1. Appreciate the influence of a returning hero: Chicago changed the course of its season when it somehow procured Mike Magee from Los Angeles in the Robbie Rogers deal last month. Magee has provided a reliable source of goals (three in three league appearances, including a Panenka in the 2-1 win over Colorado) for a team in desperate need of production in the final third. And, perhaps most importantly, he has supplied the necessary spark (combined with the additional steel provided by Bakary Soumare's return) to a team with ample talent already in place. The uptick in results (seven points from Magee's three matches with the team) isn't a fluke. Now Magee and the Fire must keep the recent run alive at Columbus on Saturday and persist in the quest to overcome that wretched start to the campaign.
2. Spare a thought for the folks in Sandy: It is a busy, busy week in this Salt Lake City suburb with the United States in town for that critical Hexagonal win over Honduras on Tuesday night and RSL poised to host Seattle on Saturday night. The focus on Rio Tinto Stadium over the past few days should underscore the depth and the passion of the support for the game in Utah. It is now up to RSL – particularly with its work in possession and its ability to keep the Sounders chasing shadows – to ensure this hectic period ends with another victory.
3. Expect the national spotlight to shine on Jack McInerney: The in-form Philadelphia striker will draw plenty of attention when the Union host New York on Sunday. A piece of deft scheduling ensures this match should draw a few extra viewers in the wake of the Confederations Cup match between Spain and Nigeria. McInerney could impress them with a goal or two if he can drift into Markus Holgersson's area and lean on his superior reactions to move into the proper spaces at the right times.
4. Build upon the increasing defiance in Portland: Caleb Porter receives an ample amount of deserved credit for turning the direct Timbers into a good MLS side in possession. The corresponding uptick in defensive work often slips under the radar. Porter isn't blessed with great individual defenders in his back four (a concern in the postseason, if current form holds), but he has established a good, solid shape predicated upon that ability to dictate the terms of the match in possession.
Portland showed its growth in the 0-0 draw at Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The visitors coped well with the threat presented and threw the Galaxy out of its stride in the defensive third. By maintaining its shape and preventing Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane from wriggling free, the Timbers closed up shop and departed with a deserved point.
The task will change significantly when Colorado visits on Sunday. Both teams will want their fair share in possession (even with Oscar Pareja's gradual shift to a 4-2-3-1 setup), but the Timbers must take control of the affair and watch Deshorn Brown on the break in order to extend their unbeaten run to 15 matches.
5. Revel in the (not-so-) SuperClásico: This derby has lost a bit of luster with Chivas USA's downturn in fortunes over the past couple of years. Expect plenty of grit from both teams and a paucity of quality on the whole from the Red-and-White. This match isn't likely to start the revival under José Luis Real, but it should at least offer the Galaxy a chance to atone for that dull stalemate with Portland in midweek.
Last Forecast: 1/5 (20%)
This season: 53/124 (43%)
D.C. United – San Jose (7:00p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The visitors may want to turn away from their direct tactics at some stage, but that bruising, physical style will produce the three points if deployed against a flimsy United rearguard at R.F.K. Stadium.
Prediction: San Jose win.
Columbus – Chicago (8:00p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Deco won't suit up for the Crew on this or any other Saturday. The confirmed return of Jairo Arrieta and the continued presence of Chad Marshall (a key figure in the 2-0 victory over Montréal last weekend) in central defense will have to suffice, then.
FC Dallas – Sporting Kansas City (8:30p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Sporting must strike the proper balance to avoid getting turned over in this match. FCD will wait for the right moment to attack with three or four players on the counter. And if Sporting sends its fullbacks forward too earnestly (as happens from time to time), then it will get punished.
Prediction: FC Dallas win.
Houston – Toronto FC (9:00p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Dominic Kinnear's side enters this match without a win in its past five matches. The performance at Montréal in midweek does not provide much room for encouragement, but the Dynamo – even against a TFC side capable of frustrating the opposition – must find a way to collect the points here. The best bet: pile on the pressure with plenty of service into the penalty area (especially if Brad Davis can feature) and wait for the Reds to crack.
Prediction: Houston win.
Real Salt Lake – Seattle (9:30p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The difference between a settled side (RSL) and a group primed to integrate several players returning from international duty (Seattle) could supply the difference in this battle of Western Conference heavyweights.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.
Philadelphia – New York (5:00p.m., ESPN) – Goal.com preview
Overview: New York coach Mike Petke faces significant questions with Jámison Olave and Juninho Pernambucano banned and Tim Cahill fatigued from his Australian excursion. Petke must devise a way to compensate for Olave in central defense in order to procure a result at PPL Park.
Prediction: Philadelphia win.
Portland – Colorado (7:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The returns of Oscar Pareja and Hendry Thomas from suspension should help the visitors, but Portland's ability to exploit the uncertainty in the Rapids' back four should eventually separate the sides.
Prediction: Portland win.
Los Angeles – Chivas USA (11:00p.m., UniMas) – Goal.com preview
Overview: One of the Red-and-White's various array of concerns – tracking movement into and through the final third – will prove particularly problematic in this derby.
Prediction: Los Angeles win.
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