MLS: Keys to Every Game This Weekend
MLS Matchday 6 began on Wednesday with the Vancouver Whitecaps drawing the Columbus Crew at home, but there are nine matches this weekend, many of which are very enticing matchups.
FC Dallas faces the Colorado Rapids on Friday in the first game of the weekend as the Hoops try to bounce back from their loss to the Portland Timbers.
The New England Revolution host the Crew on Saturday in a rematch from the playoffs last year. Meanwhile, D.C. United will try to avenge the team's 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls from March 22.
Sunday is highlighted by two of the most entertaining matches of the week. The Portland Timbers will welcome Orlando City SC to town in the early kickoff. The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders will cap off the day in their first meeting since the Western Conference final last season.
Here are the keys to every game this weekend.
FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids: Utilize the Center of the Field
FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids need to exploit the center of the field. Dallas has no issue utilizing the central areas with midfielders Victor Ulloa, Michel and Mauro Diaz (who is injured). Colorado, on the other hand, has barely attacked through the middle of the pitch.
Dallas is more versatile with the plethora of options it has at full-back, plus the Hoops have one of the most talented wingers in MLS in Fabian Castillo. This allows them to penetrate defenses on the flanks and in the middle.
However, Colorado has attacked through the wings a lot this season, so the hosts may be able to take advantage and quickly counter through the center of the field.
The Rapids were exposed centrally when Juan Agudelo made a surging run and scored the opening goal for the New England Revolution last week. The Revolution also managed to create chances out wide after catching Colorado too high up the pitch, so Dallas could benefit from the same situations.
New England Revolution vs. Columbus Crew: Columbus' Tactics
The Columbus Crew may have tied the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday, but they executed a game plan and it was pretty effective.
Kei Kamara drifted out wide and used his pace and strength to open up space for a shot. When that failed, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay would collect the ball on the flanks and run at Vancouver's defenders.
Defensively, the Crew did a decent job at sitting deep and shutting down Pedro Morales, but they were caught off guard twice on both of Vancouver's goals.
The New England Revolution have a similar attack to Vancouver's. Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen and Juan Agudelo are tricky players, so the Crew will likely utilize the same tactic they used against the Whitecaps.
New England has the capability of combating this, especially if Jermaine Jones is fit to start. When Columbus counters, the Revs have to close down whoever is on the ball and swiftly move the ball forward.
Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC: John McCarthy
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin benched Rais M'Bolhi, and now the goalkeeper has taken a leave of absence, per the official MLS website. Due to Andre Blake's injury, John McCarthy will start against New York City FC on Saturday.
McCarthy was named USL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 and is slated to make his first MLS appearance this weekend. It's a great story, but he's also going up against one of the most lethal strikers of the last decade in David Villa.
On the bright side for McCarthy, the bar for Union goalkeepers is at an all-time low. M'Bolhi's poor performances have alleviated most of the pressure on the 22-year-old.
The Union defense has been relatively solid, but it's up to the defenders to help out their young goalkeeper. Confidence is important for shot-stoppers, and McCarthy will need it when he faces NYCFC.
D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls: Midfield Battle
The New York Red Bulls' midfield trio of Dax McCarty, Felipe and Sacha Kljestan has been one of the best in MLS so far this season. The defensive qualities of McCarty coupled with the creativity and vision of Felipe and Kljestan are a major factor in the Red Bulls' impressive start to the campaign.
New York's opponent, D.C. United, has a few solid midfielders of their own. Perry Kitchen is a defensive anchor and Davy Arnaud is a box-to-box player. Nick DeLeon, Michael Farfan and Chris Rolfe provide the width.
However, in the previous match at Red Bull Arena, New York controlled the midfield. The hosts had 52 percent possession, per the official MLS website.
Only the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders have had more possession than New York, per WhoScored.com. If D.C. can keep the ball, it should be able to defeat its bitter rivals.
Houston Dynamo vs. Montreal Impact: Width
The Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact love to spread the ball across the field. Houston midfielder Brad Davis, one of the league's best playmakers, is arguably the team's most important player.
