Friday MLS Forecast: Week 28

The Forecast reflects on the meaning of Brian Ching's new deal before tackling the Week 28 schedule.
By Kyle McCarthy

At the end of the 2001 season, Brian Ching looked like another failed small-school gamble in desperate need of seasoning.

Ching played eight times in his rookie season for the Galaxy, starting one game and scoring one goal. Ching moved to Seattle, then playing in what is now called USL1, on a permanent deal before the 2002 season after a stint there on loan.

Those who suggested he may never return to MLS were well off the mark.

At the start of the 2010 season, Brian Ching will fight for a spot on his second World Cup roster and begin a fresh four-year deal with the Houston Dynamo. In the seven years since he joined the San Jose/Houston organization through the 2003 Supplemental Draft, Ching has started 124 games and has scored 64 goals.

Ching's progression from Hawaiian standout to Gonzaga star to MLS washout to MLS standout to the first native Hawaiian to wear his country's colors to U.S. national team fixture ranks among the very best stories MLS has ever produced. That story, however, isn't why the Dynamo will reward the 31-year-old Ching today with a lengthy  contract to replace the one that expired at the end of 2010.

“Few players in the history of MLS have contributed to their club on the level he has,” Houston COO Chris Canetti told the Houston Chronicle after handing Ching a deal (presumably including a pay raise) until 2013.

The Dynamo didn't have to offer Ching a new deal, but Canetti said he merited it based on his production. That's a long, long way from a Gonzaga grad on his way out of the league entirely.

The Forecast could only hope its prognostication career would match Ching's redemption and subsequent MLS production. Bumping back over .500 for the week last week helps, but it'll take sustained excellence to boost the season percentage towards 50 percent as the league heads into Week 28.

Last week
: 4/7 (57%)
For the season: 76/165 (46%)

The Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 28

(Note: End-of-season tiebreakers are not in play in this table.)

Eastern Conference
1. Columbus (11-4-10, 43 pts., 5 games remaining)
2. Chicago (10-6-10, 40 pts., 4 games remaining)
Western Conference
1. Houston (12-8-7, 43 pts., 3 games remaining)
2. Los Angeles (10-5-11, 41 pts., 4 games remaining)
Wild Cards
1. Colorado (10-8-8, 38 pts., 4 games remaining)
2. Seattle (9-6-11, 38 pts., 4 games remaining)
3. Chivas USA (11-9-4, 37 pts., 6 games remaining)
4. D.C. United (8-6-12, 36 pts., 4 games remaining)
==
New England (9-8-7, 34 pts., 6 games remaining)
Toronto FC (9-10-7, 34 pts., 4 games remaining)
Real Salt Lake (9-10-7, 34 pts., 4 games remaining)
Kansas City (8-11-6, 30 pts., 5 games remaining)
FC Dallas (7-12-6, 27 pts., 5 games remaining)
San Jose (5-12-7, 22 pts., 6 games remaining)
New York (4-17-5, 17 pts., 4 games remaining)

Saturday


Seattle @ New England – 7:30p.m.  

The key to this one is in the middle of the park. When the Revs went into Qwest Field last month and emerged with a 1-0 victory, they did it by taking over central midfield and cutting off the supply in the wide areas. Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz just about played Osvaldo Alonso and Pete Vagenas off the park. As I wrote in the Breakdown earlier this week, it's probably time for Sigi Schmid to replace Vagenas with Freddie Ljungberg or Brad Evans and such a move would certainly ask more questions of the Revs' stellar central midfield duo. Then again, if Joseph can't shake off the hip flexor injury that forced him to miss two days of training earlier this week, there will be plenty of questions in there anyways. Joseph, however, is expected to play. If he does, New England should find a way to shake off a couple of poor-to-mediocre performances and exploit its advantage in central midfield to seal all three points. If not, Seattle may just find a way to extend its three-match unbeaten streak (2-0-1) away from Qwest Field.

Prediction: New England win.

Los Angeles @ Columbus – 7:30p.m.


David Beckham | Galaxy and England midfielder may not play in Columbus after picking up an Achilles injury

The buzz surrounding this game grew when word leaked on Thursday that David Beckham (Achilles) didn't travel to Ohio with his teammates. Beckham's absence from the flight doesn't necessarily rule him out – he could fly in on Friday or Saturday if he's deemed fit enough – but it does place his participation in serious doubt just a week after picking up man-of-the-match honors in a 2-0 win over Toronto FC. Crew coach Robert Warzycha highlighted Beckham's potential contribution when I spoke with him earlier in the week.

“There are different challenges with the Galaxy (with) Beckham's free kicks and his ability to find players in the box and Donovan's speed – he's the best U.S. player,” Warzycha said. “We'll face a lot of good players (on the Galaxy). We're going to be ready for it. We're looking forward to it.”  

So are the Crew faithful, who are expected to fill Crew Stadium in anticipation of Beckham's visit. Columbus showed well in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Cruz Azul (Columbus' first loss at Crew Stadium since June 2008, a MLS-record run of 24 games in all competitions), but the Crew should put more points and more goals on the board this weekend to quell the Galaxy's Western Conference title push for a week.

