Columbus missing Kamara; Colorado still improving; LA back to full strength
Crew SC visit SKC still reeling from Kamara loss
Two teams with high hopes for 2016 clash in Kansas City on Sunday in a cross-conference match of significant importance. It may only be the halfway point of a long Major League Soccer season, but neither Sporting nor Columbus can afford to let much more of the schedule slip by without finding a good vein of form.
Columbus is smack in the middle of a crisis. Kei Kamara's trade to the New England Revolution may have made the locker room a more peaceful place, but it left a giant hole at the front of the formation that the club has been unable to fill. Kamara's namesake Ola Kamara hasn't been consistent enough to be the answer and doesn't provide the physical presence Crew SC's league elite wingers are used to having as a target. Throw in the loss of Federico Higuain to hernia surgery and the freak PCL tear that will keep Gaston Sauro out for the rest of the year, and it's hard to see the situation in Crewland as anything other than dire.
Sporting just needs to get their first choice-team back together and see if they can figure out what ails them on the attacking end. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are returning from national team duty, which provides a boost but doesn't ensure any fixes to their problems. If Sporting is going to win and climb the ladder in the West, they'll need to reintegrate those players quickly and keep Dom Dwyer in good form. Coming off a brace in last week's draw in Montreal at least gives hope for the latter.
West pacesetter Colorado hosts Portland
The Fourth of July weekend means there are a couple of league games slated for the Monday holiday. One of those is the Colorado Rapids hosting the Portland Timbers in a game pitting the defending MLS Cup champions against the current league leaders.
Not only is Colorado in first place in the Western Conference and leading the Supporters' Shield race, they should only get stronger from here. Jermaine Jones is back from Copa America duty, and with his ability to cover huge swaths of ground defensively while also creating chances for the Rapids on the attacking end, teams will not want to see the Rapids on their schedule. Jones might not merit consideration for the MVP award because of the nature of his contributions, but there's no arguing that he takes the Rapids from a gritty bunch of old fashioned MLS grinders to a truly dangerous side that shouldn't be discounted come playoff time.
Then there's Tim Howard. He was only unveiled as a Rapids player this week but is already chomping at the bit to get his first MLS minutes since 2005 and could feature on Monday. There's no question that Howard is an upgrade over the previous incumbent at the position Zac MacMath but what is up for debate is whether Howard necessarily makes Colorado instantly better. Team chemistry can be tricky, and while Howard will have the respect of everyone in the locker room, it's possible not everybody will be on board with him pushing another goalkeeper out of the way.
How will cup form translate for Galaxy, Whitecaps?
If domestic cups matter to league form, the Galaxy will have the upper hand in this Western Conference battle. LA enters off a U.S. Open Cup victory on the road in Portland, while the Whitecaps are licking their wounds from a stunning Canadian Championship aggregate loss to Toronto on the final kick of the game.
And if domestic cups don't matter to league form, at least the Galaxy will have two of their most important players back from international duty: Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane are arriving after their "Summer of Soccer" experiences in the Copa America and Euros respectively.
The one major concern Bruce Arena will have for Zardes is fatigue; if the forward doesn't hit the MLS ground running after the USMNT's semifinal appearance and the 540 minutes he logged as an ever-present starter, he won't be the first. Keane should return relatively rested, having been used as a sub on only two occasions for short cameos.
The Caps will present the Galaxy with a specific challenge as Arena starts the process of making his team whole again. Despite the gut shot series loss to TFC, Vancouver comes in with a two-game winning streak and an in-form Kekuta Manneh, which a thing that should strike fear to any team in MLS, much less one with aging players at the back like LA.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.