Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Goalkeepers in Focus for Union-Rapids Clash

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2016

Apr 30, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (1) in action against the San Jose Earthquakes at Talen Energy Stadium. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

No matter where the respective careers of Zac MacMath and Andre Blake take them, they will always be linked together. 

The pair of goalkeepers, who have been intertwined since the Philadelphia Union drafted Blake with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, will face off for the first time on Saturday, when the first-place side in the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids, host Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia. 

Both netminders have taken a similar, but different, path to their current positions. Philadelphia's disastrous signing of Rais MBolhi in 2014 kept MacMath and Blake out of a starting role. MacMath was cast out on loan to the Rapids, but he didn't play in 2015. Blake has only started to establish himself as one of the league's top players at his position after the MBolhi debacle and injuries held him back. 

Despite both careers' upward trajectory, the former teammates may not face each other for quite some time due to a few factors. MacMath is set to hit the bench once again thanks to an incoming goalkeeper. After the Copa America Centenario concludes, Tim Howard will assume the No. 1 position in Colorado. Even if MacMath is in solid form, the Rapids don't have many reasons to justify sitting a multimillion-dollar acquisition every week. 

May 21, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath (18) during the first half against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at Blake's case, he may not be playing in Major League Soccer for years to come. The Jamaica international has shined so far this season for the Union, and no one would criticize the club for selling the 25-year-old to a major European club to make a profit. Just like Cyle Larin at Orlando City, Blake may end up having to move to Europe in order to get the best out of his talent at the club and international levels. 

As for Saturday's contest at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, it marks a vital measuring stick for both clubs before the Copa break hits after two days of midweek action on Wednesday and Thursday. The Rapids can become the first team to reach 30 points this season with a victory on Saturday. Colorado earned 37 points in the entire 2015 campaign. 

A road win in Week 13 would be a massive statement for the Union, who have played tough against some of the league's best but only have a growing collection of draws to show for it. Usually wins against out-of- conference foes don't matter much in MLS, but if Jim Curtin's men were to defeat the surging Rapids in their home stadium, it could cause quite a stir across MLS, and it would make the Union the first 20-point club in the Eastern Conference. 

Mar 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (1) celebrates with defender Keegan Rosenberry (12) after their win against the New England Revolution ended at Talen Energy Stadium. The Union defeated the Revolution, 3-0. Ma
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The other big story to watch in Week 13 is how the Houston Dynamo respond to the sudden departure of manager Owen Coyle. The 49-year-old officially parted ways with the club late on Wednesday night during a time window the United States men's national team's pre-Copa friendly against Ecuador dominated. 

Coyle's time in Houston will go down as one of the bigger managerial failures in MLS history. The Scottish manager never fully adjusted to all the MLS quirks and proved once again how tough it is for foreign coaches to be successful over a long time in the one-of-a-kind league. 

The pieces are there for the Dynamo to be competitive in the Western Conference in the near future, but the front office must make a quality hire. Some of the job candidates include assistant Wade Barrett and Wilmer Cabrera. Cabrera, who previously managed Chivas USA before the club folded, currently leads the Dynamo's USL affiliate. 

Below we'll have a look at the rest of the Week 13 action in our weekend preview. 

 

Week 13 Schedule

D.C. United at Sporting Kansas City (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Houston Dynamo at Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Seattle Sounders at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

LA Galaxy at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Portland Timbers at Chicago Fire (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Philadelphia Union at Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

FC Dallas at San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Orlando City at New York City FC (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

 

Players to Watch

Nick DeLeon, CM, D.C. United

How Ben Olsen aligns his D.C. United side for Friday's match against Sporting Kansas City is anyone's guess. The Black and Red will be without the injured pair of Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko as well as Steve Birnbaum, who is on international duty with the USMNT. 

May 8, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon (14) moves across the pitch as New York City FC defender Ronald Matarrita (22) defends during the second half at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. New York City FC defeated D.C. United 2-0.  M
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One player we can expect to see in midfield no matter where he plays is Nick DeLeon. The 25-year-old has found himself in more of a central role in 2016, but he could be shifted to the wing out of necessity in Week 13. 

Regardless of where he starts at Children's Mercy Park, DeLeon must provide a calming presence and help D.C. find a way to generate chances early on the road. If that doesn't happen, we could be set for another dull performance out of the Black and Red. 

 

Will Bruin, FW, Houston Dynamo

Houston has a chance to head into the Copa break on a positive wave of momentum, but achieving that won't be easy as road trips to Vancouver and FC Dallas await in the next week. 

Apr 10, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo defender Will Bruin (12) during a game against the Seattle Sounders at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Forward Will Bruin, who started the season with three goals and two assists in his first three games, has a chance to help himself and the Dynamo rebound from a rough week with a surprising win at BC Place.

Bruin's job won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination against a Whitecaps team that appears to be putting everything together at the moment, but if he can use his physical play and runs into the box to his advantage, Houston could leave British Columbia with at least a point. 

 

Jason Hernandez, CB, New York City FC 

Sunday presents New York City FC with a critical point in its brief two-year existence. 

Apr 30, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC defender Jason Hernandez (2) reacts after Vancouver Whitecaps was awarded a penalty kick during the second half at Yankee Stadium. New York City FC defeated the Whitecaps 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Vieira's men are coming off a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, and they have to face a national audience once again on Sunday against Orlando City. 

All eyes will be on Jason Hernandez and the underwhelming NYCFC back four. If they produce another lackluster performance versus a dynamic attack led by Larin, questions will begin to circulate about the squad's motivation. The good news, if there is any at the moment, for NYCFC is it won't have to face Kaka, who was called into Brazil's Copa squad to replace Douglas Costa. 

 

Game of the Week

Philadelphia Union at Colorado Rapids

We touched on the conference leaders' clash above, but there is more to Saturday's contest in Commerce City, Colorado, than the storylines attached to the starting goalkeepers. 

The top matchup worth watching is Philadelphia's attack against Colorado's improving defense. C.J. Sapong will test the Rapids back line, which Axel Sjoberg leads, with his physical play for every second he's on the pitch. The Union also possess a nice creative backbone, led by Tranquillo Barnetta, who is beginning to round into form after missing the early parts of the season with an injury.

Colorado will have a challenge on its hands as it looks to replace Jermaine Jones' and Shkelzen Gashi's contributions. Jones, who is currently with the USMNT, has played the No. 10 role to near-perfection since returning from his six-game suspension, while Gashi, an Albania international, has adjusted well to MLS on the left side of midfield.

The Rapids will have Republic of Ireland forward Kevin Doyle at their disposal since he will leave for his country's Euro 2016 camp after Saturday. The 32-year-old will challenge the Union back line that is surprising many week after week. Shutdown right back Keegan Rosenberry, veteran left back Fabinho and third-year center back Richie Marquez will most likely play with center back Ken Tribbett for the first time since April 8 due to Joshua Yaro suffering an injury on Wednesday against Orlando. 

The only thing that could hinder an exciting match is the Union's traveling conditions. They have gone from central Florida's humidity to Colorado's mile-high atmosphere in a short period. If the elements get the best of the Union, it could be a one-sided affair. 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.