MLS W2W4: Eyes on Donovan, Timbers trifecta and Hackworth's future...
A selection of intriguing storylines to watch this weekend:
Eyes still on Landon
Don't think the focus on Landon Donovan will subside just because the now former U.S. national team star finally broke the MLS career goals benchmark last weekend.
One unintended consequence of Yanks coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave Donovan off the American roster for next month's World Cup in Brazil is that Donovan will continue to have a stage on which to prove his point playing for the Galaxy.
And if the 32-year-old builds on last week's record-snapping effort against Philadelphia with even more goals in the two matches LA plays ahead of the Americans' June 16 Cup opener--starting with Sunday afternoon's tilt in Chicago--you can be sure that Donovan's controversial snub will remain front and center.
Meantime, the Fire also have something to prove. Frank Yallop's team has managed just two wins this season, and while both victories came in mid-May, Chicago's brief streak was snapped when they dropped a 2-0 to Columbus last week. On Sunday, the hosts will be looking for all three points. Whether they get them or not could hinge on their ability to keep Donovan off the scoresheet.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Can Portland push its streak to three wins?
If there's going to be a turnaround in the Portland Timbers' season, it has to begin now. With consecutive wins under their belts after road victories in New York over the Red Bulls and Los Angeles over Chivas USA, Saturday's home date with Cascadia rival Vancouver is a chance to turn a short two-game winning streak into real season-saving momentum.
The schedule hasn't been kind leading into the match against the Whitecaps, Portland's third in eight days. Caleb Porter made clear his distaste for the coast-to-coast turnaround in comments leading into Wednesday's game, then rested several starters against Chivas USA. That rest should stand the Timbers in good stead against the speedy Whitecaps, who present a significant defensive challenge for a side whose defense has been its weakest are all season.
On the other end of the field, the Timbers have a new weapon, Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi. Adi scored both goals against Chivas and could be the target forward the Timbers need to replicate their 2013 success. Adi represents an admission on the part of Porter that his attempts to play without target man simply weren't working. The quicker Adi adjusts to MLS, the more possible a Timbers turnaround becomes.
Two wins does not a playoff-promising turnaround make, especially when those wins were just Portland's second and third of the season. The momentum the Timbers built on their coast-hopping sojourn has to carry over against Vancouver and beyond if Porter's team is going to overcome their painfully difficult start and get back where they feel they rightly belong -- the playoffs.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Must-win game for woeful Philadelphia
With just 11 points out of 14 games, things have not gone to plan for the Philadelphia Union and their head coach John Hackworth. This was a club that wanted to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011 and despite spending more than usual this offseason, the Union appear to be heading backwards instead of making strides.
Club veterans like Sebastian Le Toux, Conor Casey and Sheanon Williams haven't lived up to their production level of previous seasons and it even looks like the team's poor form has hit promising young defender Amobi Okugo, who was a breakout player for the team last season. The lone bright spot of the Union has been the play of DP Maurice Edu but he's even starting to look affected by the club's poor play. Hackworth recently called on better performances from his key players, but the 44-year-old may want to consider his own performance as a coach as well.
With a substandard winning percentage as coach at 35 percent, it appears as if the Union have never quite recovered from their last-season collapse where they won only once in the final 10 games. New England went on to take the last playoff berth from Philadelphia and the Revs' confidence since then has been remarkable. The Union need to get over the hangover of last year's failure and questions remain whether or not Hackworth is the man to do that. However, his luck will be tested this weekend against the perennial farce that is Chivas USA.
The Goats have been more competitive under new coach Wilmer Cabrera but is still in the cellar of the Western Conference -- as expected from a club in a transition year looking for new owners. Hackworth and the Union could rally and reel off an impressive win at the StubHub Center, which reportedly had just over 3,000 fans in Chivas' last game against the Timbers. But if there's anything else but three points on Saturday, expect the knives in Philadelphia to be sharpened.
-- Alex Labidou (@LabidouESPN) Absences hinder game of the season...
Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders, the top two teams in the Western Conference, are battling out this weekend. It should've been the biggest game of the season, but absences on both sides mean that you'll have to put a big asterisk around this one, regardless of who comes out on top.
RSL will be without the World Cup-bound duo of goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Kyle Beckerman. It would have been a trio of internationals headed to Brazil, but Costa Rica forward Alvaro Saborio will be sidelined for the next three to four months with a broken metatarsal. Forward Joao Plata seems doubtful to play after his troublesome hamstring flared up again last weekend.
Seattle is a bit better off, but will still be missing U.S. forward Clint Dempsey and international teammate DeAndre Yedlin.
Both sides have been in excellent form to start the season. Seattle occupies the top spot in the West with 26 points while unbeaten RSL is just two points behind. Real can also set a record by getting a result in the match, which would give it a 13-game unbeaten streak to start the season. Given that the two sides battled out in the playoffs in both 2011 and 2012 only adds to the entertainment value.
Who has the edge? Given the absences on RSL's frontline, not to mention the fact that the match is being played in Seattle, one would think that the Sounders would be favorites. But RSL's well documented ability to get results, be it at home or on the road, point to a draw.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@jeffreycarlisle)