Week 21 Previews: Expectations, Guilt, Stagnation

Here we go: the second half of (what is it?) Week 21. It seems like it’s been a while since everyone played on a single weekend. As always, the home team is listed first and MLS’s in-house previews are embedded in the title. For more preview goodness, USSoccerplayers.com’s Kyle McCarthy pulled together his usual previews (well ahead of the official outlet no less) and tops each of them with both teams’ records over the past five games.

DC United v. Colorado Rapids
Stalled Joe-Mentum?
Will DC pull out of what amounts to a slump? Fortunately for them, they’re playing a Colorado team that 1) doesn’t travel well, and 2) who, through injury (Terry Cooke) or a war-inspired trade (Dedi ben Dayan) has lost a lot of offensive punch in the past couple of weeks. The weird thing, they’ve got players who should be able to create - Jovan Kirovski, Clint Mathis, and, in a pinch, Pablo Mastroeni - but who, unless they’re doing so really quietly, haven’t yet. Whatever ails ‘em, Marvin Tarley can’t fix all of it.
DC UNITED WINS - and gets out some frustration while they’re at it; I’m guessing two goals at the very least.
(TV: ESPN2, Saturday, 1 p.m.)

Columbus Crew v. Red Bull New York
Sigi’s Resignation, Both Withdrawn and Persistent (and the Guilt)
I’ve made a lot - perhaps too much - of Columbus sneaking up on an unwanted superlative. It took only Sigi Schmid’s pained ruminations and talk of resigning to drive home the fact that losing streaks can really suck for those directly involved. (NOTE: Fans don’t count; if your team losing genuinely hurts you, seek counseling.) So, there’s the guilt...but that’ll go away, especially if Columbus beats the record. Both teams picked up injuries in their last games: between them, Columbus’ loss of Jacob Thomas, one of their better performers this season, seems a deeper loss than Red Bull losing Mike Magee. While both sides also added players - the Crew picked up Duncan Oughton and Red Bull, John “King Journeyman” Wolyniec - neither are true game-breakers. So, it’s down to form then: Red Bull has it, Columbus has tons of it...just the wrong kind.
RED BULL WINS - and Wolyniec bags at least one; I’m pulling for the winner. I love that guy.
(TV: FSC, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)

Real Salt Lake v. Houston Dynamo
Match of the Week
C’mon. Admit it. You want to see RSL win this win. Even you Houston fans out there...yes, you want an RSL win...
...and you may not be disappointed. Somewhere in the above preview, Jeff Cunningham jinxed the team by stating outright that RSL will make the playoffs, but that’s also indicative of the team’s new-found confidence. That - how do you say? - elan syncs nicely with some potentially major injury/suspension issues for Houston: they’ve lost Brian “No, Please; Someone Else Score” Ching to the former and Eddie Robinson to the latter. Add a home game to the mix and this one gets interesting fast. The “X-Factor” comes with Houston’s midfield; Dwayne DeRosario is already having a very solid year and Brad Davis always seems on the edge of returning to form of his stellar start to 2005. With emotions taking over, I’m going to say...
RSL WINS - this ends in a draw at worst. But the national-team fan in me really wants to see Brad Davis play well; he’d be a nice option for the left side to the DaMarcus Beasley/Bobby Convey style.

Chivas USA v. Kansas City Wizards
Freaky Friday
Who would have thought when the season started, all those years ago, that Chivas USA would have five points on Kansas City? The latter had the stacked roster and added Eddie Johnson in the off-season; the former only had question marks. Two-thirds of the way through the current campaign and these teams’ situations reversed: Chivas is not only doing well, they’re one of the more entertaining teams in the league (courtesy of a less than stalwart defense); for their part, Kansas City retained the dullness of “Gansler-ball” but dropped the winning ways. Whatever the history, KC has a shot at this one; between that vulnerable defense and a roster of players who once knew how to score, it seems only a matter of waking up. The suspension of Jesse Marsch, a key team leader by my observation, constitutes the best news for the Wizards; the worst comes with the “probable” listing beside Juan Francisco Palencia’s name. With Chivas a good enough team at home....
CHIVAS USA WINS (I’m a bit hesitant to call ties; feels like a cop-out.)

LA Galaxy v. FC Dallas
Battle of the Buns
One team tops the meaty center of the Western Conference while the other creaks under its weight. But LA’s sputtering return to form, built on a highly impressive defensive record (the preview tells me they’ve given up only two goals in the past eight games!), makes this a trickier game to call than the league table would suggest. The hard thing to swallow (well, for people disinclined to like LA anyway) is the fact that, punchless as the Galaxy may be, that defensive record means they may need only one goal. But Dallas, who has nearly everyone back and healthy, will test the bejesus out of that record. Between Ronnie O’Brien, Ramon Nunez, Kenny Cooper, and, some guy named Carlos Ruiz, they’ve got loads of players able to apply the finishing touch. No, they didn’t do this last week against Houston - which cost them “El Capitan” - but their scoring record suggests this won’t last. There’s also a bit of history standing against that array of talent: Dallas has beat LA only three times in LA. Hmmmm....

New England Revolution v. Chicago Fire
Who Shows Up?
This one is about as interesting as a mid-table clash can get; on the other hand, with DC United so far ahead in the standings, finishing second might feel pretty cool when all’s said and done. For all Jeff Bradley’s faith )in a New England turn-around (see #11) and for all the talk of grueling schedules, the Revolution’s record raises the question of whether this team can win games, or if they’re simply good enough to not lose them. In the other camp, a series of wins over Kansas City could have Chicago feeling a little jiggy. Come Sunday, we should find out whether it was down to the new formation, left-sided midfielder "Waiting for" Justin Mapp’s playing to expectations, or if the whole thing comes down to simply having Kansas City’s number.
DRAW - As I said earlier, I don’t share Bradley’s faith; it could be the New England fan in me.

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