By THOMAS FLOYD
Major League Soccer's aspirations to be bigger and better than ever in 2011 got off to a splendid start last week with goals aplenty and high attendance numbers.
The league will try to carry that momentum forward in week two with a full slate of games. The action kicks off, just as it did in week one, at Qwest Field, where the Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo will both be looking for their first win of the young season Friday.
Saturday night, two of last year's final four teams will face off at Pizza Hut Park when the San Jose Earthquakes travel to take on FC Dallas. And the gem of the weekend will be contested when Western Conference heavyweights Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy clash in the Rocky Mountains, although that fixture, like many others this weekend, will be somewhat hampered by international absences.
Here is a rundown of the entire week two schedule and how we see things playing out:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Friday, 10 p.m., FSC)
Seattle is coming off a pair of one-goal losses to two of the league's top teams, Los Angeles and New York, while Houston did everything but find the net during a 1-0 home loss to Philadelphia in its opener. Both these teams would prefer to put their starts to the season behind them and begin anew with this match in the Emerald City.
The best way to get on track, of course, would be to score a goal, which is something neither squad has accomplished yet in 2011. Both sides should get a boost offensively in the form of expected returnees from injury. Seattle winger Steve Zakuani appears recovered from a hip injury that held him out at New York, and Houston striker Brian Ching should play after missing the opener with a hamstring ailment.
Fredy Montero has already been bottled up too long, so expect him to break through with a goal while Zakuani also finds net for Seattle to nullify Will Bruin's first MLS tally for Houston. Sounders 2, Dynamo 1.
TORONTO FC vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 2 p.m., TSN)
Two teams coming off openers they would very much like to forget meet north of the border to kick off Saturday's slate. While Portland gets a pass considering it was an expansion team playing at the defending MLS Cup champions for its first game, Toronto's lackluster display during a 4-2 loss at Vancouver is more disturbing.
Toronto gets a do-over, of sorts, drawing an expansion team for the second week in a row. But this rebuilt team just lacks cohesiveness at the moment, which means it could be a frustrating 90 minutes for the BMO Field faithful. Maicon Santos scores again for the Reds, but Jorge Perlaza sneaks behind the Toronto back line and equalizes for Portland. TFC 1, Timbers 1.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
The top two teams in the Eastern Conference last year are heading in different directions. New York boasts a balanced, star-studded squad that should compete for the Supporters' Shield, while Columbus is still working out the kinks with a revamped lineup following the club's offseason overhaul.
But fortune has been kind to the Crew this weekend, as New York will be without Rafael Marquez, Tim Ream, Dane Richards and Juan Agudelo due to international call-ups. Furthermore, Thierry Henry is not traveling to Columbus due to a hamstring strain.
Even the drama surrounding Robbie Rogers' future in Columbus won't keep the Crew from picking up three points in these enviable circumstances. New York's depth will keep it close, but an Eddie Gaven strike along with a stout defensive effort led by Chad Marshall is enough for Columbus. Crew 1, Red Bulls 0.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 4 p.m, Direct Kick)
Recent expansion sides meet in the City of Brotherly love, where both clubs will be looking to prove their surprising opening week performances were no flukes. While attacking talents Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento stole the show for Vancouver during a 4-2 win over Toronto, it was an early goal from center back Danny Califf and a composed performance from the Union's new-look defense that earned Philadelphia a 1-0 victory in Houston.
Saturday, look for Faryd Mondragon, Carlos Valdes and Co. to keep Hassli under wraps as Carlos Ruiz returns to the MLS score sheet and Sebastien Le Toux also opens his account for 2011. Union 2, Whitecaps 0.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 4 p.m. Telefutura)
A Chicago team not expected to make a lot of noise in 2011 has to be feeling good heading into its home opener after stealing a point on the road at Dallas last week. And it's hard not to be optimistic in Kansas City after watching new strikers Omar Bravo and C.J. Sapong account for all three goals in a 3-2 win at Chivas USA.
Both clubs still have questions to be answered, though, as Kansas City's defense is a work-in-progress and Chicago, which this week traded for striker Dominic Oduro, is trying to pinpoint a go-to goal scorer. Look for strikes from Teal Bunbury, seeing his first action back from injury, and Marco Pappa to cancel each other out. Fire 1, SKC 1.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Although Charlie Davies stole the headlines, scoring a brace off the bench in his first game in 17 months, Josh Wolff was arguably the best player on the field during United's 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew. The two could be up top together from the start Saturday as Davies, a New Hampshire native who played at Boston College, has his homecoming of sorts.
To help deal with United's strikers, the Revolution is expected to have fullbacks Didier Domi and Kevin Alston back from injury. D.C. United's defense, meanwhile, will be without center back Perry Kitchen, who is with the U.S. under-20 national team. And right back Jed Zayner is day-to-day with a hamstring injury.
A fun match-up to watch will be United's Dax McCarty against the Revolution's Shalrie Joseph in central midfield. Just as those two will effectively negate each other, so will the teams — goals from D.C.'s Chris Pontius and New England's Zack Schilawski result in a draw. Revolution 1, United 1.
FC DALLAS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 9 p.m. Direct Kick)
Reigning Western Conference champion FC Dallas hosts Eastern Conference finalist San Jose in a match that will serve as an early barometer for where these teams stand in 2011. Both teams are coming off disappointing results at home last week, which saw Dallas held to a draw by Chicago and San Jose toppled by Real Salt Lake.
Dallas will be without Brek Shea, who received a red card in his first MLS start as a center back last week. The blow, however, may be softened by the return from injury of Ugo Ihemelu, who went 45 minutes during the first leg of the Rio Grande Plate against Tigres on Wednesday.
With Fabian Castillo seemingly a week or two away from debuting for Dallas (he played for the reserves Thursday), the Hoops' attack could have some trouble against San Jose's veteran defensive core. Look for Bobby Convey to respond to his U.S. snub with his first goal of the season. Earthquakes 1, FCD 0.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick)
A marquee match-up between the top two teams in the Western Conference last regular season, this is the must-see game of the weekend. Although Los Angeles' Landon Donovan and Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez will all be absent on international duty (and players such as Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, Nick Rimando and Jamison Olave could also be out due to injury), plenty of the league's most talented players will be on-hand, including David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel and Javier Morales.
This 2009 MLS Cup rematch is sure to be a heated affair as both teams try to establish themselves as the early Western Conference frontrunner. This game could ultimately come down to the performances of the Galaxy's Juninho and Salt Lake's Fabian Espindola, two lesser-known players who have carried their teams in the early going this season.
Expect Angel to score his first goal in a Galaxy uniform, but it won't be enough as strikes from Espindola and Andy Williams give Salt Lake the victory. RSL 2, Galaxy 1.
CHIVAS USA vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 9:30 pm., Direct Kick)
Speaking of international absences, Colorado will be without one of the most electrifying players in MLS, as Omar Cummings will be on duty with the Jamaica national team. Even without him, the defending MLS Cup champion has to like its chances coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Portland.
Despite a rebuilt defense that features Jimmy Conrad, Heath Pearce and first-round pick Zarek Valentin, Chivas USA still struggled to keep the ball out of the back of the net against Kansas City last week during a 3-2 loss. That will have Conor Casey chomping at the bit — he bags a brace and the Rapids walk away with three points on the road. Rapids 2, Chivas 0.
How do you see week two turning out? Think Seattle can pick up its first win tonight? Can a depleted New York side steal a result in Columbus? Who will be more affected by their missing players: RSL or the Galaxy?
Share your thoughts below.