MLS Upset Watch: 3 Teams on Alert in Week 8
Sound the alarms, especially in Commerce City. MLS favorites are on upset alert in Week 8.
Parity reigns supreme in American soccer. Head-scratching results have become synonymous with the league. How often does a Reading defeat a Manchester United? When was the last time Granada took down Barcelona?
But the woeful Chicago Fire surprising the New York Red Bulls, now that’s feasible.
If there’s one rule that will always ring true in MLS, it’s this: Don’t sleep on your opponent. You’ll be laid out if you do.
So who needs to keep their head on a swivel in Week 8? Read on to find out.
The New York Red Bulls
Remember the last time these two met?
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution
The Red Bulls are hoping to rebound after a hard-fought loss to Sporting Kansas City Wednesday night. The Revs are coming off a more positive result, but were unable to leave a mark on the scoreboard. A scoreless draw on the road against the Seattle Sounders left New England with five points through five games.
The Red Bulls have outscored (9-1), outshot (115-37) and created 57 more chances than the Revolution (88-31). But there is one statistical category that should be of concern for New York: goals conceded.
The Red Bulls have conceded 11 goals this season. That is the second-highest total in MLS. The Revs have conceded a league-best two goals—a staggering number considering the Revs possess the ball only 45.2 percent of the time this season.
Saturday will be no different.
New England will once again have to live with conceding a lion’s share of the possession. So the Revs will look to bend, but not break. Frustrating the Red Bulls in the final third is essential and feasible. The Red Bulls lead the league in scoring attempts blocked with 27.
New York is a savvy, veteran team. But it’s also an old one.
Most of its star players are on the wrong side of 30. Playing three matches in eight days will test the fitness levels of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, among others.
Jamison Olave will likely miss the match after an early exit—due to injury—in Wednesday's loss (left knee). Juninho will also miss the match after his self-implosion. It’s the perfect opportunity for Mike Petke to asses his team’s depth.
But not playing the Red Bulls at full strength will benefit Jay Heaps’ squad.
New England’s best chance is to duplicate DC United’s performance at Red Bull Arena in Week 3. But with a strong counter on the outside, New England can turn a one-sided affair into a positive result.
Just don’t expect it to be of the aesthetic kind.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
Rookie sensation and No. 1 overall pick Andy Farrell will look to exploit a Red Bulls side that is yet to demonstrate proper width and speed this season. The Opta Chalkboards tell that story. Most of Eric Alexander's distribution Wednesday night remained in the center of the pitch.
The planets are aligning for New England, but not all of them. The Red Bulls have dominated the opposition following a loss this season and are yet to lose back-to-back games (2-0-1).
The Houston Dynamo
Can Toronto FC earn another point against Houston?
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
Houston defeated the Chicago Fire 2-1 last Sunday—extending its home unbeaten streak to 35. Toronto allowed the Philadelphia Union to leak in a late equalizer. But the Reds managed to salvage a point on the road after fending off a late surge by the Union.
Will it be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
The Dynamo have dominated the opposition at home since...well, forever. But when taken outside the friendly confines of BBVA Compass Stadium, the Orange Crush have not fared well. Houston is winless in its last seven regular-season road matches. That streak dates back to last season (0-6-1).
Ironically enough, the last time the team won on the road was against Toronto last July.
Conflicting numbers tell the story.
There's no denying the Dynamo have been the more possessive and creative team at home this season. Per match, Houston averages 53.9 percent possession and nearly 15 attempts on goal at BBVA. Things change on the road. Per match, the team averages 45.7 percent possession and fewer than nine attempts on goal.
Zero wins. Two tallies. Plenty of problems on the road in 2013.
And the Dynamo are not the only unbeaten team at home this season. After losing its first five home matches in 2012, Toronto remains unbeaten at BMO Field this year (1-0-2). It’s a small sample, but an impressive one considering the level of competition faced. Kansas City, FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy have a combined 38 points this season.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
Robert Earnshaw is tied with Mike Magee for the Golden Boot with five goals. No other Toronto FC player has more than one. Earnshaw will need to add to his total if the Reds hope to remain unblemished at home.
Dynamo fans should be genuinely concerned heading into Saturday’s match. A poor string of performances on the road puts Houston on high upset alert.
Salvaging a point on the road would be considered a “decent” result for Houston. The same rings true for the Reds, but the opportunity is there for Toronto to earn more at home.
The Colorado Rapids
Eddie Johnson has been sorely missed. And he's a bad, bad man.
Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders
Despite a slew of injuries, the Rapids prevailed Saturday night. The 1-0 victory over Chivas USA propelled Colorado to an impressive seven points in the last three games. Meanwhile, the sky appears to be falling for Seattle. The team is off to the worst start in franchise history (0-3-2).
This one doesn’t feel right. There is something odd about a 2012 Western Conference finalist being considered an underdog, especially against a team that finished with just 37 points last season.
But check the standings. This year’s, to be exact.
The Rapids are six points clear and boast a pair of quality wins over Chivas and Real Salt Lake. The Sounders are yet to earn a victory this season, let alone a quality one.
If there were ever a time for order to be restored, it’s now.
Last week, the Sounders were without the services of Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Brad Evans due to injury. The cavalry is not on its way. But it appears a pair of workhorses are.
Sigi Schmid hasn’t declared that any of his injured players are ready to return. Actions speak louder than words, though. Evans (calf) and Johnson (hamstring) participated fully in practice this week (per Jeremiah Oshan of MLSsoccer.com).
The two will serve as a monumental upgrade for Seattle and bolster what has been a rather disjointed and stagnant attack. Three scoreless performances in five matches is hardly meeting expectations.
Colorado rookie Clint Irwin stood on his head to preserve a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in Week 6. He must do so once more if the Rapids are to continue streaking.
Seattle is in prime position to turn its season around.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
The Sounders are a different team with Johnson on the pitch. “Finishing” will be mantra for Johnson and company. He must finish his chances. The team must finish the job.
For some, this would not even be considered an upset—completely disregarding the recent form and standing of both teams. That speaks to Seattle’s quality and makes this one a serious possibility.
The Rapids are on the highest upset alert possible.
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