By THOMAS FLOYD
It's a battle of the unbeatens for NBC Sports Network's first Friday night broadcast.
The Houston Dynamo will look for their third consecutive road win to kick off the 2012 campaign at CenturyLink Field against the Seattle Sounders, who downed Toronto last week in their MLS opener. The only other matchup this weekend featuring two teams without a loss — Sunday's clash between Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas at Livestrong Sporting Park — will also be nationally televised, on Galavision.
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Union will try to get back on track in a match at the Chicago Fire, while the Vancouver Whitecaps will hope to stay atop the Western Conference standings when they host D.C. United. And in Harrison, N.J., the New York Red Bulls will look to secure their first win of the season in their home opener against an in-form Colorado Rapids side.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 3 slate:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Friday, 10 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
Considering Houston only won two road games all of last season — a campaign, mind you, that still ended in an MLS Cup final appearance — it's rather remarkable that the Dynamo have already won that many contests away from home this year.
They'll go for No. 3 on Friday against the Sounders, who will be missing playmaker Mauro Rosales because of a knee injury. While forward Eddie Johnson is doubtful (hip), that blow has been softened by the emergence of third-year player David Estrada, who is coming off a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Toronto last weekend.
TORONTO FC vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 1 p.m., TSN)
Toronto may have bigger fish to fry, with the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal clash with Santos Laguna looming Wednesday, but after dropping to 0-1 on the MLS campaign with a loss to Seattle last week, the Reds will want this result all the same.
One storyline to watch will be how Toronto adjusts against San Jose without the presence of veteran midfielder Torsten Frings (hamstring), who was so stellar during his side's Champions League aggregate triumph over Los Angeles.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
New England has sure struggled to start 2012, but the Revolution will hope a little bit of home cooking will be all they need to remedy some of their problems.
The absence of suspended centerback Stephen McCarthy and injured defenders Darrius Barnes and John Lozano, though, will be a tough blow. If the early returns are any indication, central defense pairings across the league will need to be in top form when going up against new Portland striker Kris Boyd.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
Two weeks after struggling to find much cohesion in a season-opening loss to Colorado, the Crew are back on the field, having had a bye week to mull things over. It appears new striker Olman Vargas, who was slowed in preseason by injury, is poised to step into the starting lineup as one tactical change.
The Impact, meanwhile, are looking to build off last weekend's draw with Chicago. After making a late cameo against the Fire, recently signed striker Bernardo Corradi could see increased minutes Saturday.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
The Union are already underachieving early in this MLS season, having dropped back-to-back contests, and losing midfielders Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo and right back Sheanon Williams to U.S. Under-23 national team duty isn't helping matters.
It's not as if the Fire are unaffected by Olympic qualifying, though. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson is also with the U.S. squad and will miss this Eastern Conference clash. Former Inter Milan youth player Paolo Tornaghi held his own in his first appearance with Johnson gone, turning in a strong performance against Montreal last weekend.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. CHIVAS USA (Saturday, 9 p.m., Direct Kick)
This is about as large a perceived mismatch as one will see this early in a season. In just two games, Salt Lake has clearly established itself as a team to beat thanks to convincing wins over the big-budget Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, despite not having centerback Nat Borchers, winger Will Johnson, playmaker Javier Morales or striker Alvaro Saborio at 100 percent.
Chivas, on the other hand, has dropped two home games while failing to score a single goal. The odds of the club getting a result at Rio Tinto Stadium, therefore, would seem unlikely.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 10 p.m., Direct Kick)
Coming off the first road win in franchise history, the Whitecaps return home Saturday to take on a D.C. United side that has looked lethargic to start the season in tough matchups against Sporting Kansas City and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Having already lost goalkeeper Bill Hamid and midfielder Perry Kitchen to the U.S. Under-23 national team, United will now lose winger Andy Najar to the Honduran U-23s. Look for Danny Cruz or rookie Nick DeLeon, who scored in his debut last weekend, to fill that void.
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Will a return to Red Bull Arena get Thierry Henry and Co. back on track? The Red Bulls haven't looked sharp so far in 2012, but they were, in all fairness, dealt unenviable road matchups against FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.
In addition to playing in front of their home fans, New York this weekend will also get midfielder Rafa Marquez back from suspension and centerback Wilman Conde back from injury. And Colorado will be short-handed in midfield, with Jeff Larentowicz sitting out this contest after receiving a red card last weekend against Philadelphia.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. FC DALLAS (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
After notching a win and a draw in a two-game homestand to start the year, Dallas will face its toughest test yet when it goes to Livestrong Sporting Park to face 2-0 Kansas City. Although the home side's speedy attack gets the headlines, a defense led by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and centerbacks Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler hasn't allowed a goal yet this season.
Both teams will be without U.S. Under-23 national team call-ups in this one, as Dallas is missing winger Brek Shea and Kansas City is missing striker Teal Bunbury. Dallas is also without versatile Panamanian U-23 call-up Carlos Rodriguez.