MLS Week 20 Preview: Big Fish Return to Small Pond

Matt BargerCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MAY 16:  Stuart Holden #22 of the Houston Dynamo looks on against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands on May 16, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Houston and New York play to a 1-1 Tie.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bull)

After an inspiring run to an embarrassing final, Team USA’s Gold Cup boys at least have one thing to look forward to: being the big fish in the small pond again.

Two of the biggest fish, Gold Cup Standouts Stuart Holden and Brian Ching, will suit up for the Houston Dynamo (32 pts/19 GP) as they host DC United (28 pts/19 GP) in the game of the week in Week 20. 

Fantastic rookie and Crew columnist Chris LaMacchia will be my guest prognosticator. He’ll try to break the current tie in points from last week. He believes the top of the table will separate themselves from the pack this week.  My heart agrees, but my head says otherwise.

Despite a valiant Gold Cup effort, Holden and Ching will be relieved to carve up questionable MLS defenses instead of the Mexican brick wall of a back four.  In turn, the Dynamo will be relieved to have them back, with team form slumping despite some positive results on the road the past few weeks.

The pairing has been key to Houston’s offensive success and will certainly give the league’s best defense (of 14 GA, only 4 GA at home) some much needed respite.   Dynamo midfield enforcer Ricardo Clark will also be looking to show the league why he will be the third American player playing in Series A (with Livorno) in a few weeks.

On the other hand, DC United gets a great winger back in Santino Quaranta, but his absence should have been more or less replaceable with the likes of Danny Szetela, Chris Pontius, and Fred on the United bench.  

That said, however, decidedly poor showings in draws at San Jose and at home to the preseasoned Salvadorians L.A. Firpo in the CONCACAF Champions’ League state otherwise. 

United will be hungry for three points after giving away crucial draws to weaker opponents, but a win at Dynamo fortress, Robertson Stadium, may prove elusive with a tired squad from a busy two weeks in MLS, CONCACAF, and US Open Cup.

But we should not count them out. 

United, when on form, can be one of the most dangerous teams in the league, but they lack consistency on the road.  Of their 28 points, only nine have come on the road.  This may be the only reason this team stays out of first in the East.

Result: Dynamo 2-0 United (Chris says Dynamo, 3-1). With two potent offenses clashing, this game will be ultimately decided by defense and form.  With its dominant defense and the return of its offensive attack, the Dynamo should come through with a victory.

As for the rest of Week 20’s fixtures:

Toronto FC (26 pts/19 GP) at New England Revolution (23 pts/16 GP)—The Revs and Reds meet at a crossroads.  New England, hot off of a convincing road win against league-leader Houston, will want to show that their fifth-place position in the East is only because they have at least two games in hand on their competition.

The Reds, on the other hand, will be looking to turn their season around after collapsing against Columbus in the Trillium Cup final and Puerto Rico in the Champions’ League. More poor showings could put them back into dreaded fifth place with a tough schedule in their last ten games.  They definitely have the talent to turn around their recent run of bad luck around, but this game is a must-win.

Result: Revs 1-2 TFC (Chris says draw, 2-2). TFC will show United it is possible for the first XI to maintain their form despite three matches in a week.

Columbus Crew (30 pts/19 GP) at Colorado Rapids (27 pts/18 GP)—The Rapids have righted the ship with a much needed 4-0 rout of the Red Bulls.  And they showed that they could win without great performances from Colin Clark or Conor Casey.  Columbus is surging after the “Bash Brothers’” late, late show against Toronto.  While they may get all-star Guillermo Barros Schelotto back, the Crew have shown they can win without him.

Result: Rapids 2-1 Crew (Chris says Crew, 3-2). Away from home, stuck in altitude, and with big bulls-eyes on their back, Bash Brothers Stephen Lenhart and Jason Garey won’t be allowed chances, much less the ball.  The Rapids have been great at home this season, and with third place in their sights, they should not falter against the Crew.

Seattle Sounders FC (29 pts/18 GP) at San Jose Earthquakes (14 pts/18 GP)—In the last two meetings this season, Seattle has dominated possession and the score, winning handily at Qwest Field.  They can catch pace with Houston (finally) with a win, but they will have to do so without their angry Swede Freddie Ljungberg and the glorious fans of Qwest Field.  Not to mention the Quakes have played better than their 14 points this season, especially at home. 

Result: Quakes 1-2 Sounders (Chris says Sounders, 3-1). The Sounders will win if Nate Jaqua has his finishing boots on. If not, expect another disappointing draw.

Real Salt Lake (23 pts/18 GP) at Chicago Fire (29 pts/18 GP)—I don’t care how great Laker forwards Yura Movsisyan and Jeff Cunningham are.  And I don’t care that Captain Beckerman’s return gives Javier Morales more freedom to attack.  Real is on the road, where they are allergic to points.  The Fire have been great at home and shown they can keep their form without injured captain Brian McBride. Need I say more?

Result: Fire 2-1 RSL (Chris says Fire, 2-0) Real gets no love from me until they show they can win on the road…and stop stealing Barça’s colors. No team named Real should ever don red, blue, and gold in a home or away strip.  Ever.

Kansas City Wizards (21 pts/17 GP) at FC Dallas (17 pts/18 GP)—Chris calls this the “Fail Cup.”  While the title is true for Dallas, whose lack of defense has kept the Hoops from contending this season, the Wizards have been flying under the radar in the East, with only inconsistency keeping them from breaking out into a contender status.

Result: FCD 1-2 Wizards (Chris says draw, 2-2).  Chris also says all goals will be own goals.  I won’t disagree.

Correct predictions receive two points, correct scores one point.  If you would like to be a guest commentator, please let Matt Barger know through comment, PM, or Bulletin Board post.

Matt 6-7, 13 pts (Last week: 3-4, 7 pts)

Guest Prognosticators 6-7, 13 pts (Last week: 3-4, 6 pts)


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