Some intriguing Major League Soccer storylines to watch this weekend:
L.A. Galaxy still hopeful of leapfrogging Seattle
When it comes to the Supporters' Shield, there's no wiggle room to be had for the L.A. Galaxy, making it imperative that they come away with a victory Saturday night against FC Dallas at StubHub Center.
Not long ago, L.A. thought it held a modicum of control in terms of catching the Seattle Sounders, but a pair of road draws against two of the league's weaker teams -- the Montreal Impact and the San Jose Earthquakes -- now see the Galaxy trail by three points from one more game played. L.A. will now likely need to run the table and for Seattle to stumble in order to attain the league's best regular-season record.
It all starts Saturday, but beating Dallas won't be easy. Last weekend against San Jose, L.A. nearly pressed the home side into oblivion. Given the Quakes lack of speed up top and inability to play the ball on the ground in traffic, it was a smart strategy. But Dallas provides a different challenge altogether, given its ability to punish teams on the counter. Fabian Castillo and Andres Escobar are renowned for their ability to run at defenders. Combined with Mauro Diaz's steady return to full fitness, as well as L.A.'s thin numbers in the back, Dallas is more than capable of bagging all three points in Carson.
Dallas has had some injury issues in the back as well, and will be pushed to the limit trying to contain L.A.'s attacking trio of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Gyasi Zardes.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Red Bulls and Sounders clash in Harrison, N.J.
With the U.S. Open Cup now in the bag, the Seattle Sounders' stated goal is to win the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup and become the first team in MLS history to take all three domestic titles in the same year. Nobody doubts their ambition.
Human nature is a funny thing, though, which means you have to wonder if Sigi Schmid's team, having already secured a berth in next season's CONCACAF Champions League by virtue of their Open Cup triumph on Tuesday in Philadelphia, might let up just a tad -- unconsciously, of course -- when it visits Red Bull Arena this weekend.
The Red Bulls are fighting for their playoff lives, and they are even more desperate for three points after conceding a spirit-crushing stoppage-time equalizer from the penalty spot in their previous league game.
For the Red Bulls, the importance of Saturday's match against Seattle was underscored midweek when coach Mike Petke started 10 reserves in a Champions League loss in Montreal. Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips didn't even make the trip. Petke knows that having his big stars fresh will be crucial against the league's best team -- even if the Sounders side they face can't help but show up with something less than their usual ruthless urgency.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Can Toronto finally turn things around against Chivas USA?
As comically bad as Chivas USA has been the past few years, Toronto -- despite significantly more resources and ambition -- is right up there in terms of franchise dysfunction.
MLS and its fans thought this might be the year that the Reds turn it around and finally make the playoffs. After all, the Canadian side recruited clinical striker Jermain Defoe along with arguably the best U.S. player in Michael Bradley to a roster that featured former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario and promising young Brazilian DP striker Gilberto. What could go wrong? Apparently a lot.
After the club struggled with injuries and poor form, then-manager Ryan Nelsen was called out by team general manager Tim Bezbatchenko for not getting results, which ended up in Nelsen firing back, and then within 24 hours getting fired. That led to Defoe wanting to return to England but being forced to stay because no club aside from Toronto would pay $10 million for a striker over 30 unless he's a world-class star. And let's not even bring up Julio Cesar, who fans were told would stay through the season but left the club after playing in the World Cup.
Which brings us back to the Reds' home game against the Goats. Chivas USA is doing what it does best: losing, and often by baseball scores. The club is 0-1-9 since July 20, and considering the gap of talent between it and the home side, Toronto should be able to secure its first win since Aug. 9. If it does, the club is only three points back from the Columbus Crew in the standings, with a game in hand. There is still a chance for the club to make its first playoff appearance, but then again, nothing is ever simple in Hogtown.
-- Alex Labidou (@LabidouESPN)