Friday, March 31, 2006

MLS Week 1 Predictions - So we begin 2006

Opening weekend, is there anything like it? For a brief few days all the little problems of the league are forgotten and every team is equal. In just a few weeks this feeling of optimism and hope will be forgotten as the season settles down, but till them enjoy the beginning.

With that in mind I turn towards my predictions. As an added bonus, this year my wife will join in with the predictions. She loves the game but is a casual follower. We have yet to decide on weekly and season long prizes, so feel free to make a few suggestions.

A reminder, if your cable/satellite provider offers the Direct Kick package, remember that this weekend is a free preview, so you can catch all the MLS action. Anyway, the cobwebs are all cleaned out and the prediction center is now back open for business.

FC Dallas vs. Chicago Fire
Saturday, 4pm EST

What a great way to start a season. How many times do you think ABC will mention that the final will be played right here in Dallas on ABC and that the All-Star Game will be played in the new Chicago stadium also live on ABC? I'm going to guess 12.

In the match, FC Dallas will show up with some serious offense. Carlos Ruiz will be in better form then last year and Roberto Mina and Kenny Cooper will provide the much needed strong second striker. But the real story for FCD is on defense. If Greg Vanney can provide veteran leadership, and if Dario Sala can prove himself in front of the net, the Fire will lose this first match of the 2006 Brimstone Cup.

Chicago is on their way to a recovery, but I don't think it will start in full for a few weeks. With captain Chris Armas doubtful, their midfield will not be able to handle the pressure placed on them by FCD (even if Armas does play, I think he will have missed too much of the preseason to be a major factor). Without a strong midfield playing havoc to the Dallas ranks, I just don't think you can stop them.

Me: FCD 3 - 1 Chicago
Wife: FCD 1 - 2 Chicago


Kansas City Wizards vs. Columbus Crew
Saturday, 8:30pm EST
TV: Direct Kick (DK)

I know that every first match is exciting, but on my scale of "WOW!" this one ranks sixth. On the surface KC looks like a difficult team to beat. Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff and Scott Sealy will provide fireworks up top; Kerry Zavagnin and Sasha Victorine will hold the midfield and Jimmy Conrad always is great on defense, but I still don't think this team will come together. Maybe it's the lack of fan support or the fact that they will try to over use Eddie Johnson, but I just don't see a big turnaround happening for the team.

That said, I don't think Columbus will have enough to overpower an underperforming Wizards. The Crew find themselves without much in the striker position and suffering from a number of injuries. Defender Frankie Hejduk and forward John Wolyniec are doubtful and their best keeper, Jonny Walker, is out with lower back pain. For a club with so few 'stars', these injuries are going to hurt them.

Me: KC 2 - 0 Columbus
Wife: KC 1 - 0 Columbus


Los Angeles Galaxy vs. New England Revolution
Saturday, 11pm EST

The 2005 MLS Cup rematch. Always fun to watch games like this. I'm glad this will be on national TV as it should be one of the best games of the weekend. For LA, Landon Donovan is name number one. If he is back to form after his minor injury, he will cause the Revs a few nervous minutes. The good news for LA, even if Landon is not up to stuff, Herculez Gomez should be able to provide some cover. Cobi Jones will be running the midfield again while Tyrone Marshall and Chris Albright will provide keeper Kevin Hartman will some good cover.

That said, I think New England might just pull off a little upset. Midfielder Clint Dempsey and Forwards Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman will get the media coverage (which is deserved), but that is only half of the New England story. Last year's Rookie of the year defender Michael Parkhurst will shut down a lot of LA's attacks; Shalrie Joseph and Khano Smith will help Dempsey hold the midline and keeper Matt Reis might be a bit of a thug, but he we still difficult to beat (actually, he might miss this match). I think New England will revenge last year's defeat in Dallas with a late goal of their own.

Me: LA 1 - 2 NE
Wife: LA 1 - 3 NE


DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
Sunday, 5pm EST

This will probably be the best game on Sunday. With New York bussing in fans and the DC faithful as hyped as ever to mock the new Bulls, it will make for a good environment. DC was a good team last year and most of those players are back. Bobby Boswell should shine even brighter on defense, while what might just be the best midfield in the league will make it difficult for New York to get on by. In the forward position, Jaime Moreno might be getting up there in age, but he can still threaten. Teamed with Lucio Filomeno and DC have too much for the Reds to handle.

New York is a team still coming together. They've got some wonderful players with defenders Carlos Mendes and Marvell Wynne, Midfielders Peter Canero, Chris Henderson and the ever fun Amado Guevara and forwards Youri Djorkaeff and Edson Buddle, but they have not had enough time to gel into something tasty. They will get better, but this one is going to be hard. Still, I think they will get the first goal, only to have DC answer strong.

Me: DC 3 - 1 NY
Wife: DC 3 - 0 NY


Chivas USA vs. Real Salt Lake
Sunday, 7pm EST

The "no-longer expansion team" duo kick it off together in LA. Both teams have made big moves over the off-season, so neither should look as bad as they did last year. For Chivas, their defense has vastly improved. Cladudio Suarez should be able to keep things calm in the backline, while Jesse Marsch will make the midfield a prime battleground. Up front, coach Bob Bradley's favorite forward, Ante Razov, should provide an offensive spark that will cause Real nightmares.

Real have brought in a lot of MLS vets, so their play should be a little more composed. For this match, they should have some good defense with Scott Garlick between the posts and Eddie Pope holding the backline (if he is healthy). Jeff Cunningham always makes noise when he is in a game and it will be fun to see him teamed with Chris Klein (if he is healthy). Still, Real was a bad road team last year and I don't think this season will start off much differently.

Me: Chivas 2 - 1 Real
Wife: Chivas 1 - 0 Real


Houston Dynamo vs. Colorado Rapids
Sunday, 7:30pm EST

Colorado has never won their opening match and I think they will keep that streak alive in 2006. Houston might have changed cities, but they still have a great team. Expect to see Dwayne De Rosario pickup where he left off last year. Also, Brian Ching knows that if he wants to have even a remote chance of making the US World Cup team, he's going top need to come out stronger then strong. Defenders Wade Barrett and Kelly Gray should put a stop to any Rapid attacks.

The Rapids are missing strength up top, so look for Clint Mathis to try and hammer a few home from long range. Striker Jean Philippe Peguero will threaten, but I think there will be too few through balls and sustained attacks for him to cause many problems. Joe Cannon will keep things close in goal, but in the end, Houston will get their first win.

Me: Houston 2 - 1 Colorado
Wife: Houston 2 - 0 Colorado


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