Can Brian Bliss alter the Colmbus Crew's path?
The beginning of the Brian Bliss era is the story to watch in MLS Week 28, but an additional four storylines will complete your weekend preview.
Only five of the nine matches scheduled for this weekend will be covered in great detail. Each of the five selected will be dissected from a unique angle to intensify your viewing pleasure.
So, what exactly warrants your attention in Week 28?
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 28. The results from Wednesday night's matches are posted as well.
Real Salt Lake are idle.
Columbus Crew 2-0 Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders 1-0 Chivas USA
FC Dallas vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Sporting Kansas City vs. Columbus Crew, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Seattle Sounders vs. Chicago Fire, 10 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Portland Timbers vs. Toronto FC, 11 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls, 5 p.m. ET, UniMas
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Chivas USA vs. D.C. United, 9 p.m. ET, MLS Live
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN 2
You'd be all smiles too if you won your coaching debut for the Crew.
A change at the top equals a change in results.
After falling 1-0 to the Sounders in Week 27, Columbus decided to part ways with head coach Robert Warzycha.
He served five years with the Black and Gold.
Success was minimal for the former coach. True, the club made consecutive quarterfinal runs in the CONCACAF Champions League (2009-10) and reached the 2010 U.S. Open Cup final. But the only hardware the Crew ever captured under Warzycha was the 2009 Supporters' Shield.
The club's 8-13-5 record entering Week 28 didn't help, either.
New ownership felt that wasn't enough.
Technical director and former Crew defender Brian Bliss was given the reigns.
The result: One match. One blissful victory.
Columbus captured a comprehensive 2-0 win over Houston on Wednesday. Obviously, the result won't immediately rectify the Crew's issues. The club still remains five points shy of a playoff spot.
But it's a start.
According to Columbus' official website, the interim coach intends to come out swinging this weekend:
I mean it was so long ago, I forgot I was even there. Look it's always nice to go back to places that you have worked at before and I probably believe that there are some people there who still appreciate the work that we did when we were there for six or seven years. So yeah it will be nice to go in there and punch the bully in the nose.
That "bully" is Sporting Kansas City.
Coach Bliss spent years in Kansas City as a former player (1998), assistant (2000-06) and interim coach (2006-07). A knockout victory over his former club this Saturday will breed optimism in Columbus.
The Earthquakes have played 12 home matches since their Week 1 loss to Real Salt Lake. Since then, 12 have tried...but 12 have failed. The club is an unblemished 8-0-4 during that home stretch. Even better, San Jose has won its last five home matches.
The current 12-game unbeaten run is tops in the league.
With a visit from the Union coming this Sunday, the opportunity is there for the club to extended it once more.
But the fun doesn't stop there.
As if a positive result wasn't enough, there will be more for the Earthquakes faithful to potentially enjoy in Week 28.
Get ready for four incredible words: Steven. Lenhart. Chia. Pet.
Coach Petke can cost his club if he tries to send another message in Week 28.
Head coach Mike Petke sent a message to Thierry Henry in Week 27: "I'm the boss."
Fine...but don't expect that to happen again in Week 28.
When dissecting Coach Petke's decision to bench his $5 million star, it was a calculated risk. D.C. has dwelled at the bottom of the Eastern Conference all season. The Red Bulls—a Supporters' Shield contender—still have enough firepower to get a result against such a woeful opponent.
But the Houston Dynamo are not the Black and Red.
There's a huge difference between 37 points and 14...well, 23 to be exact.
Now, according to Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer, Coach Petke isn't "prepared to say anything" about his captain returning to the starting XI. Even if the rookie head coach isn't "prepared to say anything," he better be prepared to play Henry.
The statisticians at WhoScored have rated the Frenchman as New York's second-most-important player with a 7.39 rating. That's second only to Tim Cahill (7.57). According to the site's calculations, Henry enters Week 28 with a club-best seven assists, 3.1 shots per game and 2.2 key passes per game.
Even with a six-game scoreless streak, there's no denying Henry is still a solid contributor to his club.
The man is still dangerous enough to create a scoring chance on his first touch of the night.
With Cahill sidelined the next three to four weeks due to a torn ankle ligament, can the Red Bulls really afford to be without their two best players?
You make the call, coach.
We don't know what's going on either, Coach Porter.
The tide has turned for the Portland Timbers.
After embarking on an impressive 15-game unbeaten streak, Portland's trajectory has since reversed. The club is a pedestrian 2-3-4 in its last nine matches. The latest performance—a 4-2 defeat to Real Salt Lake—was a humbling one for the Timbers.
But according to Portland's official website, head coach Caleb Porter isn't ready to press the panic button just yet:
It's humbling, we got a bit bloodied, we're obviously all a bit disappointed by the scoreline, but hopefully in the big picture this is something that will make us better because we have to keep plugging away. Bottom line, we can't have a performance like we did today.
Coach Porter is right about one thing: The Timbers can ill-afford to double down on their recent form.
Despite a difficult stretch, Portland has maintained possession of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference; however, the wiggle room has dissipated. Only two points keep the Timbers afloat out West.
But don't fret.
Toronto FC are coming to town in Week 28.
The standings clearly show the Timbers are a better club than Toronto. The fact that Kevin Payne was fired after only nine months on the job proves they are a more stable franchise at this point as well. It won't matter that Ryan Johnson, Alvas Powell and Donovan Ricketts are forced to miss action due to international duty. The Reds, their instability and 2-8-3 record on the road will be ripe for the picking this Saturday.
The scoreline will reflect that sentiment.
Who will be laid out after Week 28?
An all-important three points are on the line in Frisco, Texas this weekend.
Dallas and Vancouver enter Week 28 two points below the dreaded red line in the Western Conference. After decent stretches this season, both clubs are now in danger of missing the postseason entirely. Only eight matches remain for the two to rectify their playoff hunt.
It should be noted, however, that the Hoops and Whitecaps are no strangers in 2013.
The two played consecutive matches in Weeks 8 and 9. Dallas struck the first blow with a 2-0 victory at home. Vancouver nearly returned the favor the following week. While the club did battle back from a 2-0 deficit, the Whitecaps only managed to rescue a point at BC Place.
The third and decisive leg will be played at FC Dallas Stadium this Saturday.
For the winner, the playoff picture will remain clear in sight. For the loser, a murkier and more dreary playoff path awaits.
You don't want to fall behind in the final stretch of the season.
You don't want to lose this match.
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