Friday MLS Forecast: Week 15 - Preparing for the battle for a golden state

Los Angeles travels up the I-5 for a high-profile date with San Jose at a sold-out Stanford Stadium to highlight the Week 15 slate.
1. California Clasico slides onto the big stage: Fifty thousand people purchased tickets to see Saturday night's clash between top-of-the-table San Jose and resurgent Los Angeles. The lucky few (or not so few) at Stanford Stadium should relish the opportunity to see this local derby at its finest with both sides entering the match on the back of solid league form. The key to deciding this particular encounter: will the Galaxy retain the proper concentration for 90 minutes against an Earthquakes group that will grind, taunt and torment them for the better part of that period?

(Note: Keep a careful eye on David Beckham's performance in this match. He said all of the right things in his statement on Thursday, but that Olympic omission probably cut him deeply. How will he respond to that setback? Will it inspire him or will it remove the last semblance of motivation as he winds down his career? If his responses to similar hurdles over the past few years provide any indication, he'll likely use it as fuel for the second half of the campaign and try to show Stuart Pearce that he made the wrong decision.)

2. Can Toronto FC continue its revival against one of the top sides in the East?: Paul Mariner's group failed its first test at this level in the 2-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City, but three positive results on the bounce – including a resounding 3-0 victory at Stade Saputo in midweek – could alter the dynamic ahead of New York's visit on Saturday night. TFC's direct tactics actually play into the Red Bulls' favor: if the Reds concede possession to Hans Backe's side as regularly as they have in the past four games, then they will likely defend too deeply at some stage and find themselves punished at the sharp end. Unless the in-form Danny Koevermans sees a lot more supply and the Reds push out with possession from time to time, TFC may find the pressure on its retooled back four a bit too much to bear.

3. Will four words from Joey Saputo spark Montréal to an upset at RFK Stadium?: "Absolute disgrace, enough said," Saputo Tweeted on Wednesday night after that debacle of a defeat to the Reds. One might expect the Impact investor/operator shared a few more choice words behind closed doors in the wake of that defeat. Jesse Marsch's side must improve substantially in order to have any chance to rectify the midweek mistake and secure a result against United. Even with a vociferous response, the Impact may not have the central defensive pieces to cope with D.C.'s diverse and dynamic attack with Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas sidelined through injury.

4. A tricky test for a Real Salt Lake side still licking its wounds: Jason Kreis will have to chop and change once again for Saturday's trip to Columbus with lynchpin Kyle Beckerman suspended, but it isn't all bad news. The potential return of Jamison Olave (currently rated as doubtful with a right calf strain, but RSL boss Jason Kreis told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week that he hopes the Colombian stopper will feature) could ease a defensive injury crisis severe enough to prompt the arrival of sparingly used Chicago center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe this weekend. The selection concerns in defense (Chris Schuler's left foot injury prompted the trade for Watson-Siriboe) and in midfield (Ned Grabavoy is battling an adductor strain, too) won't fly as excuses in the RSL camp given the uncharacteristic set of defensive letdowns during the past couple of matches. Fixing the issue will require a solid 90-minute performance against a Crew outfit that doesn't give much away and likely won't beat itself.

5. Will Seattle finally stop its slide after an Open Cup win on Tuesday?: Cup form doesn't always translate to league success, but Sounders FC will hope to use a narrow 1-0 quarterfinal victory over San Jose as a springboard to stop a club-record seven-game winless streak in MLS play at New England on Saturday night. The circumstances for this particular road venture (Fredy Montero's needless one-game suspension from the painful defeat in Portland, the blended squad, the cross-country trip to play a fifth game in 15 days and the prolonged period in the Boston area after the midweek game) aren't the best. Then again, the combination of a few returning faces (starting right back Adam Johansson could feature as soon as this weekend) and the emergence of a new contributor or two (Cordell Cato, step forward) might provide the right solution to pass a potentially difficult test against a Revolution side that hasn't lost in its past three outings.

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Last week: 2/9 (22%)
This season: 54/123 (44%)


Chicago @ Sporting Kansas City (8:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) match preview
Overview: The so-called rivalry has offered one-way traffic for the Fire over the years. Maybe Sporting – even with its selection concerns with Matt Besler, Bobby Convey and Paulo Nagamura ailing – can alter the course and spark some genuine enmity with a commanding performance at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.


New York @ Toronto FC (7:00p.m., Galavision/Sportsnet One) match preview
Overview: TFC boss Paul Mariner has provoked increasingly positive performances from his players in his four matches in charge. This particular affair – particularly on the heels of a dominating performance at Stade Saputo in midweek – might offer the appropriate time to take a minor step backwards.
Prediction: Draw.

Montréal @ D.C. United (7:30p.m., TVA Sports) match preview
Overview: Not even a few encouraging words from Mr. Saputo can rescue an Impact side trying to snatch a result RFK Stadium with a shortage of competent central defenders.
Prediction: D.C. United win.

Seattle @ New England (7:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: Look for the Revs to press the initiative early to see if Sounders FC can keep up with a higher tempo with that heavy fixture list. If that gambit fails, then the home side will need to devise a more intricate way through a Seattle back four that hasn't excelled as of late.
Prediction: New England win.

Real Salt Lake @ Columbus (8:00p.m.) match preview
Overview: It's never an easy night when Kyle Beckerman (one-match ban) can't feature in the lineup. But the past couple of games have served as an affront to the Claret-and-Cobalt. With or without the captain in the starting XI, RSL will find a way to respond against a Crew side that struggled to carve out chances against 10-man Chicago last weekend.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.

Philadelphia @ Houston (8:30p.m.) match preview
Overview: After a big home win against Sporting last weekend and a 5-2 romp against Harrisburg (PDL) in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal on Tuesday, the Union – high-flying as the young guns may be at the moment – are ready for a letdown. And nothing quite brings a side back toward the ground like the final quarter of an hour at the Oven.
Prediction: Houston win.

Portland @ Colorado (9:00p.m.) match preview
Overview: One team doesn't keep the ball particularly well. The other team does. To boot, the team that actually retains possession competently plays at altitude regularly. Take the second team in this one.
Prediction: Colorado win.

Los Angeles @ San Jose (10:00p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/RDS) match preview
Overview: Matches – with the exception of a couple offered up last weekend – don't burn a whole lot brighter than this one. Give the edge to the gritty side with the sold-out crowd on its side, but it's a fine margin indeed with the Galaxy in good form.
Prediction: San Jose win.

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