MLS week 18 preview: football and fireworks on the fourth

Rio Tinto, home of Real Salt Lake

By Ryan Brister

As we head in to July 4th weekend, Major League Soccer is at its halfway point. Teams will be looking to make playoff pushes when the transfer window opens in a few days. Now is when things start getting really interesting.

Houston Dynamo vs. Chicago Fire, Friday at 9 p.m. on Unimas

July 4th weekend kicks off not with a bang, but a whimper. 9th place in the Western Conference meets 10th in the East in when the Dynamo host the Fire. The Dynamo have been further hampered by the Gold Cup, with Giles Barnes, Jermaine Taylor, and Boniek Garcia all representing their respective countries. Brad Davis was supposed to be on the USMNT for the tournament, but suffered an injury in practice.

Seattle Sounders vs. DC United, Friday at 11 p.m. on Unimas

Here, however, we have an interesting battle between two of the league’s top teams. Clint Dempsey’s suspension is over, but now he’s off with the USMNT, preparing for the Gold Cup. Obafemi Martins remains hurt. At least the Sounders should have Osvaldo Alonso back in their lineup tonight. Without their three designated players, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners have struggled mightily, losing three in a row. DC leads the race this year, and has shown a knack for grinding out results on the road.

Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

Historically, Independence Day has been unkind to New York, with just one win in 13 holiday matches. In order to keep up their current momentum, the Red Bulls will have to snap that form in Columbus. When the Crew hosted a meeting in March, the Black-and-Gold suffered a 2-1 defeat. The Red Bulls, who have already been stretched thin by a busy schedule, will now have to go without right back Chris Duvall, who suffered a broken leg Wednesday night against the Cosmos.

Montreal Impact vs. New York City FC, Saturday at 8 p.m.

NYCFC spends the fourth of July north of the border as they head to Montreal for the first time. It’s only been a few weeks since the Impact lost 2-1 at Yankee Stadium. Only a point separates the sides in the standings, as both are looking to escape the bottom end of the East. Mix Diskerud is NYCFC’s sacrifice to the Gold Cup, while Maxim Tissot is representing Canada. His fellow Canadian Patrice Bernier is suspended with a red card.

FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution, Saturday at 9 p.m.

The Revs have been a different (that is, worse) team without Jermaine Jones this year. They’ll have to go to Dallas for the Fourth of July, where the hosts are coming off an ugly performance in the Open Cup. Dallas has more players representing Canada at the Gold Cup than either Vancouver or Montreal. In addition to Kyle Bekker and Tesho Akindele, Dallas will be without Blas Perez and defenders Je-Vaughn Watson and Moises Hernandez.

Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday at 9 p.m.

Colorado only has two wins this season, but one of them was at home against Vancouver. The Rapids won 1-0 in May, and could really use a similar result tomorrow. While the Whitecaps are back atop the Western Conference, the Rapids are 11 points out of the playoffs at the halfway mark. There are only three Gold Cup absences across both teams: Darren Mattocks and Russell Teibert for Vancouver, and Gabriel Torres for Colorado.

Real Salt Lake vs. Orlando City, Saturday at 10 p.m.

A pair of Open Cup quarter-finalists meet in Salt Lake on Saturday, as Kaka makes what I assume is his first ever trip to Utah. The Gold Cup hits RSL harder than most: they will be without Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Demar Phillips and Elias Vasquez. Jordan Allen is also suspended for a red card last week. Orlando, meanwhile, misses out on Cyle Larin, who leads the team in goals from open play.

LA Galaxy vs. Toronto FC, Saturday at 10:30 p.m.

The post-game fireworks won’t be the only flashy event in LA tomorrow. The Galaxy will officially unveil Steven Gerrard at halftime. Meanwhile, TFC begins life without Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, both of whom have left for the USMNT and the Gold Cup. The weight on Giovinco’s shoulders grows larger, but he’s so far handled his burden well. The Galaxy will be missing Omar Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes for the same reason.

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Sunday at 11 p.m. on ESPN2

Portland is expecting temperatures near 100 degrees this weekend, and so the nationally broadcast match has been rescheduled to get it out of the midday sun. This should result in a better quality match for all involved. The Timbers and Earthquakes have had similar weeks. Both beat rivals convincingly over the weekend, but lost Open Cup matches in midweek. Chris Wondolowski has almost half of San Jose’s goals this year, but will miss the next few weeks at the Gold Cup.