By THOMAS FLOYD
When it has come to sustained success over the past half decade, no MLS teams have done it better than the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake.
Sure, some recognizable faces have come and gone. But both teams have maintained their accomplished cores and smartly managed the players around them while bolstering their trophy cases. Come Saturday, the foes will meet again in a battle for Western Conference positioning.
Elsewhere around the league this weekend, a scorching FC Dallas side travels to face the Vancouver Whitecaps; Sporting Kansas City hosts the Portland Timbers in a fascinating battle of 4-3-3 formations; and the New York Red Bulls without the injured Dax McCarty will try to take down Toronto FC.
Here is a rundown of the Week 9 slate:
TORONTO FC vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 2pm, TSN/MLS Live)
With no Dax McCarty (quad) and Juninho (suspended), the Red Bulls will need to mix things up in midfield and depend even more heavily on Thierry Henry’s penchant for creating moments of magic out of nothing.
Coming off four consecutive draws, Toronto will be eager to take care of business and seize the full three points at home against this shorthanded New York side.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 4pm, NBCSN/TSN)
With two wins in their past three matches, the Fire have begun rebounding from their slow start and would love to steal a result at a Montreal team that, despite its 4-1-1 record, hasn’t won in more than a month.
Now that the Fire are deploying the youthful centerback pairing of Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba, look for Impact striker Marco Di Vaio to lean on his veteran savvy in search of those defensive gaps.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 6pm, Univision Dep.)
A week after Dallas held serve at home against Vancouver with a 2-0 win, the Whitecaps will try to return the favor as the home-and-home set shifts to the Pacific Northwest.
With Vancouver rotating attacking options lately, with Russell Teibert, Tommy Heinemann, Erik Hurtado, Camilo and Darren Mattocks splitting minutes in that three-man front line week, Martin Rennie has some intriguing lineup choices to make.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. D.C. UNITED (Saturday, 7:30pm, MLS Live)
The last time Columbus won was a month ago, when the Crew kicked off what has turned into a four-game losing streak for United with a 2-1 result at RFK Stadium.
A week after starting Marcelo Saragosa but pulling him at halftime for compatriot Raphael Augusto, D.C. coach Ben Olsen will have a tough decision to make as he continues to search for the right player to partner with Perry Kitchen in central midfield.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 7:30pm, MLS Live)
With six goals thus far this season — including a game-winner against New England last month — Union striker Jack McInerney is rapidly growing his reputation as one of the most dangerous poachers in MLS.
Keeping tabs on his movement inside the box will be the key task for a Revolution back line that will be without the injured A.J. Soares (hamstring).
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Which midfield trio will dominate possession: Uri Rosell, Paulo Nagamura and Benny Feilhaber, or Diego Chara, Will Johnson and Diego Valeri? Can Portland winger Rodney Wallace hold former Maryland teammate Graham Zusi in check? How does converted Portland right back Jack Jewsbury match up with Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong?
There are fascinating matchups all over the field in this one as Kansas City coach Peter Vermes’ high-pressure philosophy goes up against Portland boss Caleb Porter’s possession-oriented mindset.
REAL SALT LAKE vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 9 p.m., MLS Live)
After some injury scares, it looks like both teams should near full strength, with Salt Lake’s Chris Schuler (hand), Luis Gil (ankle) and Kyle Beckerman (rib) poised to play, and Los Angeles optimistic about Landon Donovan (leg) and Robbie Keane (ankle).
The midfield battle should be a good one, with the Galaxy’s Brazilian duo of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas clashing with Beckerman and the rest of Salt Lake’s fluid diamond midfield.
CHIVAS USA vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Both teams will be shorthanded because of suspensions in this one, with Chivas missing Bobby Burling and Edgar Mejia and the Earthquakes still without Alan Gordon.
Although San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski is off to a slow start this season, this matchup against Chivas’ depleted three-man back line could be just what he needs to get back on track.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Sunday, 5 p.m., UniMas)
After grabbing a draw in Toronto last weekend, the Dynamo return to the comforts of BBVA Compass Stadium, where they will try to make it 35 games without a loss when they face the Rapids.
With centerback Jermaine Taylor suspended, the Dynamo likely will turn to veteran Eric Brunner to partner with Bobby Boswell against the Rapids, who hope to have Edson Buddle (knee) back in the lineup.