NYCFC look to flip Big Apple rivalry its way; Texas derby full of contention
Rivalry Week is here and Jason Davis highlights the matches you can't miss as the season rolls into Week 18.
NYCFC have revenge in mind for Big Apple rivalry
It's the rivalry that seems to be bubbling up these days, in large part because both teams are strong playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference. A little verbal back-and-forth between the two sides has spiced up a clash at Red Bull Arena that gives New York City FC a chance for revenge after a U.S. Open Cup defeat on June 14. What's more, the trip across the river to Harrison, New Jersey, gives Patrick Vieira and his team a chance to prove to their older neighbors that they can indeed challenge for Big Apple supremacy. The Red Bulls have won five of six league matches the two sides have played against one another.
Jesse Marsch has close to a full, healthy squad (minus a few players out for the year and Mike Grella) and a bit of momentum. Last week in Philadelphia, New York struck twice in the last 10 minutes to beat the Union. In an encouraging turn, long maligned DP Gonzalo Veron stepped up with two assists in the win. Everyone involved with the Red Bulls would love to see the Argentine live up to his lofty contract status for a second week in a row.
NYCFC rode David Villa's 50th and 51st MLS goals to a win over Seattle last weekend on a soggy Yankee Stadium pitch. Conditions will be better this weekend, though Vieira is still unlikely to have Maxi Moralez available due to injury. Tommy McNamara is again the player to watch in a deputizing role for Moralez.
Texas derby as contentious as ever
The battle for El Capitan might not get the fanfare of the big-city rivalry between the New York teams or the Cascadia matchup pitting the Timbers against the Sounders, but it shouldn't be overlooked. There's real animosity between the two sides, made even fiercer by a recent decision by FC Dallas to ban Houston fans traveling north from bringing flags, banners or drums to Toyota Park and limiting the number of tickets for Dynamo fans to 100.
On the field, the game pits the stellar-at-home Dynamo and their dangerous counterattack against an FC Dallas team scuffling through a tough stretch. An injury to Walker Zimmerman and a slew of international call-ups affected Oscar Pareja's team in big ways, and it has reflected in their 1-2-2 record in their last five matches. Defensively, FC Dallas has taken a step back, a big problem against Houston's speedy 4-3-3.
After four substitute appearances in the last month, Mauro Diaz could be ready to start for FC Dallas. The Argentine's return from injury hasn't yet been a major boost for the club, and plenty are watching to see how Pareja manages his minutes. The weather in Houston won't be ideal, with the temperature in the 80s at kickoff with stifling humidity.
With the two teams tied in the Western Conference standings, this should be an interesting Texas derby, one of the more interesting ones in years.
Sporting a true test for streaking Galaxy
No one knows what to make of the Galaxy, who are unbeaten in eight straight MLS matches but still stuck somewhere between "OK" and "mediocre" in most minds. Sporting is atop the Western Conference, looking down on the rest of the competition. And yet, the gap between the two is only five points, with the Galaxy on two fewer games than Sporting. And in MLS, that means the two teams could be in opposite places in as little as two weeks' time.
In the past week, the Galaxy earned just a point at home against Houston -- the worst road team in the league -- and scored a big road win on the back of a Jack McBean brace at Colorado. What happens next is impossible to predict, in part because Curt Onalfo's team is in the midst of a busy stretch impacted by injuries and rotation. McBean's double was a big bonus, but will it be enough to get the youngster more minutes?
Sporting brings the league's best defense with them to Carson. It's a record built not just on the play of names like Ike Opara, Matt Besler and Tim Melia, but on Sporting's ability to keep the ball away from their opponents. Sporting passes the ball at the highest rate in the league and has the top possession number to go along with it.
The Galaxy are still without Jermaine Jones, and Giovani Dos Santos is away with Mexico. Baggio Husidic is also missing, which means Onalfo will have to choose from a group of midfielders to fill the gap. Sporting has no major absences, making this match a real litmus test for just where the Galaxy are.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.