The L.A. Galaxy return to MLS action this weekend as they take on a Dallas side that shouldn’t prove too much of an obstacle when you consider how well Bruce Arena’s team has played recently. With Houston facing a tough trip to Columbus, a Galaxy victory this weekend could see L.A. jump to the top of the Western Conference. That would have seemed beyond the Galaxy just a couple of months ago and is further proof to what a tremendous job Bruce Arena has done this year.
Key Man: Stefani Miglioranzi has quietly put together an impressive season and has played his part in what has been a very successful year.
The Crew will begin their homeward stretch of fixtures with a matchup against Western Conference leaders Houston in what many see as a potential MLS Cup preview. The Crew did hit a bumpy patch of form before their bye week, but with only four defeats on the season, they are still one of the toughest sides in the league to beat. I ran in to Andy Iro over the international break and he said he feels that this team is better than the one that won it all last year. That is a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Key Man: Frankie Hejduk is such an inspirational figure for the Crew and his return to full fitness can only help them in their quest to retain their Eastern Conference crown.
The Rapids fought and scrapped their way to another victory as they continued their fine season under Gary Smith. The win may not have been the prettiest in recent history, but the victory does see Colorado move up into third place in the Western Conference, and with games in hand over the sides directly above them in the table. Smith has turned Conor Casey into one of the best strikers in MLS and, as long as the American international remains fit, this team can beat anyone in the league.
Key Man: Matt Pickens has made the number one spot his own in the Rapids lineup and given this side a solid base on which to build upon as they look to continue their climb up the Western Conference.
Time away from MLS action has seen Brain McBride continue his recovery from injury and his imminent return is great news for Fire fans. Chicago did not struggle too badly without the former American international, but if this side is to challenge for silverware this year, it is imperative that the big striker is in the lineup. The Fire is still right in the mix for the Eastern Conference crown but are they strong enough defensively to beat out a very good Columbus side into top spot?
Key Man: At this stage of the season big name players generally step up their level of play so I expect to see Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the score sheet regularly over the next few weeks.
Houston’s recent patch of poor form may be worrying to their fans but they are still top of the Western Conference heading into the final few weeks of the season. Eddie Robinson’s return from injury adds depth to an already stacked squad, but it’s at the attacking end where Dominic Kinnear’s side has struggled in recent games. Houston face a tough trip to Columbus this weekend in a match that will tell us a lot more about the title credentials of this team.
Key Man: Luis Landin will now take center stage as Houston looks to solidify their position at the top of the Western Conference.
The Sounders may have secured their first trophy after their U.S. Open Cup success but their playoff position is under threat after a recent run of choppy form in MLS play. With the Rapids recent surge, Seattle is now down to fourth in the table, and with RSL and Chivas USA just a point behind, there can be no more room for error if Seattle wants to make the postseason in its first year of existence.
Key Man: Osvaldo Alonso has had an up and down season but Seattle is a better team when he is on top form.
D.C. shrugged off the disappointment of a thrilling U.S. Open Cup loss and a draw with Dallas last weekend by picking up a vital three points in their Wednesday victory over K.C. The victory propels Tom Soehn’s side back into the mix for a playoff spot. D.C.’s form has been inconsistent over the course of the season, but with payers like Jaime Moreno and Luciano Emilio, they are more than a match for anyone on their day. Soehn’s only problem is finding his best starting XI — something a head coach shouldn’t have to do with only a few games in the regular season remaining.
Key Man: Luciano Emilio is one of the best finishers in this league and Tom Soehn needs his top striker to return to form if his side is to make it to the postseason.
No matter how bad RSL have been away from home — and they have been really bad — they are still right in the hunt for a playoff spot. It is conceivable to think that RSL will win their three remaining home games and make a push for the postseason, but they will need to pick up something from their games at Houston, Dallas and Toronto if they are to be sure of reaching the postseason.
Key Man: Kyle Beckerman has to lead by example as RSL get ready for a very important stretch of games that will define their season.
The Revolution’s recent run of fine form came to a screeching halt after a shocking home loss to K.C. last weekend. The Revs still have games in hand over the sides above them in the Eastern Conference, but I’m sure Steve Nicol would have picked the home clash with the Wizards as one that his side should win as they play catch-up with the top sides in the east. The Revs have enough quality to make the playoffs but can’t afford any more slip-ups against some of the so-called lesser sides in MLS.
Key Man: Edgaras Jankauskas will look to build on his goal-scoring performance against K.C. last weekend after a difficult start to his MLS career.
Chivas USA need to recapture their early season form quickly if they are to stay in the playoff race in the Western Conference. The Goats have looked very ordinary over the last few months with too many attacking players not playing at the high levels they have done in the past. Maykel Galindo has struggled since returning, and without a creative spark this club will struggle to make it back to the postseason.
Key Man: Eduardo Lillingston may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the striker may be Preki’s best attacking option in the final third.
Toronto missed a golden opportunity to close the gap on the sides above them in the Eastern Conference as they fell to a scrappy defeat at the hands of Colorado last weekend. Toronto’s problem over the last few years has been finding a level of consistency to compete at the top end of the conference, and that hasn’t really changed under Chris Cummins. This team has a lot of talent but I still can’t see them winning enough games to make the playoffs.
Key Man: Sam Cronin is just one of a host of talented youngsters that should ensure Toronto has a very bright future. Unfortunately this season may be too soon for many of those players.
With the Juan Carlos Osorio era now just a memory, New York fans can look forward to the future again. With a new stadium on the horizon and personnel changes aplenty predicted for the offseason, this could be the last season we see this great franchise struggle. Then again, they could give their head coaching job to another bumbling foreigner and be right back at square one again.
Key Man: Dane Richards’ career had stalled after an indifferent start to the season but now looks like he is returning to the form that makes him such an attacking threat.
Dallas may not be the best side in MLS but at least they are an entertaining team to watch. Although judging by their crowds, the people in Texas don’t seem to think so. Schellas Hyndman has his side playing some very good attacking football but they still struggle defensively and that is ultimately the reason they are already out of the playoff race.
Key Man: Dave van den Bergh was a key component of New York’s great playoff run last year and he remains one of the most consistent performers in MLS.
The Wizards ended their run of poor form in spectacular fashion with a super win at New England last weekend. The first half dismissal of Shalrie Joseph made it a lot easier for K.C., but that shouldn’t take away from their best performance under Peter Vermes. Unfortunately, the midweek defeat to D.C. again showcased many of this teams attacking inefficiencies. Major changes need to be made in the offseason.
Key Man: Josh Wolff returned to form against New England last weekend and the experienced striker needs to continue that kind of form if K.C. is to end their season on a high.
I’m pretty sure that Frank Yallop cannot wait for this season to end so he can begin work on building a side capable of challenging at the top end of the Western Conference. The only problem for Yallop is that there is no guarantee that he will still be in a job at the season’s end. His side’s form from now until the end of the season may dictate that so don’t expect this San Jose side to lie down and die just yet.
Key Man: No game this week.
Fox Soccer Channel’s Keith Costiganwrites about American soccer for FOXSoccer.com, and contributes his blogto interact with his fans.