Philly enters uncharted territory; San Jose, LA to heat up California Clasico
Major League Soccer is in full swing. Jason Davis highlights the matches you can't miss as the season rolls into Week 13.
Philadelphia looks to move into uncharted territory in Salt Lake
The Union are the league's hottest team and will put their franchise-record four-game winning streak on the line when they travel to take on a Real Salt Lake side still trying to get a grasp on consistency. For Philadelphia, the game represents a chance to jump above the red line in the Eastern Conference. For a team that started the season winless in eight games, sitting in a playoff spot before May is out would be a remarkable achievement.
C.J. Sapong is the key man for Jim Curtin. The 28-year-old forward is in the best form of his pro career, leading both the Union and all other Americans in scoring this season (eight). If the winning run is to continue, Sapong will need to play a big role at Rio Tinto Stadium. He doesn't have to score, but he does have to occupy defenders and pass smartly from his center-forward spot.
For RSL, the attack continues to be a work in progress. Albert Rusnak has shown flashes of creativity, but the club's DP striker, Yura Movsisyan, has fallen out of favor with Mike Petke. Rotating a team already shorthanded due to injury and international duty seems like a questionable strategy, but little else has worked for the new boss.
Travel is always tough on teams going east to west, but RSL has been one of the poorer home sides recently. Philadelphia can take advantage of that and move into more uncharted territory with a win.
Quakes, Galaxy bring the heat in California Clasico
What was once one of the league's most vibrant rivalries has lost some of its luster, in part because it is now overshadowed by the likes of the Cascadia Derby up the coast.
But that doesn't mean the latest matchup of the league's two California clubs won't have some heat to it. The Galaxy are climbing out of an early campaign nosedive that took them all the way down to ninth in the Western Conference, while the San Jose Earthquakes are working to prove to the rest of the league, and perhaps to themselves, that they are good enough to have a place in the playoff discussion.
The Galaxy have won two in a row but took another injury blow to their midfield when Baggio Husidic broke his leg in Minnesota. Without Husidic, Curt Onalfo will again have to shuffle his lineup. Jermaine Jones is still unavailable, bringing the total of central-midfielders missing-in-action to three: Jones, Husidic and Sebastian Lletget.
San Jose's rebirth under Dominic Kinnear is beginning to pick up steam. Last week's win at FC Dallas feels like a big moment; back home at Avaya Stadium, the Quakes have a chance to build on that momentum and further inculcate a system that is bringing goals and wins. The player to watch for San Jose is Jahmir Hyka, the Albanian midfielder who floats into spaces under the front line before popping up in the box.
Dallas, Dynamo square off in Texas derby
The battle for El Capitan is a little more interesting thanks to FC Dallas' two-game losing streak. The league's lone unbeaten team heading into last week, Dallas now finds itself trying to turn things around after a setback at home against San Jose at the weekend and a road loss to the Chicago Fire on Thursday night.
Oscar Pareja chose to rotate his team in Bridgeview, which means the Dynamo should get the best of what's available to the Dallas coach on Sunday. Maximiliano Urruti, Kellyn Acosta and Walker Zimmerman are among the players who will be well-rested. That's a boost for Acosta and Zimmerman, both of whom will have defensive responsibilities around the Dynamo's trio of dangerous attackers.
Meanwhile, Houston has to prove its flash-attack methods can get the job done on the road. The Dynamo are one of just two teams without a single point away from home this season -- the other being the Colorado Rapids, the West's last-place side. Only Houston's incredible home record has it tied for second in the conference.
At Atlanta United last week, Wilmer Cabrera put all of his eggs in a defend-with-numbers basket. Unfortunately, that basket was extremely unorganized and Atlanta crushed Houston 4-1. With no space to move the ball, the Dynamo failed to present much danger and keep Atlanta honest. If they let Dallas have the same luxuries, it could be a long day in Frisco.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.