Half of Major League Soccer's clubs play their final game Saturday before heading into the league's World Cup break, including slumping Chivas USA, which visits Red Bull Arena for the first time to take on the New York Red Bulls.
The Galaxy is one of eight teams that has two games to play before the action in South Africa kicks off next Friday, and two wins -- or two draws, or one of each -- will send L.A. into two and half weeks off holding onto its unbeaten record.
Getting through all 30 regular-season games without a loss is all but impossible in a league that values parity as much as MLS does, but the Galaxy will be nearly halfway there with success Saturday against Houston at the Home Depot Center and Wednesday at Real Salt Lake.
Odds, let's say, aren't with the Galaxy. Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle are in South Africa, readying for next Saturday's U.S. World Cup opener against England. They've not given up a goal in 456 minutes -- a little more than five games -- and that's not going to last forever. They were badly outplayed last weekend against Columbus, yet scored on a couple of counterattacks to win.
Houston, no matter their struggles at the moment, is among MLS's elite, more so with Brian Ching in the lineup, and more so when Ching is scoring, as he has in the Dynamo's last two games. Real Salt Lake hopes to take a six-game winning streak into Wednesday's encounter. Both sides would love to be the first to take down mighty L.A.
“We're the only team now that's undefeated,” is how Clint Mathis puts it. “We've got a mark on us.”
They hope that target is still there when they return to action June 26 at Toronto FC.
This weekend's slate (all times PDT):
SATURDAY, JUNE 5
Kansas City Wizards (2-5-2, 8 points) at Toronto FC (5-4-1, 16 points), BMO Field (Toronto), 1 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
Dwayne De Rosario, believe it or not, has never won an MLS MVP award, but he's making a pretty good case for himself this year. He's the key figure in TFC's resurgence under former Chivas USA coach Preki, and it's more than the eight goals (second-best in the league, to Galaxy striker Edson Buddle's nine) and three assists. The Reds have lost only once in their last 10 MLS and Canadian Championship games, and they're 4-0 at home. K.C. hasn't won in seven league games (eight overall), since April 10, and foes have scored the first goal in all of those games except the scoreless draw with L.A. Captain Davy Arnaud's red-card suspension won't help.
Chivas USA (3-7-1, 10 points) at New York Red Bulls (6-5-0, 18 points), Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.), 4:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel (with midnight replay) and Fox Sports en Español.
The Goats ended a five-game losing streak last August with a win over New York, and they're desperate again after dropping four in a row. The return of Maykel Galindo, who came off the bench to score in last week's loss at D.C. United, is a big plus for the attack. The big question for Chivas is who steps in the nets for Zach Thornton, who's suspended after that harsh red card at the end of the D.C. game. Backup Dan Kennedy, who has a hip strain, returned to training this week; MLS pool goalkeeper Kevin Guppy, a former Cal State Northridge star, might get the call. The Red Bulls ended their four-game skid Wednesday by beating Houston on the game's final touch, a free kick by Juan Pablo Angel. Their injured list is up to nine players after Dane Richards departed early in the game because of a hamstring strain, but forward Salou Ibrahim might return.
Real Salt Lake (6-3-1, 19 points) at D.C. United (2-8-0, 6 points), RFK Stadium (Washington), 4:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
RSL went 5-0 in May behind MLS Player of the Month Alvaro Saborio, and the Utahns look to extend their team-record five-game winning streak in their second game in four days against United. They've never won at RFK, and on Wednesday night fell to D.C. in overtime in a U.S. Open qualifier. The hero for the home side, and MLS's most exciting teen: 17-year-old Honduran winger Andy Najar. D.C. had lost eight of nine league games (seven by shutout) before last week's win over Chivas USA on a stoppage-time penalty kick. Former Goats defender Carey Talley converted the winner; he's sidelined after sustaining a concussion in training Tuesday.
Houston Dynamo (5-6-1, 16 points) at Los Angeles Galaxy (9-0-2, 29 points), Home Depot Center, 5 p.m., Galavision (live) and FSN West (delayed, 10 p.m.).