Prediction: Columbus win.

Real Salt Lake @ FC Dallas – 8:30p.m.

Fitting that RSL heads to Texas as it enters last chance saloon. With only four games remaining, RSL sits on 34 points and probably needs to get to 43 to make absolutely sure of a playoff berth. One of those games is in Toronto, so RSL would be well advised to get three points against the Hoops to maintain their playoff chances. In order to obtain those three points, the Claret-and-Cobalt will need big contributions from Javier Morales and Yura Movsisyan to push the tempo against a FCD side that simply doesn't defend very well. Watch for Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave on free kicks as well. Given RSL's dreadful road record (2-9-2), there could be plenty of goals in this one, especially with the in-form Jeff Cunningham and David Ferreira creating havoc. A share of the spoils looks likely given the stakes on the line for the visitors.

Prediction: Draw.

Toronto FC @ Chicago – 8:30p.m.


Brian McBride | Chicago striker is rounding into form after missing time with a shoulder injury

The Reds are more than happy to travel somewhere just one time zone away (past four games in mountain and western time zones: 0-3-1, zero goals scored) as they seek some momentum heading into their final three games. With San Jose and RSL at home and New York on the road to end the season, TFC could reasonably expect to sweep those three matches and reach 43 points. Points in Chicago, however, would make the job considerably easier. Then again, when has TFC made things easy during its fitful three-year existence? Chicago did pretty well to grab a point in Columbus on Sunday, though it will be disappointed to cough up a two-goal lead. With Brian McBride back in the lineup (the veteran forward made a great touch to set up the first of Peter Lowry's two goals against the Crew) and back in form, the Fire look considerably more formidable. Gonzalo Segares' projected return after six weeks out with a knee injury should help steady the patchwork back line, a must heading into the playoffs. Looks like another difficult away day for the Canadian side.

Prediction: Chicago win.

Colorado @ Kansas City – 8:30p.m.


The Rapids just can't keep their wide players healthy. Colin Clark (knee) and Jamie Smith (knee) are out long-term, while Jacob Peterson (knee) limped off in the first half of Wednesday's disappointing 1-1 draw with San Jose and isn't expected to play against the Wizards. Colorado is a far better team when it can stretch the field horizontally, provide service to Conor Casey and create space for Omar Cummings to roam in the attacking third. Fortunately for the Rapids, they travel to perhaps the most friendly of road venues for teams without wingers. Projected wide players Nick LaBrocca and Pat Noonan won't feel shy about tucking inside because there simply isn't much acreage in the wide areas. Kansas City is in fine form at the moment and needs three points to maintain its faint playoff hopes, but expect Colorado to find a way to grind out a point.

Prediction: Draw.

New York @ Chivas USA – 10:30p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)

Richie Williams takes his interim show on the road for the first time in his second temporary stint in the hot seat. After posting a winning record in four home games (2-1-1), Williams will have to find a way to boost a side with a mere one point from 12 previous road games this season. Juan Pablo Angel (ankle) traveled and could possibly feature, but a point or three still doesn't look likely against a Chivas USA side that has picked up a win and a draw in its past two league outings. The Goats' front pairing of Maicon Santos and either Justin Braun or Maykel Galindo (Braun looks more likely after starting the past two league games; Galindo also played 90 minutes in Wednesday's 2-0 friendly defeat to parent club Chivas de Guadalajara at the Rose Bowl) should pose ample problems for the Red Bulls' back line. Santos holds the ball up and distributes it well, while either Braun or Galindo has the pace to stretch New York's central defensive pairing (Mike Petke and Andrew Boyens started in last Friday's 1-1 draw with New England while Leo Krupnik started alongside Boyens a week earlier). It might not be pretty, but Chivas USA should do the business and heap some additional pressure on idle Houston (six points ahead with three more games played prior to the weekend) and Los Angeles in the process.

Prediction: Chivas USA win.

Sunday


San Jose @ D.C. United – 3:00p.m. (Telefutura)


Luciano Emilio | Struggling United striker grabbed two goals in Thursday night's 3-0 win over Marathon

United looked like a sure playoff team as it demolished Marathon (Honduras) 3-0 in CONCACAF Champions League play at R.F.K. Stadium on Thursday night. The movement, the incisiveness and the shape were all where it needed to be in the second half, particularly when Luciano Emilio stopped wasting chances (as he did time and again in the opening stanza) and started converting them (two second-half strikes). How does that game relate to this one? United made far better use of the flanks during the second half, something it will need to replicate on Sunday afternoon. With San Jose struggling to find fit wingers – Arturo Alvarez (hamstring) and Shea Salinas (hamstring) both missed Wednesday's trip to Colorado and Darren Huckerby (hip) is out of the season – to partner Bobby Convey on the left, United may be able to use Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta or Fred (pick two from three) to exploit that weakness. Then again, consistency has eluded United for most of the season. No matter how it arrives, United has to have three points in this game with only three matches left after this one on its docket and Toronto FC and New England poised to make a push.

Prediction: D.C United 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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