MLS: Keys to Every Game on Matchday 5
MLS Matchday 5 begins on Friday with Orlando City SC hosting D.C. United on UniMas. The teams are separated by one point entering this game after D.C.'s win over the LA Galaxy last week.
Saturday features five games, three of which are late kickoffs. FC Dallas versus the Portland Timbers is arguably the marquee matchup of the day. The Timbers have yet to win a game and will be desperate for a victory.
Sunday's doubleheader begins with the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake at Avaya Stadium on ESPN2. Sporting Kansas City will host the lowly Philadelphia Union on Fox Sports 1 to close out the weekend.
Here are the keys to every match this weekend in MLS.
Orlando City SC vs. D.C. United: Containing Kaka
Closing down Kaka seems like an obvious tactic. However, in four appearances, none of his opponents were able to restrict his space. The Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps did a decent job, but the Brazilian still recorded a couple of quality chances.
D.C. United has conceded a league-high 16.3 shots per game, according to WhoScored.com. D.C.'s job will be tougher without defender Steve Birnbaum, who is out for four to six weeks with an ankle injury, per Steven Goff of The Washington Post.
While D.C. is missing a couple of key players, Orlando's squad will be deeper than last week, with Kevin Molino and Rafael Ramos returning from international duty. Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita are also increasing their workload in training, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Paul Tenorio.
This is great news for Kaka, who may have a few more weapons around him on Friday. However, Tenorio is also reporting that the playmaker has a minor calf issue and was held out of training as a precaution. Head coach Adrian Heath says that he'll be fit to start on Friday, though.
Kaka is integral to The Lions' attack, so it will be up to a weakened D.C. back line to nullify the 32-year-old.
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC: Aerial Duels
Toronto FC conceded twice against Real Salt Lake last Sunday through two aerial balls from Javier Morales. Luke Mulholland and Jordan Allen capitalized on TFC's poor marking and scored.
Toronto's opponents this week, the Chicago Fire, are also susceptible to set pieces, crosses and long balls. The San Jose Earthquakes struck through set pieces a couple of games ago. Those goals ended up being the difference in a 2-1 win for the Earthquakes.
Toronto head coach Greg Vanney says that center-backs Steven Caldwell and Damien Perquis are questionable for Saturday's game, per Sportsnet's John Molinaro. Both players missed the RSL match due to injuries.
Even with Perquis and Caldwell in the lineup, they were beaten in the air and on crosses by the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Columbus Crew.
The Fire have a healthy back line now that Adailton is fit, but TFC have a physical striker in Jozy Altidore, so aerial balls will be crucial on both sides of the pitch.
Colorado Rapids vs. New England Revolution: Who Is the Rapids' Scoring Outlet?
The Colorado Rapids became the first team in MLS history to start a season with three straight 0-0 draws, per Opta. The defense has been solid, but the attack has been wasteful and lifeless at times this year.
Head coach Pablo Mastroeni has tried everything to fix this problem. Marcelo Sarvas started in a No. 10 role last week against the Houston Dynamo. Dillon Powers was pushed to the flank to make room and Gabriel Torres was the center-forward.
This combination came up short, but the Rapids have to make do until their new designated player Kevin Doyle arrives this summer. The pressure is on as he will be expected to shoulder the burden.
The New England Revolution should have no problem generating chances, but if Mastroeni cannot make do with his current forward corps, Colorado will likely drop points again.
Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo: Sounders' Health
The Seattle Sounders drew 0-0 last week against FC Dallas without Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall. Those four players are arguably the most important members of the squad, so earning a result without them is massive, but their health is still a concern.
Don Ruiz of The News Tribune reported that all four players trained this week and is hopeful that all of them will play on Saturday.
Even if two of the four start, it will be huge for the Sounders. Marco Pappa is also back from international duty, so he'll also be a welcome boost to the squad.
Alonso's injury has affected the team more than anyone because of the qualities he brings to the midfield. His ability to break up opposing attacks has been missed this season, so the sooner he's back, the better.
If either Dempsey or Martins are slotted into the lineup, Seattle should be able to muster at least one shot on target against the Houston Dynamo, unlike last week versus Dallas.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy: Defensive Organization
The Vancouver Whitecaps have won three straight matches thanks to three late goals in the second half of each game. The LA Galaxy have earned just one victory, but with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes back, they'll be threatening the Whitecaps defense.
Vancouver's developing reputation of late-game heroics is admirable. Even when the Whitecaps played poorly, they found a way to win. However, if the Galaxy want to walk out of BC Place with three points, they need to be defensively compact.
Robert Earnshaw scored the winner last week due to the Timbers being out of position at the back. The Galaxy have to make sure they don't create any gaping holes for Octavio Rivero, Pedro Morales and others.
As for the Whitecaps' defense, Keane has been tormenting that back line since he arrived in MLS. The Irishman has scored four goals in eight appearances against Vancouver, per MLS' official website.
The Whitecaps have been decent defensively, but have given up too much space to the opposition. It's vital that Keane, Zardes and the flanks are immediately closed down. Vancouver must be wary on counterattacks as well.
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas: Composure
The Portland Timbers should have earned at least a point against the Vancouver Whitecaps last game. Despite 15 attempts, per the official MLS website, the Timbers succumbed to defeat at BC Place.
Portland has recorded 48 shots this season, per MLS' official website, but they've scored just three goals. The Timbers are learning a new system under head coach Caleb Porter, so that might be affecting the squad, but they've lacked composure in the box in every game, except when they faced the LA Galaxy.
This will need to improve, because FC Dallas have been solid in attack. They've scored the joint-highest amount of goals this season with six and have taken 11 fewer shots than Portland.
Both sides can create chances, but only Dallas has proven that they can finish. The Timbers must capitalize on their opportunities, or else they'll have zero wins from five matches to start the year.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake: Possession
The San Jose Earthquakes nearly came back from 2-0 down to draw the New England Revolution last week, but a poor first half let them down. Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, showed some resilience as they defeated Toronto FC last week.
The Revolution stymied the Earthquakes by taking care of the ball. New England had more possession and completed more passes than San Jose, per the official MLS website.
The Revs also had twice as many shots, which was crucial because the Earthquakes have three lethal attackers. Chris Wondolowski, Innocent Emeghara and Matias Perez Garcia have been involved in four of the team's six goals this season.
Real Salt Lake also have the personnel to keep hold of the ball. Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil and Javier Morales will be tasked with creating chances and making sure San Jose's attackers don't get possession.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union: Creating Chances
The Philadelphia Union are at the bottom of the MLS standings and have failed to score in three of their four games. Sporting Kansas City's top scorer is center-back Ike Opara, with Roger Espinoza scoring the team's only other goal.
It's clear that both sides have struggled to score goals so far this campaign, but it's not due to a lack of trying. SKC has registered the joint-highest amount of shots (54), per the official MLS website, with the Union recording 45.
Philadelphia has been missing key players due to injuries and suspensions, so they can be forgiven. However, Sporting KC's Dom Dwyer has been ineffective, despite being one of the leading scorers a year ago.
Dwyer will have a tough match without teammate Graham Zusi, who is ruled out of the next two games with a hamstring injury, per MLS' Steve Brisendine.
Union head coach Jim Curtin confirmed that Fred, Zach Pfeffer and Cristian Maidana will be unavailable, per Ed Farnsworth of The Philly Soccer Page. Both teams will be hampered in attack, meaning chance creation will come at a premium.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.