It doesn't seem to matter how well or how poorly the Galaxy plays; when you don't give up goals, you don't lose. L.A. has shut out its last five opponents -- six if you count Boca Juniors -- and posted nine shutouts (12 including friendlies). Included was a 2-0 win in Houston on April 10. Last week's performance at Columbus wasn't good, but Michael Stephens and Tristan Bowen netted their first MLS goals in a 2-0 victory. Alan Gordon (quad strain) might be back, which would add muscle to the frontline with Edson Buddle at the World Cup; another yellow card will force central defender Omar Gonzalez to the bench for a game. The Dynamo has lost back-to-back games on goals deep into stoppage, and the backline has to improve (especially Bobby Boswell) if they're going to, as expected, contend. They've also got to do more on Brad Davis' set pieces; they've scored on only three, two of them in last weekend's loss to Philly. Brian Ching has scored in his first two games since getting cut from the World Cup roster.
San Jose Earthquakes (5-3-2, 17 points) at FC Dallas (2-2-6, 12 points), Pizza Hut Park (Frisco, Texas), 5:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
The Quakes have only one win in their last four games, but they've lost only once in their last six and are feeling pretty good about their performance Wednesday, when they twice rallied from deficits, the second time on Chris Wondolowski's sixth goal, to tie Eastern Conference leader Columbus. FC Dallas' defense has been pretty good, but the Hoops need more offense after failing to score twice in the same game since April. They hope veteran Colombian forward Milton Rodriguez is the answer -- he trained with the club for the first time Thursday -- but he can't play until the next transfer opens in mid-July.
Philadelphia Union (2-5-1, 7 points) at Chicago Fire (2-3-4, 10 points), Toyota Park (Bridgeview, Ill.), 5:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
Former Fire great Peter Nowak, the pivotal figure in their first-year MLS Cup title run 12 years ago, brings the Union to Chicago following the expansion club's first road victory and first unbeaten streak, if two games can be considered a streak. Danny Mwanga, the top pick in January's SuperDraft, has been a spark off the bench; he and French forward Sebastian Le Toux collaborated in the last-minute at Houston last weekend. But success won't come until the team defends better. It's given up two or three games in all but a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas in mid-May. Chicago is reeling following a 0-4-3 stretch through May, although three of those losses were to European sides in friendlies. The Fire's only home win, in seven encounters (including those friendlies), came way back on April 24.
Columbus Crew (6-1-3, 21 points) at Colorado Rapids (5-3-1, 16 points), DSG Park (Commerce City, Colo.), 6 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
This is a big one for the Rapids, who have never scored against Columbus since DSG opened in 2007, losing both home encounters the past two years. They're playing great defense -- they've given up just seven goals in nine games, fewer than any other MLS club except the Galaxy -- but the attack hasn't been what's expected with Conor Casey and Omar Cummings up front. Casey chipped Kasey Keller in the 1-0 win last weekend over Seattle, his fourth goal of the season but his first from something other than a penalty kick since September. Will that spur Colorado to score more? The Crew have lost just once, and not at all on the road (they're 2-0-3 away from Ohio), but they've succeeded while not playing particularly well, except in last weekend's loss to the Galaxy, a game they dominated. They were good in Wednesday's draw at San Jose, too, and, of course, it's all about Guillermo Barros Schelotto. When he's on, Columbus can beat anybody. When he's not, it's a struggle.
New England Revolution (3-6-2, 11 points) at Seattle Sounders (3-5-3, 12 points), Qwest Field (Seattle), 7:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick.
The Sounders have been MLS's most curious side, unable to get much from its attacking talent -- Swedish star Freddie Ljungberg needs to step up now -- and they've won just one of their last seven games. And now they get a Revs side rejuvenated by the return of midfield general Shalrie Joseph from drug rehab. Joseph took charge last weekend in a 3-2 triumph over New York that ended a seven-game MLS winless streak (nine games in all). New England is getting healthier, too, if you forget for the moment the gruesome incident that broke goalkeeper Preston Burpo's leg. Coach Steve Nicol will have a full allotment of players (that's 18) for the first time since May 1, including defenders Cory Gibbs and Emmanuel Osei, coming off injuries. Bobby Shuttleworth will get his first MLS start in the nets. Oh, and it's always a kick to watch 21-year-old Ghanaian twins Sanna (Seattle) and Sainey (New England) Nyassi face off.