Thursday, March 31, 2011

INFTH MLS Predictions

Columbus vs FC Dallas- Unable to beat a Red Bulls side decimated by absences,  Columbus look like they are set for a difficult MLS '11. However, in Dallas, Columbus face opponents who have also struggled during the opening bouts of MLS. Last week Chris Wondolwski and San Jose shocked last season's finalists, and it's beginning to look like they should have tried harder to keep midfielder Dax McCarthy at the club.

This game kicks off on Friday night, so both teams will have the opportunity to steal a march on their conference rivals, making this match even more important. If one of these sides comes out the loser, then the pressure really will start to build, and if it is Dallas who come away with nothing, the words "one season wonder" may begin to be uttered.

Prediction: 1-1

Toronto FC vs Chivas USA- Despite an indifferent start to the season, Robin Fraser's Chivas team should fancy themselves against Aron Winter's "Canadian Ajax." Last week striker Martina was the hero for Toronto and if he can add to the hefty goal contribution promised by De Rosario, then Toronto could be headed for a better season than expected.

Last week, Chivas were beaten by reigning champions Colorado, in front of a Home Depot Center riddled with empty seats. Colorado were without strike duo Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, so Chivas should certainly consider that loss as a chance passed up.

I'm going to go with a Toronto win in this game, but I still don't quite fancy the team, especially their porous defense. If Chivas are to take anything from this game though, then they will have to hope that last year's breakthrough player Justin Braun is bang on form, and that he can score his first MLS goal of the 2011 season.

Prediction: 2-1

Vancouver vs Kansas City- Last weekend, both these team's supporters watched in horror as their two brand new designated players (and heroes from week one) were sent off, in the course of respective away  losses.

Obviously, both Eric Hassli and Omar Bravo will be suspended for this match, but with Teal Bunbury back from injury for Kansas and Atiba Harris looking good for Vancouver, those absences shouldn't prove to be much of a roadblock for either side.

Having watched both these teams defend poorly in their first two games, I think it is reasonable to expect an entertaining match. Sporting defenders in particular will still be having nightmares about Fire midfielder Pappa, and coach Peter Vermes will demand that his side improve their defensive play for this game.

Prediction: 2-2

New York vs Houston- Last week, Red Bulls coach Hans Baake will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after his team avoided defeat in Columbus despite a host of high profile absences. With Dane Richards, Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Rafa Marquez and possibly Thierry Henry all returning for this game though,  Baake will demand nothing less than victory, so that New York can resume their assault on the Eastern Conference.

Houston were very luck last week to come out of Qwest Field with a point, after Seattle's profligacy gifted the Dynamo a first tally of the season. Dominic Kinnear's men took the lead in that game before being pegged back by a late equalizer from Steve Zakuani. Perhaps even more importantly, that game marked the return from injury of Brian Ching, a man who may well have a big role to play at Red Bull Arena.

Obviously, going into this game all the attention will be firmly focussed on teenage sensation Juan Agudelo, who grabbed plenty of headlines over the international break with a goal for the national team against Argentina. However, despite the American's strong start to the 2011 MLS season, Red Bulls fans should be careful to remain grounded, and not to pile too much pressure onto the shoulders of such a young player.

Prediction: 3-1

New England vs Portland- Steve Nicol's New England Revoloution side have started this season in the sort of form which propelled them to two straight MLS Cup finals a few years back. Shalrie Joseph looks back to his best, and even the referees appear to be on the Revs side, with Zack Shilawski's goal against DC standing despite a clear handball in the build-up.

On the other hand, John Spencer's Portland side have started this season in the worst way possible, with two straight defeats at the hands of the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC. In both those games Portland looked shaky at the back and not particularly potent upfront, a combination which won't serve them too well over the course of the MLS season. However, Major League Soccer is a marathon, not a sprint, and there is still plenty of time for Kenny Cooper and the Portland Timbers to propel themselves up the Western Conference table.

Prediction: 3-0

Los Angeles vs Philadelphia- The in form Philadelphia Union will face their toughest challenge of the MLS season so far as they travel to the Home Depot Center to take on the LA Galaxy.

Last week, LA fell to what will probably prove to be their most humiliating defeat of the season, a 4-1 loss away to RSL. In that game, the Galaxy were totally overrun by the dynamic midfield duo of Espindola and Morales. Luckily for Bruce Arena and the rest of the Galaxy team, LA won't be facing quite as formidable a team this time around, and with Landon Donovan returning from international duty Galaxy fans will fancy their chances at rebounding with a win.

Based on results so far this season, the Union look like they are capable of making the playoff push that their consistency, or lack there of, stopped them from making in 2010. In Danny Mwanga, Sebastian Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz, Philly have a front trio more then capable of causing MLS defenses all kinds of problem, even LA's.

Prediction: 3-1

San Jose vs Seattle- A 1-1 draw with Houston last week has only contributed to the malaise existing around the Seattle Sounders. Having kicked the season off with two straight defeats, Seattle were expected to turn Houston over, but a combination of bad luck and profligacy in front of goal resulted in a disappointing 1-1 draw.

On the other hand, San Jose enjoyed a superb 2-0 win over FC Dallas last Saturday, a victory made even more significant by the goalscorer, Chris Wondolowski. Wondo was MLS's top marksman last season and if he can repeat that goalscoring feat this year, then San Jose fans should expect another play off push.

It would be interesting to see whether Zhigghi Schmidt position has head coach begins to come under a little scrutiny if the Sounders fail to win for the fourth game running on Saturday, but I've got a funny feeling that Fredy Montero will finally find his form, and propel Seattle to a much needed first three points.

Prediction: 1-2

Colorado vs DC United- Last weekends loss in New England has deflated the DC United balloon some what, a balloon that was blown up to its maximum capacity after an opening day, three-nil hammering of the Columbus Crew. Charlie Davies was the star in that match, and if he can come up big for United on Sunday, then Ben Olson's side may claim a superb scalp.

Colorado have looked very efficient this season, not particularly pretty on the eye but effective nonetheless. Without Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, many predicted that Colorado would struggle to beat Chivas USA, but the defending champions showed their mettle and dug deep to win 1-0. Those fighting qualities will stand the Rapids in good stead for the remainder of the season, giving the defending champs a great chance at repeating last year's terrific achievement.

While all the attention has been focussed on Charlie Davies with regard to DC United, new signings Josh Wolff and Dax McCarthy seem to have been forgotten. Wolff scored the opener against Columbus two weeks ago, and McCarthy has been badly missed by last year's losing finalists FC Dallas. If Wolff, McCarthy and Davies can all stay injury free this season, then there is a good chance that MLS's forgotten giant could make a return to the league's grandest stage.

Prediction: 1-1

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