Returning players will highlight the MLS Week 23 action. For some, the road back extended way beyond the rigors of a simple Gold Cup celebration.
The MLS All-Stars were toppled 3-1 by AS Roma at Sporting Park Wednesday night. A goal from Omar Gonzalez—one of the worst rappers in recent memory—kept the All-Stars from being shut out in the first minute of stoppage time.
Nine MLS matches will follow this weekend. But with so much action on tap, what warrants your attention?
Read on to find out.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to the official MLS Press Box Stats and Standings.
Which match will you—the fan—be watching this weekend?
Before we delve into the featured storylines for this weekend's action, here is the complete schedule and guide for Week 23.
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Madrid (International Champions Cup), 10:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel
Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
DC United vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire, 8:00 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew, 9:00 p.m. ET, MLS Live
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chivas USA, 10:00 p.m. ET, UniMas
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 11:00 p.m. ET, MLS Live
New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m. ET, Univision Deportes
Welcome back, Kevin Alston.
You were welcomed on the pitch in Week 22. Now, it's time they welcome you home.
The 25-year-old midfielder suffered a serious ailment earlier this season. No, it wasn't similar to the broken leg he suffered as an adolescent. It was chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). According to doctors, it was a rare but treatable form of cancer.
They were right.
In less than four months after being diagnosed, Alston returned to the pitch last Saturday. With seven emotional minutes under his belt, the former Indiana Hoosier marked his return in a 2-1 victory over DC United.
According to the club's official website, Alston found himself fighting something other than cancer after the victory:
As soon as the game was over, everybody came over to congratulate me and I was trying my hardest not to cry; I was fighting tears. [My teammates] have been supportive since the start and they showed it again tonight.
But that was RFK Stadium.
Expect emotions to run even higher before a home crowd at Gillette Stadium this Saturday.
Five-hundred and eighteen.
It's been 518 minutes (not including stoppage time) since New York last scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City. Five-plus matches have been nothing more than five consecutive scoreless efforts for the club. Even the goal scored in a 1-1 draw last season came off the head of Kei Kamara...a Kansas City player.
The last Red Bull to celebrate his efforts against the sporting-blue club was Luke Rodgers.
According to Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer, Rodgers moved to Sweden after signing a 1.5-year contract with Hammarby Fotboll. The Englishman hasn't even seen an MLS pitch since 2011.
The clock has been ticking since his 22nd-minute goal in a 1-0 victory two seasons ago.
For both clubs, the stakes are high in Week 23. Sporting enters the weekend just one point clear of New York for first in the Eastern Conference. If the Red Bulls hope to recapture the top spot, they'll have to fix their recent woes on the road first.
The club is a pedestrian 3-5-3 away from Red Bull Arena this season.
But at this point, scoring a goal against Kansas City would be considered a victory.
We saw the impact of one returning Gold Cup veteran in Week 22.
Now, Real Salt Lake will hope to multiply Alvaro Saborio's hat-trick performance by three.
It's been a taxing summer—and a successful one at that—for RSL veterans Tony Beltran, Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. The trio featured in Jurgen Klinsmann's Gold Cup roster the past few weeks, with Beckerman and Rimando being catalysts on the pitch.
But after consecutive losses, the Claret and Cobalt will gladly welcome back this championship trio.
In Rimando's absence—and in the wake of a Josh Saunders injury—rookie goalkeeper Jeff Attinella has undergone a trial by fire. After 39 minutes of shutout play in Week 20, the 24-year-old conceded six goals in his first two starts.
Rimando's league-best 78.8 save percentage will be a boost between the posts.
A rock in the midfield, Beckerman has shown a propensity to control the tempo of a match between the lines. According to the statisticians at WhoScored, the 31-year-old midfielder averages a league-best 69.1 passes per game.
Even the consistent contributions of Tony Beltran—one of five RSL players with 1,400-plus minutes of play this season—will be welcomed by head coach Jason Kreis.
Fortunately for the club, the trio are returning not a moment too soon.
The Rocky Mountain Cup is on the line in Week 23.
For 22 Weeks, FC Dallas sat comfortably in the Western Conference.
Now, for the first time this season, the club finds itself on the outside looking in.
Due to the first tiebreaker, Dallas is now in sixth place in the West. You can attribute the club’s fall from grace to a current eight-game winless streak. The last time the Hoops collected a full three points was in Week 13.
You’ll have to look no further than the competition to decipher Dallas’ downfall.
The club’s last eight opponents have a combined 260 points. Even with a woeful Chivas USA side included, that’s enough to average 32.5 points per opponent.
The trend continues in Week 23.
A return trip to CenturyLink Field awaits Dallas this Saturday. The club fell 4-2 in a wildly entertaining Week 12 showdown. Eddie Johnson netted a brace for the Sounders that night, including the game-winner. Along with Blas Perez, Johnson will also return from Gold Cup duty in time for Saturday's affair.
How unfortunate for Dallas.
The Hoops must avoid a repeat performance in Week 23.
An alarming nine-game winless streak will only increasingly cast doubts in Frisco, Texas.
Cascadia takes center stage in Week 23.
This time, it's the Rose City that will host the affair between Portland and Vancouver.
The former NASL rivals finished a 90-minute battle tied at two in Week 12. A late equalizer from Jose Valencia allowed Portland to escape BC Place with a point. That was a positive result for the Timbers considering Futty Danso was issued a red card just three minutes prior.
Fast forward a few months.
Both clubs are separated by just two points in the standings. Both enter Week 23 in a bit of funk.
The Timbers are winless in their last two and are fresh off a 2-1 loss to the Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium. Vancouver has fared worse. After an impressive six-game unbeaten run, the club enters the weekend with consecutive losses.
This will be the first Cascadia Cup match at JELD-WEN Field this season.
Look for the Timbers to take advantage of another capacity crowd en route to their first Cascadia Cup victory of 2013.
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