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By DAN ITEL
The Western Conference takes center stage in Week 3 of the MLS season, when rivals Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy clash in RSL’s home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium (4 pm, NBCSN).
There was some worry in RSL’s camp that the availability of goalkeeper Nick Rimando would be in question after he suffered a back spasm while making a save in the 22nd minute of their 3-3 tie Saturday against San Jose. But Rimando confirmed during the week that he is “100 percent” and ready to go against the Galaxy. One key RSL player will likely be out of action, however, after Javier Morales picked up a back injury in practice last week and missed the San Jose game. His status is still a question mark.
While the Galaxy, who are facing RSL in back-to-back league matches, may be a bit healthier than RSL, they may consider juggling their lineup when accounting for the results in their last two matches. They were shut out by RSL in a 1-0 loss in Week 1 action and then embarrassed Wednesday in a 4-2 road loss to Club Tijuana in the second leg of the CONCACAF quarterfinals matchup. The Galaxy were happy with the directness new Canadian striker Rob Friend provided when he came on in the second half against Tijuana to help the Galaxy score two goals.
Here is a rundown of the Week 3 slate:
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Saturday, 2 pm, MLS Live)
Two teams heading in different directions will face off at Gillette Stadium in this matchup.
The Revolution, in their home opener, need to turn just about everything around after dropping their first two games of 2014 by a combined 5-0 score. Will reigning MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves settle his contract dispute and return at center back? And that’s not their only problem, with a midfield that has been overrun so far this season.
That could spell trouble against a Vancouver team that has found lightening in a bottle so far with the acquisitions of Pedro Morales and Sebastian Fernandez, who each scored goals in the Whitecaps’ 4-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in their season opener two weeks ago.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 4 pm, Univision Dep.)
Montreal make their home debut at Olympic Stadium desperately needing to get their first result of 2014. After dropping the first two games of the season, they’ll have to do it yet again without forwards Marco Di Vaio and Andres Romero, who are serving their final game of a three-game suspension from last year’s dust-up in the MLS Cup playoffs against the Houston Dynamo.
The Sounders come into the game facing a possible suspension to one of their own star players. Clint Dempsey’s fate has yet to be determined following his incident with Toronto FC defender Mark Bloom over the weekend. A forecast of snow in Montreal has also added uncertainty to the matchup.
TORONTO FC vs. D.C. United (Saturday, 4:30 pm, TSN)
Toronto’s home fans will finally get a look at their new-look club when TFC take on Eastern Conference rival D.C. United at BMO Field. On paper, it’s a matchup that favors Toronto, with new Designated Player Jermain Defoe, coming off a two-goal performance in their 2-1 win last week against Seattle, going against a side that was dismantled in a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew in Week 1.
D.C. United are certainly looking for a bounce-back performance after a week off. Head coach Ben Olsen should be concerned how his re-made backline responds to Defoe and Dwayne De Rosario, who is expected to make the start against his former team with Gilberto still working his way back from injury. The chemistry of D.C. United’s new forward Eddie Johnson and the rest of the attack will also need to be better.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 6 pm, MLS Live)
Two of the league’s most improved sides – and their new U.S. Men’s National Team additions – face off at Crew Stadium in this Week 3 matchup.
The Crew are still likely riding high after their 3-0 victory over D.C. United in Week 1, thanks to a Federico Higuain brace and a stellar defensive performance shepherded by U.S. international center back Michael Parkhurst.
How Higuain matches up against new Union midfielder and U.S. international Maurice Edu will be a matchup to watch. Parkhust and Co. will also have their hands full with new Union midfielders Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira.
COLORADO RAPIDS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Saturday, 6 pm, MLS Live)
The Timbers hit the road for the first time this season, still looking to recapture the magic of their historical 2013 run. Portland would be singing a bit more desperate tune had new forward Gaston Fernandez not netted two late equalizers in their 1-1 draws against both the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire to open the season.
Colorado may still be without first-choice goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who missed last week’s opener and is still recovering from a quad injury. The Rapids will, however, have the full services of reigning Rookie of the Year midfielder Dillon Powers, who suffered a nasty cut to his head in their season-opening 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls last weekend, but said he’s ready to go.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 8:30 pm, MLS Live)
Two teams coming off CONCACAF Champions League disappointments will face off when Sporting play host to the Earthquakes at Sporting Park.
Defending MLS Cup champion SKC are not only licking their wounds from Wednesday’s 5-1 rout at the hands of Cruz Azul in a CCL quarterfinals matchup, but they’ve also dropped points in each of their first two league games after allowing stoppage-time equalizers in a 1-0 loss to Seattle in Week 1 and a 1-1 draw last weekend against FC Dallas. This will also mark the fifth game in a 15-day stretch for Sporting KC.
San Jose may have a bit more confidence after taking Toluca to penalty kicks before falling in their CCL quarterfinal series. They also are riding the momentum from last weekend’s thrilling 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake thanks to a stoppage-time Victor Bernardez goal.
FC DALLAS vs. CHIVAS USA (Saturday, 8:30 pm, MLS Live)
When FC Dallas play host to Chivas USA at Toyota Stadium, there will be a lot of similarities between the two sides. Both have new coaches and both are riding refreshing new beginnings to the season as both clubs have won and drawn a game through the first two weeks.
Chivas USA will look to ride the hot start from new midfielder Mauro Rosales, who new head coach Wilmer Cabrera said earlier this week is an early candidate for league MVP.
And FC Dallas has also benefited from the playmaking abilities of their star midfielder, Mauro Diaz, who scored a goal in their 3-2 Week-1 win over Montreal.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 3 pm, UniMas)
The league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, Mike Magee, is expected to make his 2014 debut in the Fire’s home opener at Toyota Park against the New York Red Bulls. Magee has been recovering from a hamstring injury, but he said this week he is healthy and ready to put his disappointing offseason behind him – which also saw him miss the USMNT’s January friendly against South Korea due to food poisoning.
The Red Bulls are certainly looking to jumpstart a sluggish offense that has scored just two goals in two games this season. Expect stars Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill to answer the challenge of head coach Mike Petke after he said this week his attack “lacked creativity.”
What do you think of this week’s slate of games?
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