MLS Picks and Predictions for Saturday March 11
On the heels of a fun opening weekend, the second week of MLS action for the 2017 season is upon us. The first week saw a few upsets, with the Houston Dynamo most notably toppling the defending league champion Seattle Sounders 2-1.
Does week two have more madness in store? Saturday brings a hefty eight-game slate, so let’s take a look, shall we?
Both of these clubs opened up their respective campaigns with draws. Real Salt Lake were held at home by Toronto FC, while the Fire went to Columbus and earned a 1-1 result.
Chicago appeared rather rusty in falling behind 1-0 to Columbus in the first half last week, but looked far more comfortable over the final 45 minutes in drawing the game level.
For their home opener this week, the Fire will get to see the new midfield pairing of Dax McCarty and Juninho for the first time in the regular season. Juninho was suspended for the game against the Crew after picking up a red card in his final Liga MX game last November, but will likely be in the starting 11 when the Fire take on RSL.
As for Salt Lake, a goalless draw to open the season may sound uninspired, but it was a strong defensive effort keeping high-powered Toronto FC from finding the back of the net last weekend. Considering Toronto nearly won MLS Cup last season, a home draw isn’t the worst result.
These two teams have had a history of close results. Both clubs are 6-6-7 in the 19 meetings against one another, with Real Salt Lake having won the most recent meeting. RSL beat Chicago 3-1 in Salt Lake City last August.
The Fire look to be a much improved side this season, though, and they’ll build off their positive result against Columbus with a victory in their home opener this week.
Orlando City opened up the season with an impressive 1-0 win over New York City FC last week, but the victory came at a fairly hefty cost. Star man Kaká went down about 10 minutes into the game and is set to miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury.
New pickup and former Dynamo man Giles Barnes is likely to assume Kaká’s place in the starting 11 moving forward. Within five minutes of coming on as the Brazilian’s injury replacement, Barnes wound up notching what would be the game-winning assist on Cyle Larin’s goal.
Barnes scored 31 times in 113 appearances for Houston during his five-year stint with the club, so he has a strong track record when it comes to scoring in MLS.
As for New England, they dropped the season opener at Colorado 1-0 and also suffered a key injury. Lee Nguyen, last season’s club leader in assists with 10, was forced off the pitch with a right ankle contusion. He is currently considered questionable to face Orlando City.
The Revolution didn’t seriously threaten to score against the Rapids, though Colorado has become an incredibly difficult place to score goals for road clubs over the last couple of seasons. They finished 2016 strong with four consecutive home victories in which they netted 11 goals and conceded only two. They’ll be looking to build on that run on Saturday afternoon.
Nguyen’s status affects quite a bit for New England. Even if he’s fit to play, though, Orlando looked strong enough in attack last week that they should be able to earn themselves a share of the spoils in this one.
Following a stingy 2016 campaign during which they allowed the fewest goals in MLS (32), Colorado stuck with that strategy in earning a 1-0 win over New England in their 2017 debut last week. The Rapids were never really threatened by the Revs at all in that one, and Dominique Badji’s goal proved to be the difference.
Colorado should see a boost this week with Shkelzen Gashi likely to return to the pitch. Gashi sat out the opener with an Achilles injury. While he may not start, there’s still a good chance we see him come on as a substitute at some point against New York. The 28-year-old Swiss international contributed nine goals with five assists last year in his first MLS campaign.
As for the Red Bulls, they earned themselves an impressive 2-1 comeback victory over MLS debutants Atlanta United last week. Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first half and looking largely punchless throughout, New York got on the board in the 77th minute when Daniel Royer found the back of the net from a corner kick.
They would take the lead for good a few minutes later when Bradley Wright-Phillips seemed to slot one home. The goal was later ruled an own goal against Anton Walkes, but the goal stood nonetheless.
Striker Gonzalo Veron will likely miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, which means Sacha Kljestan will likely fill in up top again. He looked out of sorts in that position last week, but New York were still able to come away with all three points.
It may be tough for New York to break down Colorado’s stifling defense in this one. However, the home side showed great resolve in coming from behind to beat Atlanta, so one would imagine they’ll find a way here in the home opener.
Here, we have a battle between a pair of Eastern Conference clubs that each came away with a point in their respective 2017 openers. Toronto were held 0-0 at Real Salt Lake, while Philly finished 0-0 at Vancouver.
This will be the first meeting between these teams since Toronto disposed of Philadelphia in the first round of last year’s MLS Cup playoffs, 3-1.
The Union will be looking to make more noise offensively after a fairly uninspired offensive showing in week one. They mustered just seven shots against the Whitecaps, five of which were on goal. Goalscoring wasn’t an issue for the Union last season, and they’ll lean on American international Alejandro Bedoya as well as Jay Simpson to lead the charge on Saturday.
Toronto are one of the few teams starting this season with back-to-back road games. They should have gone into Salt Lake City last weekend and come away with all three points, but former league MVP Sebastian Giovinco had his penalty kick saved by keeper Nick Rimando.
Still, a clean sheet and a point away from home against a playoff-caliber club is far from the worst result TFC could have gotten in the first game of the new campaign.
