MLS favorites remain on upset alert in Week 9. And just like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, you can "blame Canada" should they falter.
Clear-cut favorites are difficult to identify, especially in MLS.
So in order make sense of the league's infamous parity, current standings and points per game were considered to determine your Week 9 favorites. Everything else was considered to determine your winner.
So, who needs to keep their head on a swivel this weekend? Read on to find out.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas
Only in MLS will you see a rematch from Week 8 in Week 9. Dallas defeated the Whitecaps 2-0 in Frisco, Texas Saturday night. Now, Vancouver will look to return the favor at BC Place. Vancouver also had a mid-week victory in the Canadian Championship. But most of the starting XI was absent.
Dallas has won six of its first eight matches and sit comfortably atop the Western Conference. You can’t argue with results. But you can question the method in which those results were obtained.
The schedule makers deserve an assist for the team’s hot start. Five of Dallas’ first eight matches have been at home. It took a missed handball call to secure a win over Houston in Week 3. Both goals in Week 8’s victory over the Whitecaps were aided by some fortunate bounces off of Vancouver defenders.
Credit the Hoops for taking advantage of those gratuitous bounces. The question is: How long will the lucky ball bounce in Dallas’ favor?
That question may be answered in Week 9.
This may be a rematch, but the same two teams will not be on the pitch. At least not on Vancouver’s side. Head coach Martin Rennie was scrutinized for his lineup decisions in Week 8. A mid-week showdown with Edmonton was said to be in mind when Tommy Heinemann, Matt Watson and Erik Hurtado got the start in Dallas. Vancouver’s disjointed attack conceded a lion’s share of the possession (52.2 percent) and was only able to muster three shots on target as a result.
That will not be the case Saturday. The return of Daigo Kobayashi and Darren Mattocks to the starting lineup will bolster Vancouver’s attack. And should Kenny Miller see the field (hamstring), the Hoops will find it increasingly difficult to duplicate last week’s result.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
A healthy Miller would have wreaked havoc up top. The Scotsman leads the team in scoring despite being out of the starting XI since Week 2. Unfortunately for the Whitecaps, Miller’s availability remains a question mark.
That is not the case for Kobayashi, who went 66 minutes in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Edmonton. The Japanese midfielder will look to provide the service and create the chances Vancouver failed to create last week. The fast-track, artificial surface should play in his favor.
Dallas is on high upset alert. BC Place is a difficult place to secure a favorable result. The Whitecaps remain unbeaten at home this season. Week 9 will be no different. But without Miller in the starting XI, it will be difficult for Vancouver to return to the win column.
Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were able to rebound at home last Saturday, thumping the New England Revolution 4-1 in the process. Toronto FC, on the other hand, failed to hold serve at BMO Field. A stoppage-time equalizer by a visiting Warren Creavalle prevented the Reds from securing a full three points. Most of the starting XI was absent from Toronto's 2-0 mid-week victory over the Montreal Impact in the Canadian Championship.
If you’re a firm believer in symmetry and patterns, Saturday’s matchup has a “Red Bulls loss” written all over it. Take a look at New York’s last five matches and predict what comes next: W-L-W-L-W.
But this is sound prognostication, not a preschool math pattern.
You cannot rely on New York's recent trend to predict Saturday’s outcome. Though New York's inconsistency will be a factor, it is not the only reason the team will leave BMO Field without a win.
No team has been able to capture a full three points in Toronto this season. Not the L.A. Galaxy. Not the Houston Dynamo. Not Sporting Kansas City. Not even FC Dallas. All four teams sit atop their conference standings. All four teams left winless, and for good reason, too.
The Reds are more dynamic and physical at home than their road counterpart. Nine of the team’s 16 yellow cards were shown at home. Seven of the team’s nine goals were scored before their home crowd. And while Toronto is not notorious for a possession-heavy brand of soccer—only averaging 46.4 percent possession this season—that total is slightly higher at BMO Field (47.3 percent).
This is not the same Toronto team New York soundly defeated 4-1 last year—especially at home—so don’t expect a similar result.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
Robert Earnshaw has more goals and more shots than all other Toronto FC players combined. But this week, New York’s attention should focus on the playmaking ability of Luis Silva in the midfield. With Dax McCarty's injury (right quad) and Juninho's suspension, Mike Petke's makeshift midfield will attempt to recoup possession and limit Toronto’s chances.
New York remains on upset alert for a second consecutive week. Except this week, the result won't be as favorable. Neither team will get the job done Saturday afternoon—ending New York’s predictable pattern of results.
Chivas USA vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Chivas USA is coming off back-to-back 1-0 losses. A loss at Rio Tinto Stadium last Saturday left the Goats with 10 points through seven games. Meanwhile, at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Goonies were in full effect late Sunday night. The Quakes managed to salvage a point at home with Adam Jahn’s equalizer in stoppage time.
Calm down. Take a breather. Revert to the first slide.
Based on the criteria, Chivas should be considered the favorite in Saturday’s showdown. The Goats enter Week 9 with a higher points-per-game average than San Jose (1.43 to 1.13). That is good enough to see Chivas in fourth place in the Western Conference, two spots ahead of the Quakes.
But San Jose has the talent to rectify that.
The Quakes will still be without the services of Alan Gordon. The apologetic forward will serve the second game of his three-game suspension. Fortunately for San Jose, the team's quality extends beyond a single “bash brother.” The talents of Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart are well documented. The returning contributions of Steven Beitashour and Marvin Chavez are not.
The two made their season debut in last week’s draw and will hope to duplicate last year’s success moving forward. Beitashour will provide the service. Chavez will provide the speed and pace on the outside. It was enough to earn the Quakes their second Supporters’ Shield in franchise history. It will be enough to earn a win on Saturday.
Much of San Jose’s recent woes (winless since Week 4) have been attributed to a lack of health, a lack of familiarity and a lack of cohesion. Todd McLellan has played a different starting XI the last four weeks. But the Quakes are as close to full strength as they’ve been all season.
That will prove to be problematic for Chivas on Saturday.
The Player to Watch on the Opposition
Chivas continue to rely on a physical style of play to frustrate opponents. The team is among the league leaders with 18 yellow cards this season. The Goats have met their match with Lenhart. The 26-year-old midfielder’s physical style of play is a well-known commodity around the league. There will be no “frustrating” this week. In fact, Chivas will likely receive a dose of its own medicine.
Like last week’s matchup between the Sounders and Colorado Rapids, this would not be considered an upset by some. And just like the Sounders, that speaks to San Jose’s quality.
Chivas is on the highest upset alert possible. Order will be restored in Carson, Calif..
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