MLS Weekend Preview: Rivalry Week takes center stage

BY Kyle McCarthy • August 28, 2015

Midfield crucial as Red Bulls, United renew hostilities

Tempo looms as perhaps the most important concern as these two sides meet at Red Bull Arena on Sunday (live, 7:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports GO). New York invited Chicago back into the game on Wednesday when it conceded possession too readily after scoring the opener (the Fire actually enjoyed more of the ball in the opening half-hour and mustered a reply in the process) and showed frailties at the back. United -- like the Fire -- isn't a team particularly concerned with possession, but the Eastern Conference leaders do want to hit the Red Bulls when they concede the ball in poor areas. The onus falls squarely on the Red Bulls to instead press high to unsettle a United defense prone to conceding early and then use the numerical advantage to exert the control never obtained in midweek.

Gut check time for Timbers, Sounders

There is no motivation necessary ahead of the Cascadia derby, but the Sounders and the Timbers meet at CenturyLink Field on Sunday with a desperate need to procure points. San Jose's recent revival places their postseason berths under threat, particularly with the Sounders in such dire form. The performances last weekend -- the Timbers required a two-goal response to secure a 2-2 home draw with Houston, while the Sounders slumped to a 10th defeat in 13 games with a tame 2-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake -- hardly reflected the need for improvement. Expect this tense derby affair to offer a more realistic measure of where the two teams stand heading into the homestretch.

Galaxy centerbacks on the spot in Cali Clasico

It is difficult to imagine vulnerabilities as LA Galaxy tear through opponent after opponent, but San Jose might probe one or two of them at Avaya Stadium on Friday. The best bet for the resurgent Earthquakes: relying on Quincy Amarikwa and Chris Wondolowski to cause problems with their movement up front. Amarikwa and Wondolowski posed a constant threat to Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United last week with their willingness to hold up the play (Amarikwa) and peel into awkward areas for defenders (Wondolowski).

Their deft work in combination creates some problems for Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo. Both Galaxy center backs have performed well this year, but they also tend to flare out to the wide areas too willingly to cover for absent fullbacks and leave themselves exposed in the process. If the Earthquakes can get the ball wide and stretch the Galaxy horizontally, then those tendencies could finally create room for Amarikwa and Wondolowski to mine and shift some of the focus away from that marauding Galaxy attack.

Can the Impact construct an alternative route through BMO Field?

The absence of Didier Drogba attracted most of the attention ahead of the midweek defeat at Vancouver in the second leg of the Canadian Championship final, but the continued omission of Ignacio Piatti with a calf injury perhaps proved more fatal. Piatti serves as the hub of everything for the Impact going forward. His integral role in carving open the opposition and linking the play together ensures those runs from the wide players and those surges behind the line from Dominic Oduro cut open the opposition. Without Piatti to pull the strings, the Impact look short on both ideas and incisiveness. Drogba's toe injury restricts the possibility of introducing a more direct, aerial element to the play, too. If Drogba and Piatti both miss out, then the Impact might find it difficult to break down a TFC side that looked far more compact in the victory over Orlando City last weekend.

Orlando City must stop the rot against Chicago

The humbling march through summer continued with that painful defeat at BMO Field. Orlando City conceded five goals to Toronto FC without mustering a reply. It marked the third consecutive match without a goal for the expansion side. Those trends must end when Chicago visits the Citrus Bowl on Saturday. The path to improvement starts with discipline on and off the ball. Orlando City must cut out those rash decisions in the tackle and track those fleet and mobile Fire wingers carefully. If those measures yield more solidity at the back, then perhaps Kaka and Cyle Larin can end the drought in the attacking third. The recent skid and the impending departures of Kaka and Larin to international duty next weekend increase the impetus to sort things out in short order.

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