Whitecaps set for Red Bulls, LA Galaxy's injury crisis ahead of Crew
Another weekend of Major League Soccer action is upon us; Jason Davis looks ahead to a week chock-full of thrilling matchups.
Can Vancouver upset the Red Bulls?
The struggling Whitecaps catch the Red Bulls at what could be the right time as they desperately flail for any kind of foothold in the Western Conference playoff race. New York journeys across the continent with a few of its first-choice players missing, a bad sign for a team that has won just once away from Red Bull Arena all year.
Sacha Kljestan is with the USMNT for the first time in two years, taking with him a crucial piece of the Red Bulls' attack: the midfielder leads the league with 15 assists, testament to the brilliance of his campaign. Meanwhile, left-back Kemar Lawrence has been called up by Jamaica for their World Cup qualifying tests against Panama and Haiti, throwing into question a position the Red Bulls have struggled with this season.
On the plus side, New York could have both Dax McCarty and Damien Perrinelle back from injury. McCarty is returning from a month-long layoff caused by a fractured bone in his leg, while defender Perrinelle has recovered from the ankle injury he suffered just a few weeks after returning from an eight-month period of rehabilitation following torn ligaments in his knee. If the Frenchman plays, his presence should help a defense that has been questionable at various times this season.
As for the Whitecaps, answers to their issues have been missing for quite some time. A seven-game winless run has them in ninth in the West and while they can't drop into last place this weekend, the ignominy of the basement looms large. Vancouver is a talented team with high expectations, but something is clearly wrong.
Portland faces Dallas road test
Fresh off their 4-1 win against the Sounders, the defending champion Timbers take their show on the road to Frisco, Texas, for a date with conference-leading FC Dallas. The Timbers are feeling good after beating Seattle 4-2, but the buzz might not last: the Timbers have lost twice to Dallas already, by a combined score of 5-2.
The teams do look slightly different than the last time they met. FC Dallas shipped Fabian Castillo (who scored in a 3-1 FC Dallas win at Providence Park in April) off to Turkey, while the Timbers have added a new full-back (Vytas Andriuskevicius) and center-back (Steven Taylor) to their lineup. Both summer additions are paying dividends for Portland and, with Fanendo Adi back in Caleb Porter's good graces after he was benched for missing the flight to Seattle two weeks ago, hopes will be high that the visitors can make the most of their trip to Texas.
As is always the case with FC Dallas, the player to keep a close eye on is Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz. When he's at his best, there might not be a better creative player in the league. Diaz's skill in picking out teammates with perfectly weighted through-balls is worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately for Oscar Pareja & Co., Diaz can sometimes drift out of the game or find himself marginalized by physical play. The Timbers will use the underrated Diego Chara to make Diaz's life difficult while their own Argentine, Diego Valeri, drives his team forward.
International call-ups will play a big role in team selection here, too: Portland will be missing Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell and Jermaine Taylor; FC Dallas will play without Kellyn Acosta.
LA without key men vs. Crew SC
What a week for the L.A. Galaxy. In an ugly 0-0 draw in Vancouver, the club lost Steven Gerrard and Jelle van Damme for the immediate future with minor injuries while key attacker Gyasi Zardes was ruled out for the season with a broken toe. As if the injury epidemic wasn't bad enough, defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong departed the team on Thursday for Turkish club Galatasaray. The reasons why the Galaxy mutually terminated De Jong's contract aren't exactly clear but it seems at though the tough tackling Dutchman wasn't entirely happy with his situation.
So what does all of that mean for Saturday's home match against visiting Crew SC? With Robbie Keane unlikely to feature after playing (and scoring) in his final match for Ireland on Wednesday, it could mean the most makeshift of makeshift lineups will be on the field for the Galaxy. Bruce Arena swears by the club's depth -- indeed, the number of players L.A. has on its roster who could likely find starting jobs elsewhere is impressive -- but this is a lot of change even for him.
The task of holding off the Crew will fall to players like Alan Gordon, Baggio Husidic and Jeff Larentowicz. On the plus side, Robbie Rogers looks to be in line for a return to MLS action at full-back. In attack, Emmanuel Boateng, Sebastian Lletget and especially Giovani dos Santos, will be tasked with creating the scoring chances. Zardes' injury and Keane's absence mean that attention is focused squarely on Dos Santos, a player who has only sporadically had a significant impact on the Galaxy's fortunes.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.