By THOMAS FLOYD
Tonight's MLS Cup final rematch features two teams heading in two very different directions.
When FC Dallas tries to exact revenge against the Colorado Rapids at Pizza Hut Park tonight, it will also be hoping to pick up its first win of the season and improve upon a league-worst 0-2-1 record. The Rapids, however, will provide a stern test, having carried the momentum from their shock MLS Cup last fall to a perfect 3-0-0 start to 2011.
In the wide-open Eastern Conference, where first and last is a difference of four points, the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union will look to provide some separation at the topwhen the new Interstate 95 rivals meet Saturday in the City of Brotherly Love. And a throwback MLS derby will renew itself this weekend when early powers D.C. United and Los Angeles Galaxy clash at RFK Stadium.
Here is a rundown of the entire week three schedule and how we see things playing out:
FC DALLAS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Friday, 9 p.m., FSC)
Out to prove their run from finishing fifth in the West to winning the MLS Cup in 2010 was no fluke, the Rapids have played the part of defending MLS champion to perfection early in this campaign. The Dallas team many thought deserved to win that title, however, has struggled in the early going, scoring one goal and taking away just a single point from its first three games, including two home fixtures.
Although striker Conor Casey is out with a hamstring strain, Colorado coach Gary Smith has the luxury of plugging in former Hull City forward Caleb Folan, who bagged a brace against D.C. United last week, alongside Omar Cummings. Dallas will be showcasing a new acquisition of its own, as Fabian Castillo should make his first start at home. Look for Dallas, which started 1-4 last year before later reeling off a 19-game unbeaten streak, to get a point against the Rapids as Cummings and Castillo trade tallies. FCD 1, Rapids 1.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Saturday, 4 p.m., Direct Kick)
Like Dallas, Seattle is another Western Conference playoff team from 2010 still looking to snag its first win of the new season. Last week's 2-2 draw at San Jose was an encouraging result for the Sounders, who return to the rambunctious setting of Qwest Field for an afternoon kickoff against the unbeaten Fire.
With Fredy Montero still questionable after undergoing wrist surgery last week, Seattle could again need fine performances out of O'Brian White and Mauro Rosales if it is to get in the win column. Although Chicago's front-line pairing of Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari has been a handful for defenses as well, expect Kasey Keller and the Sounders' back line to keep them in check as goals from Steve Zakuani and Rosales are enough for Seattle. Sounders 2, Fire 0.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
The Dwayne De Rosario era in New York should properly begin this weekend when he joins Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards in the Red Bulls' loaded attacking corps from the opening kickoff for the first time.
Philadelphia, though, can counter with a group in the back suddenly considered one of the league's best, as goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon has only conceded one goal in the Union's first three games this year. But Philadelphia's offense hasn't exactly been on fire, scoring just twice itself. Ultimately, New York will just bring too much firepower, as goals from Henry and De Rosario negate a Sebastien Le Toux penalty. Red Bulls 2, Union 1.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Both sides are coming off emotional midweek road fixtures, as Salt Lake clinched passage to the CONCACAF Champions League final with a 2-1 loss (3-2 aggregate win) at Saprissa on Tuesday, while New England grabbed a 1-1 draw in Vancouver on a last-gasp equalizer. As a result, there will probably be plenty of tired legs at Gillette Stadium for this showdown of unbeaten sides.
New England goalkeeper Matt Reis remains listed as out with a strained adductor, spoiling what would have been a top-class shot-stopping showdown between him and Nick Rimando. New England will also be without the suspended A.J. Soares, a gap in the back line Alvaro Saborio will take advantage of to score the game's only goal. RSL 1, Revolution 0.
D.C. UNITED vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
United will look to get back on track at home against the Galaxy after dropping its last two contests on the road. Boosting United will be the return of centerbacks Dejan Jakovic and Perry Kitchen, who missed last weekend's 4-1 loss at Colorado due to suspension and U.S. Under-20 national team duty, respectively.
The Galaxy, which had goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, defender Omar Gonzalez and forward Juan Pablo Angel available from the start for the first time last week, will now be shorthanded in the midfield as Chris Birchall serves a red card suspension and Landon Donovan potentially rests. Charlie Davies, who missed United's trip to Colorado with a groin injury, and Dax McCarty will score for D.C., while Angel and Sean Franklin will counter for Los Angeles. United 2, Galaxy 2.
CHIVAS USA vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Direct Kick)
Columbus silenced some of its doubters last week with a 2-0 win over Dallas that showed this rebuilt side could be finding its rhythm sooner rather than later after all. But the loss of Andres Mendoza, who is listed as out with an adductor strain, is not good news for the Crew as it travels to the West Coast.
Chivas centerback Jimmy Conrad, meanwhile, is still listed as questionable with a concussion that sidelined him last week, although the Goats should bolster their defense with the return of Zarek Valentin from the U.S. U-20 national team. But the lack of offensive punch will hurt them as they settle for scoreless draw at home. Chivas 0, Crew 0.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m, Direct Kick)
San Jose looks like a team on the verge of clicking on all cylinders, as reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski already has two goals on the young campaign, the newly acquired Simon Dawkins looks like he could be a real impact player, and promising defender Ike Opara might make his first start after missing much of last year with a broken foot.
Toronto, meanwhile, will still be trying to fill that tremendous hole in the midfield left by departed playmaker De Rosario. The lack of creativity in the attacking third will be painfully obvious at one end as San Jose uses goals from Wondolowski, Ryan Johnson and Bobby Convey at the other to roll to an easy win. Earthquakes 3, TFC 0.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Sunday, 7 p.m., Galavision)
Although the results haven't quite been there for 0-1-2 Houston, the Dynamo has been playing some good soccer thus far this season. If Tally Hall can continue his heroics in net, Houston has enough pieces to make a run in the parity-driven Eastern Conference.
But a win at home over an expansion side is a must if the Dynamo wants to establish itself as a contender. Brian Ching potentially playing through a rib injury could give the advantage to Houston against Vancouver, which will be without its own bruising forward as Eric Hassli serves his second red card suspension in three games. Expect Ching to tough it out and be rewarded when he scores the game's lone goal. Dynamo 1, Whitecaps 0.