MLS Week 22 Preview: Gut Check Time

Matt BargerCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2009

SEATTLE - JULY 18:  Freddie Ljungberg #10 of Seattle Sounders FC kicks the ball against Chelsea FC on July 18, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

After last week’s dismal 1-5 showing, part of me wonders how much longer the MLS is still going to have wild four-nil results and crazy upsets.


As much as I want these crazy games to continue, my professional reputation needs it to end. Soon.


But it looks like the pain won’t relent this week. Houston Dynamo writer Bryan Ford joins me for six more thrilling but hard-to-call matches continue in Week 22, or “Gut Check Week.” Rising teams need to make their case as to why they should be in the playoffs.  Slumping teams must find a way to break their funk and show how their early-season momentum will not crumble under pressure.


The team with the most to prove in this respect is slumping Seattle Sounders FC (29 Pts/20 GP), whose current trail-of-tears road trip continues at the Home Depot Center to a revitalized Los Angeles Galaxy (31 Pts/20 GP).


The Sounders, showing glimpses of having the next Chicago Fire-like expansion season, have found absolutely no rhythm away from home, which has proved telling on their current, abysmal three-game road trip.  Their recent heartbreaker at Rio Tinto against RSL extended their losing streak to three games (if you’d like to count the home loss to FC Barcelona).


Perhaps this wouldn’t be the best time to remind Seattle they’re just an expansion team.  They currently sit in the West’s last playoff spot, only two points ahead of Chivas (who, by the way, have two games in hand). Another slip-up could spell doom for the promising Sounders, who started the season as unlikely favorites.


But, after three games in one week (four if you want to count the All-Star Game) and multiple line-up changes after a flurry of red cards perhaps the Rave Green Boys can regroup, find their momentum this week.  The Sounders currently have no disciplinary restrictions when naming their starting eleven.  And they’ll definitely need Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero, and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado against the surging L. A. Galaxy. 


The Galaxy, known as David Beckham and ten other dudes a year ago, have made the biggest comeback since Lazarus from a 1-1-9 start to 2009.  Of course, Becks and the throughballs from heaven are the main reasons for this.  But David Beckham and the Galaxy finally discovered something that hasn’t existed at the HDC in three years: defense.


Terrapin standouts Omar Gonzalez and AJ De La Garza have proven to be fierce ball-winners in their rookie season with the Galaxy.  They and Jamaican netminder Donovan Ricketts have been providing some much-needed stability and teeth to the Galaxy defense. Goldenballs only provided the last piece of the attacking puzzle, giving the Galaxy three points a game instead of one.


Result: Sounders 1-1 Galaxy (Brian says Galaxy, 1-0). Ultimately, the biggest X factor in this game and for the Galaxy will be captain Landon Donovan. The Galaxy and USA captain has been diagnosed with swine flu and physically exhausted after being double-marked and burned for 90 minutes in Azteca.  If he plays, the Galaxy could pull the victory and a stadium of 30,000 will all get H1N1.  If he doesn’t, which will likely be the case, a face-saving 1-1 draw will be a very fair result.




As for the rest of Week 22’s fixtures


Chicago Fire (32 Pts/20 GP) at Kansas City Wizards (21 Pts/18 GP)—The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wizards, who are still recovering from a six-nil beating they took in Dallas.  They come back to a serious test against the dominant Chicago Fire. The Wizards need at least a point against the Fire to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference. But the Fire has been blazing in recent weeks, extending their unbeaten streak to six with a win in Robertson Stadium against the league leading Dynamo.  Out of the Dallas frying pan, and into a hotter Chicago Fire?  Result: Wizards 1-2 Fire (Bryan says Chicago, 2-0). Let’s just say the prediction makes up for the terrible pun.


DC United (28 Pts/20 GP) at Toronto FC (27 Pts/20 GP)—As Brian notes, both teams have stumbled from recent momentum upswings last week.  Against Real Madrid.  Just like the current game of the week, this battle could have significant consequences in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.  Ultimately, United’s inconsistent road form will be putting up a fight with TFC’s surprisingly inconsistent home form.  How a team could not ride the second-best attendance in the league by a large margin is beyond me. Result: TFC 1-1 United (Bryan says Draw, 2-1).  That is, unless a couple United players will show up to play like they did against Real.


Houston Dynamo (38 Pts/22 GP) at Real Salt Lake (29 Pts/20 GP)—Though without confirmed cases of swine flu, Houston stars Ricardo Clark, Stu Holden, and Brian Ching will still be recovering from the beat-down they just received at Azteca.  If you haven’t tuned into MLS for the past month, you won’t realize how poorly the Dynamo play without these guys.  To add to the equation, they now roll into Rio Tinto to face  Real Salt Lake, who carry no one of international consequence and only know how to play soccer  when they’re in the comforts of home.  Result: RSL 2-1 Dynamo. (Bryan says Draw, 1-1)


FC Dallas (23 Pts/20 GP) at Columbus Crew—The Columbus Crew, now the hottest unnoticed team in the league, has been wrecking balls for the momentum of hopeful underdogs lately, crushing San Jose last week and Colorado the week before.  Now they host Dallas, and the Hoops are still glowing from pulling off the highly improbable against the Houston Dynamo.  But lightning doesn’t strike twice, and the Crew have proven that they are the deepest and most consistent team in the league.  Result: FCD 1-2 Crew. (Bryan says Crew, 3-1).


Chivas USA (27 Pts/18 GP) at New York Red Bulls (10 Pts/21 GP)—Finally, a chance to stop the Goats’ bleeding.  Chivas forgot to thank the schedule-makers for their two-month sabbatical with a humiliating 4-0 defeat to the Rapids last weekend.  They’ll do that here against the miserable Red Bulls. Result: Chivas 3-1 Red Bulls. (Bryan says Draw, 2-2) Brian went out on a limb. But Brian picked the Red Bulls not to lose, and therefore will always be wrong.


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 9-16, 19 pts (Last week: 1-5, 2 pts)

Guest Prognosticators 13-12, 27 pts (Last week: 3-3, 6 pts)