Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
After an eventful opening weekend featuring upsets, comebacks and goals aplenty, what can MLS do for an encore?
That is the question heading into Week 2. While the matchups are diluted by the absences of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders due to Champions League duty, there are still plenty of intriguing games to absorb as teams continue to grow into their 2013 identities.
Playoff teams from a year ago will meet in the nation’s capital when D.C. United host Real Salt Lake. In Vancouver, meanwhile, the Jay DeMerit-less Whitecaps will try to make it consecutive wins by holding down Federico Higuain and that strong Columbus Crew attack.
And the weekend is capped by a marquee tilt as Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes take on Thierry Henry and the revamped New York Red Bulls.
Here is a rundown of the full Week 2 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 1:30 pm, TSN)
Aside from that slow start, matters went very much according to plan for Sporting in a season-opening win over the Union. Graham Zusi carried over his dominating 2012 form. The back line was steady. And new starters Benny Feilhaber, Uri Rosell and Claudio Bieler made their impacts felt.
With a trip to face Ryan Nelsen’s work-in-progress Toronto team at Rogers Centre, Kansas City has a golden opportunity to make it two road wins to kick off the season. After a shutout loss last weekend, TFC will hope new striker Robert Earnshaw’s effectiveness will develop as he grows more accustomed to MLS.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 6 pm, MLS Live)
A week after making his Union debut, Conor Casey will return to Colorado to face the club he won an MLS Cup with. Philadelphia might rely on increased minutes from the likes of Casey and Jack McInerney, who came on as substitutes for an attack that struggled to get going against Kansas City.
Of course, the Union did score a goal at least, which Colorado failed to do in its season-opening loss at Dallas. Not having Edson Buddle (knee), Martin Rivero (foot) and Jaime Castrillon (knee) to start the year is a crippling blow to the Rapids.
D.C. UNITED vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 7 pm, MLS Live)
After John Thorrington struggled to find the game filling in for the suspended Dwayne De Rosario at Houston, coach Ben Olsen could turn to Kyle Porter, Marcos Sanchez or Rafael in search of an attacking boost for United’s home opener.
RSL, meanwhile, likely won’t want to change a thing after grabbing a 2-0 win at San Jose, though Jason Kreis might be tempted to start Joao Plata over Robbie Findley after seeing how well the Ecuadorian linked up with Alvaro Saborio.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7:30 pm, NBCSN)
The Fire’s new-look attack, with Maicon Santos up top, Dilly Duka on the flank and a Joel Lindpere-Jeff Larentowicz central midfield duo, looked sluggish in a blowout loss to Los Angeles, so expect a different face or two in that starting lineup.
One player likely to be re-inserted is Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, who will look to combine with Chris Rolfe and cause problems for a New England team that, after taking Week 1 off, will be debuting offseason acquisitions Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, Kalifa Cisse and Andy Dorman.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 7:30 pm, MLS Live)
The loss of Jay DeMerit for six to eight months with a torn Achilles shines the spotlight on Brad Rusin, a journeyman who will get his chance playing next to Irish veteran Andy O’Brien.
It’ll be up to that duo to stop a Crew attack than ran all over Chivas USA last weekend, with Federico Higuain providing the creativity, Jairo Arrieta keeping defenders busy, and Eddie Gaven and Dominic Oduro attacking from the flanks.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 10:30 pm, MLS Live)
The Impact showed what they can be capable of if this experienced squad remains healthy, going to CenturyLink Field and pulling off an upset win over Seattle. And for now, Montreal’s injury report remains fairly short.
Against the Timbers, the play of Patrice Bernier will be critical as the defensive midfielder tries to limit Portland playmaker Diego Valeri, who introduced MLS to his creative exploits with a standout performance against New York.
CHIVAS USA vs. FC DALLAS (Sunday, 5 pm, UniMas)
Chivas in a 3-0 home loss to Columbus last weekend looked, well, like a jumbled-together collection of players still trying to learn each other’s tendencies and a new coach’s system. The transition won’t happen overnight, so expect more of the same against Dallas.
With Blas Perez still suspended, Dallas will once again lean on Kenny Cooper up top and hope the supporting trio of Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira and Jackson can provide the necessary service.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 10 pm, ESPN2)
With Steven Lenhart (knee) and Alan Gordon (foot) unable to provide late-game heroics, San Jose faltered at home against Salt Lake. But the Earthquakes’ injury concerns didn’t explain Chris Wondolowski’s uncharacteristic finishing, which San Jose will want remedied as soon as possible.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have some defensive concerns after surrendering three goals to Portland. And losing Juninho to a calf strain also will take some punch out of that vaunted attack.