MLS Preview: Red Bulls, Timbers near breakthrough win
New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers topped the American league's Eastern and Western conferences respectively in 2013 but have struggled to get going this year with both clubs having registered four draws and two defeats.
Heading into the seventh week of the 2014 season both Red Bulls coach Mike Petke and his Portland counterpart Caleb Porter claimed they saw signs last week that their respective sides are edging closer to a breakthrough victory.
The Red Bulls will start the round when they host Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, while the Timbers are set to take on Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
New York lost 1-0 at DC United last Saturday but ended the game with seven more shots than the capital club (19 to 12) and 113 completed passes in the forward third to their hosts' 77.
The Red Bulls have scored six goals in as many games this season, well down on their average of 1.7 per match in 2013.
United claimed victory thanks to Davy Arnaud's header from a flicked on corner in the fourth minute but then had to survive a barrage from the Red Bulls for the rest of the match.
"Hats off to DC for getting a result," Petke said after the game.
"However at the end of the day, we were the better team tonight, but the better team doesn't always win.
"I'm very optimistic and very excited about a lot that I saw out of my players. But at the end of the day, we're in a results business and we didn't get the result."
Porter was slightly more circumspect after Portland gave up a lead for the second game in a row in a 1-1 draw with Chivas USA, although the 39-year-old coach claimed his team's defence 'was much better overall' after conceding 10 goals in their opening five matches.
In 2013, the Timbers finished top of the West with the strongest defence in the conference and their coach has urged them to start grinding out results again.
"We were able to last year win a lot of games 1-0. We won a few games where it was more than that but the majority of the games in this sport are 1-0 one way or another," Porter said, after watching Erick Torres equalise for Chivas in the 79th minute on Saturday.
"Sometimes you don't find the second goal, and we didn't, but we have to win that game 1-0 if we don't."
New York should be confident against Union as they have won five of their past seven meetings with Philadelphia, who have not tasted victory in four matches.
Philadelphia will follow up Wednesday's trip to New York with a home game on Saturday against Houston Dynamo, who have lost their past three.
The Timbers face a more difficult opponent, as Real are undefeated this season, although they have just two wins to their name.
The Western Conference's leading team, FC Dallas, will look to bounce back from their 3-2 loss to Seattle Sounders when they host the East's second-placed team Toronto FC.
Toronto suffered a shock 1-0 loss of their own last week, going down to Colorado Rapids.
Columbus Crew, who lead the East, will host DC United, while the Sounders travel to California to play Chivas.
Colorado will aim for a third straight victory when they host San Jose Earthquakes, as will Los Angeles Galaxy on their trip to Vancouver Whitecaps, while reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City will entertain Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire face New England Revolution.