However, despite Davis' influence, the Dynamo have struggled to score goals, with just two to their name in five games.
The Dynamo attempted 31 crosses against the Seattle Sounders last week, per MLS' official website, but they were held off the scoresheet yet again. The absence of a true goalscorer hurts both Houston and Montreal, but the former will have Erick Torres this summer.
Both teams have combined for just four goals in 2015, so this game will likely be a low-scoring affair, but expect quality chances from the wings, especially on the break.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake: The Playmakers
Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales has been sensational this season. Though RSL head coach Jeff Cassar has switched to a 4-3-3, it hasn't affected the Argentinean playmaker whatsoever. He's scored two goals, recording three assists in the process.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber has been equally impressive, but he started the campaign in a deep-lying role. The American still recorded two assists in SKC's opening two matches.
Feilhaber was underrated last year, and he's still being overlooked. Going up against one of MLS' elite playmakers is the perfect stage for him to showcase his abilities.
Both players will be relied upon to set up their teammates, but they have to be closed down, because their vision allows them to execute inch-perfect passes. RSL grabbed a late win against Toronto FC thanks to two delightful assists from Morales, but he had too much time and space.
If SKC doesn't tightly mark Morales, or RSL fails to shut down Feilhaber, this game will be an exciting one for neutrals.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Whitecaps Attack
The Vancouver Whitecaps are one of the most exciting teams to watch in MLS. Octavio Rivero has scored five goals in six games, Pedro Morales is dazzling fans with his silky footwork and precise passing, plus the speed of Kekuta Manneh out wide gives the Whitecaps several dimensions in attack.
However, there have been moments when Vancouver's forwards have been ineffective. Toronto FC shut down the Whitecaps attack in the second half of the season opener by marking Morales.
The Columbus Crew used the same tactic on Wednesday, but were caught napping on a quick throw-in and a long pass from Pa Modou Kah.
The San Jose Earthquakes have to mark Morales and Rivero tightly, because they have the ability to drop deep and find space to execute a pass or make a run. Manneh and Nicolas Mezquida also need to be closed down, because if they get space to run at the Earthquakes full-backs, then San Jose will be punished.
Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City SC: Finishing Chances
The Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC should have more points, but their poor finishing has let them down so far in 2015.
The Timbers learned their lesson from their loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps two weeks ago. Portland recorded 12 shots, with six on target, per the official MLS website, in the team's 3-1 win over FC Dallas last weekend.
Orlando City SC, on the other hand, lost another home game at the death to D.C. United after conceding a goal via a Luis Silva free kick last Friday.
Orlando doesn't have a clinical striker at the moment without Pedro Ribeiro, which is a shame because Kaka has been brilliant at creating chances.
Cyle Larin is expected to start in Ribeiro's place, per Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel. The Lions have created plenty of chances, but the team's strikers haven't been able to convert. The playmaking abilities are there, but if Orlando wants to make the playoffs, it has to be more clinical in front of goal.
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders: Sounders Defense
The Seattle Sounders attack is one of the best in the league. The defense is still a slight concern with the injury to Leo Gonzalez, but Dylan Remick performed decently at left-back in the Costa Rican's absence.
The Sounders will be facing an LA Galaxy side that hasn't scored in back-to-back games for the first time since 2012, per the official MLS website. Coincidentally, Seattle was one of the teams that shut out the Galaxy that year.
The Sounders will have to be wary with Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Stefan Ishizaki on the pitch. Jose Villarreal and Mika Vayrynen are injured, but head coach Bruce Arena expects them to be fit for the weekend, per Adam Serrano on the official club website.
The Galaxy were ineffective without Villarreal on the left flank against the Whitecaps. If he starts, right-back Tyrone Mears must be attentive whenever the 21-year-old has the ball.
Keane and Zardes will be influential centrally, and without the suspended Gonzalo Pineda, the Sounders will have their work cut out for them.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.