and form. If the Rapids opt for a back three, they'll have to drop one of the defensive midfielders – likely Nick LaBrocca and Pablo Mastroeni – a bit more to limit David Ferreira's roaming as well. Even if the Rapids do all of those things and find a way to generate some impetus going forward to feed Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, it might not be enough. The Hoops will keep the dream alive, at least for another week.

Prediction: FC Dallas win.

San Jose @ Chivas USA – 10:30p.m.

Will San Jose have any players left to travel down the I-5? Cornell Glen (knee surgery next week), Jason Hernandez (ankle surgery) and Chris Wondolowski (knee surgery) will all miss out after featuring last week. Andre Luiz (left knee sprain) is out too, but Frank Yallop should at least have Arturo Alvarez, Simon Elliott and Ramon Sanchez available upon their return from international duty. Even with the injuries, the Earthquakes have proven a tough out in recent weeks (2-1-3 in their past six) and Chivas USA can't afford to take them lightly after watching them snatch a late point in Toronto last weekend. If the Goats assemble a performance like the one displayed in the first half of last Saturday's 2-0 win over Kansas City, they won't obtain a win that may just give them the inside track to the Western Conference crown. Expect Preki to make a change or two from last Saturday's starting XI to ensure a similar start won't hamper this game, though he'll hope to have Zach Thornton (lower back) available after he injured himself late against the Wizards. Changes or no changes, the Goats should have enough to see off the game Quakes.

Prediction: Chivas USA win.

Sunday

Los Angeles @ Houston – 3:00p.m. (Telefutura)


Watch Brian Ching in this game. Ching had to sit and observe from the stands as Conor Casey started the United States' final two World Cup qualifiers. If that doesn't provide some motivation for Ching to improve his domestic form and fight for his starting berth at the international level, few things will. Ching couldn't ask for a bigger stage to impress Bob Bradley with a national television audience and a shot at the Western Conference title on the line. Even if Ching pots a couple of goals, this game won't be easy for a Dynamo side that has struggled to hit its stride recently (1-2-3 in the past six) and can't call on the suspended Cam Weaver or the injured Corey Ashe (right knee sprain) to bolster the side late in the match. Los Angeles makes it difficult for home teams to play because it works hard defensively and doesn't permit much space in the attacking third. That space could be even harder for Houston to find without a true speed option in its starting XI to stretch the slow Galaxy center backs. Most of the indicators point towards a draw here, but the gut says Houston finds a way to emerge with a victory to ensure next Saturday's season-ending clash with Chivas USA might mean something.

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 by clicking here.

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