MLS Week 31: Complete Schedule and 5 Things to Watch for This Weekend
The impact of Brian Ching's impending retirement is the story to watch in MLS Week 31, but an additional four storylines will complete your weekend preview.
Only five of the nine matches scheduled for the coming days 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 31?
Read on to find out.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to the official MLS Press Box Stats and Standings.
Complete Schedule and Guide
Before we delve into the featured storylines for this weekend's action, here is the complete schedule and guide for Week 31.
The Colorado Rapids are idle.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Toronto FC vs. D.C. United, 1 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live
New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
FC Dallas vs. Columbus Crew, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Chivas USA vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 11 p.m. ET, UniMas
The Story to Watch: Did Ching Write the First Chapter of a Cinderella Story?
We've seen this storyline in football before...well, the other kind of football.
It's difficult to measure, but there's no denying Ray Lewis impacted his locker room in 2013. The 17-year veteran shook things up when he announced he would retire at season's end. The Baltimore Ravens lost four of their last five games before Lewis' announcement.
They didn't lose another after he uttered those words.
The team rode that emotional wave of his impending departure all the way to a Super Bowl victory. The urgency to win one last title for an aging cornerstone became a priority in the team's locker room. His teammate Terrell Suggs made that apparent with his comments in this Sports Illustrated piece following a 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII:
I told him I love him, and what better way to show your gratitude to your leader of 17 years. He's been my teammate and brother for 10 years and really mentored me. Not just in football, but in life. I'm glad to send him out right.
Are the Dynamo set to write a Cinderella chapter of their own?
It's not a perfect comparison, but some parallels can be drawn between Lewis and Brian Ching. Both were conerstones of their respective franchises. Both announced they would retire with a playoff push coming in the not-so-distant future. Ching announced his in a press conference on Tuesday. The decorated striker boasts a resume featuring 170 starts, 82 goals, three MLS Cups (2003, 2006, 2007) and an MLS Golden Boot (2004).
Two of those championships came with the Dynamo in the club's first two seasons.
According to MLS' official website, the physicality of the game ultimately pushed Ching to his decision:
Mentally you're there … but physically your body won't let you do it. I think the realization hit me a couple of weeks ago. I was so frustrated at times I wasn't enjoying it. Now I'm getting back there.
Should the Dynamo ride an emotional wave of their own—one that culminates in an MLS Cup final appearance—it still won't be the final time this decorated veteran laces his cleats. The club scheduled a testimonial for the 35-year-old later this year.
The first-ever match of its kind—at least on this side of the pond—is scheduled for December 13.
The Number to Watch: 310
It's been 310 minutes, Philadelphia. You have gone 310 consecutive minutes without scoring a goal.
This is the company you keep in 2013:
|New England Revolution||394||3/9/2013||4/20/2013|
The clock on your ineptitude has been running since Danny Cruz's equalizer in Week 26. Oh, and that match was lost 5-1 in the process. As a result, your playoff hopes are in serious jeopardy.
But fear not, for a saving grace awaits in Week 31.
One point separates the Union from rejoining the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference. A result on Friday will go a long way in setting an optimistic tone in the City of Brotherly Love. But that result must come on the road...in Kansas City...where Philadelphia has never won (0-2-1).
If there was ever a time to bring home victory No. 1, it's now.
The Player to Watch: Maximiliano Urruti
When you boast a first name like "Maximiliano," you've already won in life. But Maximiliano Urruti is after something a bit more tangible in 2013.
It starts with a win over the Galaxy this Sunday.
The 22-year-old was acquired by Portland via a trade with Toronto FC on September 9. The Timbers sent forward Bright Dike, allocation money and a first-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft in exchange for the Argentine's services. With such a hefty price tag, head coach Caleb Porter must believe Urruti can bring an added dimension to his club.
His comments were posted on Portland's official website the day of his acquisition:
We feel like Urruti has tactical awareness, very clever in his movement, he’s also very technical. [He's] really a smart player, he knows how to bring midfielders into the game. He’s a clinical finisher, as well. He’s played at the highest level on one of the top clubs in the world...I think his transition will be quicker because he’s played in a 4-3-3, he’s played in the No. 9 position his whole life. Newell’s Old Boys plays a high-pressure, high-tempo style of play. He’s used to that, which is again one of the main reasons why we really liked him.
Coach Porter put that technical ability to the test in Week 30.
Urruti made his first start for the Timbers last Friday. The young forward played 61 minutes en route to a 1-0 victory over Colorado, but he could not make the most of his three attempts on target. Urruti would finish the match scoreless and is still in search of his first contribution in a moss-green uniform.
It will take more minutes for the young Argentine to achieve his goals with the Timbers—minutes Urruti hopes to see this Sunday against the Galaxy.
The Club to Watch: The Vancouver Whitecaps
There's nothing like a 3-0 victory to resuscitate your playoff hopes.
That's exactly what the Whitecaps accomplished with their shocking win on the road in Week 30. They'll have to capture another result—albeit against another top conference performer—in order keep hope alive in Vancouver. This time, it's Real Salt Lake who must falter at the hands of the Whitecaps.
Seven points separate the two in the standings.
But that's not the club's endgame at the moment.
With the Rapids idle in Week 31, the opportunity is there for Vancouver to cut the playoff deficit to one point. That total is hardly insurmountable with four matches remaining. Especially with a home-and-away series scheduled between the two clubs in the final weeks of the season.
The task for this Saturday, however, won't be easy.
The Whitecaps enter the weekend a bit battered in the lineup.
Some tightness in his right adductor forced striker Kenny Miller out of training on Monday and Tuesday. According to the club's official website, head coach Martin Rennie believes Camilo Sanvezzo "might be in line" to start this weekend in Miller's place. The Brazilian served as a formidable replacement off the bench last Saturday. His two goals helped seal the 3-0 victory over Montreal.
He now leads the club with 16 goals.
A repeat performance by both Camilo and the club will thicken the plot in the Western Conference standings.
The Match to Watch: New York Red Bulls vs. Seattle Sounders
This one's a no-brainer.
No. 1 in the East visits No. 1 in the West.
The question is: How much firepower will the Red Bulls have at their disposal at CenturyLink Field on Sunday?
According to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, it's slim pickings for head coach Mike Petke. Bradley Wright-Phillips (hamstring) will undergo an MRI and is expected to be out for at least a week. The turf in Seattle seems to be the bugaboo for Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave. But when asked about the availability of his $4.35 million captain, Coach Petke had this to offer on MLS' official website:
I haven't had a direct conversation with him about it yet, but going by history it would appear that he wouldn't be available. I know it's very easy for supporters, even media, to say, "It's a huge game." But you have to go with the doctors and talk with the doctors. It's not something that he just doesn't like turf. He has a chronic issue with his Achilles, and if I'm being told by the doctors that it could be damaged, then it's a situation that are you going to sacrifice or take that risk for one game, no matter what the significance is, when there's still three more left to play in the regular season and hopefully the playoffs?
Both New York and Seattle enter Week 31 in scorching form. Four consecutive victories propelled the Red Bulls to the top of the Supporters' Shield standings with 51 points. A six-match unbeaten streak has the Sounders hot on their trail. The club sits one point back entering the weekend.
The stage is set for a potential MLS Cup preview.
Who will remain standing when the final curtain falls?
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