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Major League Soccer

5 Compelling Reasons to Watch MLS This Weekend

Will Toronto triumph in its return to a revamped BMO Field? Can Los Angeles build on its recent run of form? And what's the deal with the Colorado Rapids—is the team really that good?
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 06, 2016
1:00 PM

THERE IS PLENTY OF ACTIVITY to keep an eye on this weekend in Major League Soccer. Preseason favorites are struggling while expected bottom-feeders are rising to the top. Many teams face pivotal early-season tests while the Los Angeles Galaxy keep rolling along.

Here's what I look forward to watching.

Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas

The marquee game of the weekend (7:30pm Saturday, MLS Live) pits two teams moving in opposite directions. For Toronto, optimism reigns. The Canadian club played its first eight games of the season on the road as BMO Field underwent renovations. It weathered the storm well, and is now in third place in the Eastern Conference with 11 points.

BMO Field will feature a new look that will include a roof over most of the seats. And an enthusiastic crowd will be there supporting a team that has a chance to be the best in the Eastern Conference this season. Last season Toronto posted an 11-5-1 record at home. This year, with an improved defense, Toronto has proven it can hold its own on the road. With a disproportionate number of home games remaining, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and company should be in good shape.

“We’re pleased with where we are,” Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said. “We think we may have left a couple of points on the table, but we were there in every game. We take a lot of pride in that and now we’re at home. We know at home it’s not just a matter of showing up to get points—we have to continue to play well, we have to continue to defend well. We’re going to have to continue to grow as a team in terms of creating more [scoring] chances.”

Toronto FC will face a FC Dallas team that is hard to fathom. At times it has played like the best team in the league; at other times, it looks like the worst. Oscar Pareja's squad has been outscored 7-0 in its last two matches—both coming on the road. Dallas will continue to be without injured captain Matt Hedges, which won't help the visitors shut down Giovinco, who has either scored or assisted on each of Toronto's nine goals this year. 

Hedges injury has been costly by it doesn’t account for all of the team's shortcomings. Its holding and defensive midfield play has lacked bite and has turned the ball over too many times. The team has been short on effective fullbacks which has hurt its offense. Most importantly, the team’s youth is too apparent at times as it often lacks the maturity to retake the momentum—especially on the road.

Colorado and RSL Seek 20 Points

Nobody sane will confuse the Colorado Rapids with Leicester City, but few expected the Western Conference's worst team in 2015 to have the best record in the league at this point. On Saturday (9pm ET, MLS Live) the Rapids will face Real Salt Lake—also off to a surprising strong start and trailing Colorado only in goal differential.

Jermaine Jones has been a powerhouse since returning from suspension. With the U.S. international now onboard, Colorado went from being a hardworking team that was eking out results  to a team that is playing great offensive soccer. 

RSL will be bolstered by the return of Joao Plata, and Jordan Allen’s impressive goal last week might be a sign of more to come from the talented youngster. But the real problem will be its defense which has conceded 12 goals this season.

Before the season, I would have predicted this game to be boring and meaningless. Now, I am looking forward to see how it plays out. It could feature some entertaining end-to-end action. For better or for worse, this game is highly symbolic of the parity in MLS. Hopefully people in Colorado turn out to see it.

Crew Tries to end rut vs. Montreal

Columbus has been the biggest disappointment of the MLS season, sitting at just eight points through eight games. I believe they will figure it out eventually, but for now the team is a mess.

Montreal is going to be a tough nut to crack for the Crew (7:30pm ET Saturday, MLS Live). Didier Drogba is back in the fold with Montreal and the Quebecers are atop the Eastern Conference standings. Beyond the Ivory Coast icon, there is plenty to like about the Impact's roster: Harry Shipp has proven to be a nice acquisition, Laurent Ciman is still perhaps the best central defender in the league, and Ignacio Piatti is one of the league’s best midfielders.

Columbus still has the potential to win the Eastern Conference and go on a long playoff run. It has the two best wing combinations in the league and plenty of options to score. Wil Trapp is the key to a turnaround. The young American is a solid holding midfielder but he has to raise his game to that of a Kyle Beckerman—someone who can do the dirty work on both sides of the ball and elevate his entire team.

Dos Santos Stars, De Jong returns

About a month ago, Giovani Dos Santos was still struggling to find his way in MLS. Now he is playing like Sebastian Giovinco, scoring four goals in his last three games. In addition, Bruce Arena’s team will welcome back Nigel de Jong who finished his three-game suspension after a brutal tackle on Darlington Nagbe.

The Galaxy are in fourth place after eight games, but the team has scored 18 goals and already has an extremely impressive +10 goal differential—six better than the next best team. Worth noting, the Galaxy have had to play without their talismanic striker, Robbie Keane, who has been injured. Arena said last week that his team is “pretty good” and that by the end of the year they will be very good. As the best coach in the history of MLS, it makes sense to believe him.

On Sunday, the Galaxy will host the New England Revolution (3pm ET, ESPN) and unless the Revolution can elevate their game from recent weeks, this won’t be much of a contest. The Revs have the league’s worst goal differential and the team is winless in its last five games.

After bowing out of the playoffs early last year to a bad D.C. United team, New England is in a dangerous position that could see Jay Heaps become the first MLS coach this season on the hot seat. Aside from Diego Fagundez, none of the team’s attackers are playing up to their potential. Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury, Lee Nguyen, and Charlie Davies each have just one goal. Meanwhile, the team’s defense has bled a league worst 16 goals. 

Red Bulls face a tough test

The New York Red Bulls have improved from a dismal start but Friday night’s game against Orlando City (7pm ET, UniMas) will be its toughest test to date. Two weeks ago, the team's turnaround began with a 3-2 win over Orlando City but this game will be played in front of a big and hostile crowd in Florida. In addition, the hosts will likely welcome Kaka back to the lineup as the former FIFA World Player of the Year was out with a groin injury.

Kaka’s return could not have come at a better time as Orlando City is winless in four after a strong start to the season. This game is full of interesting subplots. The Red Bulls needed defense badly and traded with Orlando City for Aurelien Collin, who will likely make his New York debut against his former club.

"I think he’ll have a lot of emotion," Jesse Marsch said. "I know he’ll have a lot of excitement. That’ll be good. I think he’ll be up for the challenge."

Meanwhile Orlando City coach Adrian Heath benched U.S. U-20 defender Tommy Redding and Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty is returning to his home town.

There should be no shortage of emotion.

Weekend Predictions

Orlando 2-2 New York Red Bulls
Vancouver 1-2 Portland
Toronto 3-2 Dallas
Columbus 1-1 Montreal
Houston 0-2 Kansas City
Colorado 2-1 Salt Lake
Seattle 2-0 San Jose
Los Angeles 3-0 New England
D.C. United 0-0 New York City

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