Philadelphia will be out for revenge in this one after being knocked out of the playoffs by this very club last winter. In front of a strong home crowd at Talen Energy Stadium, they should be strong enough to get their result.
As is the case with Toronto, the defending MLS Cup champion Sounders play a road game for the second straight week when they take on the Montreal Impact on Saturday evening.
This could be the marquee event of the day as two teams that made it to the final four of the playoffs last season are set to do battle. The Sounders were surprisingly beaten by the Houston Dynamo last week, while Montreal suffered a setback in San Jose against the Earthquakes.
Clint Dempsey returned to the pitch last week after having his 2016 season cut short thanks to an irregular heartbeat. He didn’t take long to make his presence felt, as he scored in the 58th minute for Seattle’s lone tally against Houston. That marked Dempsey’s sixth goal in his last four games dating back to last season.
The Sounders saw 65 percent of the possession down in Houston, but still mustered fewer shots and shots on goal than the Dynamo. Regardless, Seattle figures to be one of the most potent offensive clubs in the league this season with Dempsey returning to play alongside danger men Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. Lodeiro scored four goals and notched eight assists in just 13 regular season appearances after joining Seattle midway through last season, while Morris led the club with 12 goals.
The Impact lost Didier Drogba during the offseason, but still figure to boast one of the strongest attacks in the Eastern Conference. Ignacio Piatti finished last season with a total of 21 goals with eight assists (playoffs included) and has emerged as one of the best overall players in the league for Montreal.
He, as well as Dominic Oduro and Matteo Mancosu, figure to prove problematic for a Sounders defense that struggled with Houston’s counterattack last week.
It’s tough to imagine the defending champs dropping each of their first two games, but the Impact’s high-octane attack will be tough to slow down in front of a huge Montreal home crowd.
The Dynamo come into this one riding high on the heels of their aforementioned 2-1 win over Seattle last week. Columbus, on the other hand, were held 1-1 by the Chicago Fire in their home opener.
Houston comes into this season looking largely different from the team that finished near the bottom of the Western Conference a season ago. Newcomer Romell Quioto immediately made his presence felt, as he curled a 20-yard strike from outside the box past Stefan Frei to double the Dynamo’s lead last week. That goal was good enough to earn MLS Goal of the Week honors, and was certainly quite a way to introduce himself to his new club.
Houston generated 16 shots against Seattle, which is an indication that this team is more attack-minded than it was a year ago. They successfully utilized the high press to win the ball back from the Sounders in dangerous areas, which helped make up for a glaring possession discrepancy (65-35).
Columbus started strongly last week against Chicago before faltering in the second half. Ethan Finlay got on the scoresheet for the Crew in the first half by heading home a cross from Justim Meram, only for the club to concede a David Accam equalizer in the 73rd minute.
Columbus had numerous chances to extend their lead early, but were unable to beat Fire keeper Jorge Bava, who was impressive in his MLS debut.
Houston gets the rare chance to open the season with back-to-back home fixtures, and they should be able to reel off another win in this spot.
Fresh off of their first ever Supporters’ Shield last season, FC Dallas earned an impressive 2-1 win at LA Galaxy in their 2017 opener. 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta scored one of the most impressive goals of the opening weekend, beating Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe at the near post with what proved to be the game-winner.
Acosta has now scored three times in three appearances this season (CONCACAF Champions League included) and looks perfectly suited for his new box-to-box role in the midfield. Were it not for a dubious penalty drawn by LA’s Dave Romney, FCD would have likely earned themselves an impressive clean sheet at one of MLS’ most hostile environments.
Sporting KC failed to score in their opener, but earning a point on the road in MLS can be a difficult task. They had plenty of chances to get out in front – including a free attempt right in front of goal that leading scorer Dom Dwyer put over the bar – but ultimately were forced to share the points with DC United.
Despite Dallas being one of the stronger sides in the league over the last several seasons, KC have actually had good success against them. Sporting are the only team in the league to have beaten FCD three times in the regular season since 2015, and own a 3-2-1 record against the Western Conference power in that span.
Going on the road into a pair of tough road stadiums and notching two wins is a tall order, even for a team of FCD’s caliber. They may have to settle for a point here, which isn’t a bad result for either side.
The Earthquakes got off to a positive start as they seek their first playoff appearance since 2012. San Jose earned an impressive 1-0 win over Eastern power Montreal Impact last Saturday and will be looking to make it two in-a-row with Vancouver coming to town this week.
After a thrilling win over New York Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League the previous Thursday, Vancouver were held to a scoreless draw by Philadelphia in their MLS season opener.
Nick Lima, a home grown talent, helped the Quakes keep Ignacio Piatti in check in the first match of the year. For all their struggles last season, San Jose actually boasted a strong defensive record in their home park. The Earthquakes conceded only 12 goals at Avaya Stadium all of last season, which was the third-fewest in MLS.
The Whitecaps are still incorporating a few new pieces, most notably Fredy Montero. If he can continue to acclimate to playing alongside his new teammates, there is reason to believe Vancouver can make some noise out west this season.
Still, this is a team on a pretty steep learning curve. 16-year-old Alphonso Davies has people justifiably excited, but it could still be a while before this club really hits its stride. They also struggled away from home last season, failing to score in eight of their last nine away games in 2016.