All systems go as MLS prepares for biggest ever matchday

Major League soccer played their second round of matches since we last met, though the fixture list was rather short due to the Easter holiday.

"Why?" you might have just asked, wondering why games on a Saturday would conflict at all with a Christian celebration that happens to take place on a Sunday.

"I don't know", is all I can reply, though I can tell you that the reduced schedule is a holdover from previous years when marketing ‘professionals’ too clever for their own good thought that attendance might suffer because of Easter.  Perhaps they were right, since Colorado drew just over 11,000 for their home opener.

Moving on from disappointing news to more exciting fare, the New York Red Bulls are MLS' new 'it team'!  That's right, after not winning away from home in a staggering 29 matches, the New York club that actually plays in New Jersey beat the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field on Saturday night.

Red Bull fans were literally floored by the news, and required the assistance of trained professionals to right themselves.

The match itself was a rather dull affair, ending in a 1-0 score line to the visitors thanks to Senegalese striker Macoumba Kandji burying a loose ball from a New York corner. 

Kandji fires past Kasey Keller to give New York the win

Defense seems to be the name of the game for the Red Bulls, who now have two cleansheets on the season.  One interesting note is that New York won without their manager, Swede Hans Backe, who was laid up in hospital with abdominal pain. 

Backe subsequently had surgery to remove his gallbladder and could miss additional matches while recovering.  Nevertheless, New York is top of the East and having a laugh!

DC United's problems continued in their home opener, when the Black and Red fell to the New England Revolution 0-2 after dominating possession for most of the match.  Shooting, a rather important part of the game in most countries, appears anathema to DC, who were stifled on several occasions while trying to dribble the ball into the net. 

The Revs found their goals through two wonderful pieces of skill by substitute striker Kenny Mansally, who was named the league's Player of the Week for his efforts.

MLS also plays on Thursday, and though last week’s games are a distant memory at this point, a few words for them seems appropriate.  The Houston Dynamo were gifted three points at home when defending champions Real Salt Lake committed two penalties in a three minute span. 

Worse yet, both transgressions were on the same man, Jamison Olave.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is never an enjoyable experience, but losing the way RSL did must be particularly excruciating.

In the other Thursday match, the only true derby in the league between stadium-mates Chivas USA and Los Angeles Galaxy, Landon Donovan and company prevailed 2-0.

American striker Edson Buddle was responsible for both goals, his second and third of the new season, and immediately found himself the subject of hot debate over his World Cup chances.  
Never mind that Buddle hasn't featured for the US National Team in some time; such is the state of our razor thin striker pool.  Get well Charlie Davies.

Other action from the weekend saw Colorado and Chicago draw, a 2-2 finish that included a penalty for each side and an absolute stunner from Jamaican Omar Cummings. The Reggae Boy is the class of the league at forward, and forms a formidable partnership with US international Connor Casey.

Omar Cummings (left) is certainly one to watch in the MLS this season

I suppose we should have a look ahead at the next batch of games, but since the Saturday schedule will be the heaviest in MLS history (eight matches, which obviously mean all sixteen teams playing), we'll keep it brief and to the point.

Philly will highlight the weekend with their first ever home match.  The expansion club will host DC United at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, as their own 18,000-seater stadium is still under construction. 

The Union’s first taste of the league was a bitter two goal loss to the Sounders, so they'll surely be intent on putting on a better show for what is sure to be their largest crowd of the season.  A first goal in franchise history might nice, and will give the home fans a chance to break out their planned "doop" chant in response.

Chivas USA welcomes in New York, and though the Red Bulls will eventually concede, it might not be this weekend.  Chivas has shown few signs of real attacking verve, and will need American Sacha Kjlestan and Cuban Maykel Galindo to contribute.

In New England, the Revolution will hope to roll the momentum from their win over United into a home win against Toronto FC.  This game involves a stadium that is much too large (Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots), a plastic surface, and American football lines that burn the retinas, so perhaps the less said the better.  Look for a physical match and few goals.

On the other end of the stadium spectrum, the Kansas City Wizards will have an advantage over the visiting Colorado Rapids thanks to their tiny pitch situated in a tiny building. 

Minor league baseball jokes aside, the Wizards will have a chance to prove that their 4-0 win over DC United in round one was no fluke.  Englishman Ryan Smith (formerly of Arsenal, Millwall, Southampton and Crystal Palace) seems to have fit right in, and will be a man to watch throughout the season. 

There's also a small chance we might see the MLS debut of Indian striker Sunil Chhetri, who arrived at the club in recent days.  I'm sure shipments of shirts are already their way to Delhi.

Can Chhetri make the transition from India to the US?

The Houston Dynamo get their first shot at the Galaxy since their Western Conference final showdown last year, a match marred by questionable officiating and two power failures at the Home Depot Center. 

Making light of the past, the Dynamo will hand out miniature flashlights to fans attending the game.  I expect this will be a engaging, highly competitive match.  I only hope Edson Buddle doesn't score (No, Edson Buddle should not be in the US World Cup picture, and we don't need more fuel for the fire.  Please, I beg of you, football spirits).

An oddity of Major League Soccer, another holdover from its early years when funding was scarce and the clocks ran backwards, is the same owner controlling multiple teams.  That is the case for FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew, each of whom are under the purview of the Hunts Sports Group. 

Unfortunately, HSG seems to be very poor at selling their product to the masses, so expect to only see Dallas' Pizza Hut Park one quarter filled. 

The game itself is ho-hum, though Columbus does have some quality and should take care of the home side - if their Argentine star Guillermo Barros Schelotto doesn't flit off to take over the managerial reigns at Boca Juniors, that is (a rumor that popped up this week).

Down the home stretch, only two to go...

The San Jose Earthquakes are in Chicago, where the Fire will play at home for the first time this season.  San Jose fights like the dickens, but appears headed for the bottom of the table in the West; Chicago will hope to keep Brian McBride and Collins John scoring, something that will bode very well for their chances to be a top Eastern Conference seed by the end of the year.  
The Fire didn't impress at home last season, though, so a strong showing against an inferior team would still represent progress.

Finally, two of the Western Conference's perceived favourites face off in Utah when Real Salt Lake host the Seattle Sounders.  The heartbreaking loss RSL suffered last week should have them buzzing to turn things around at home against a Sounders team needing road points to solidify themselves as real challengers for the Supporters Shield.  Javier Morales will be key again for Real Salt Lake.

So there you have it; review and preview all in one easy-to-use post, complete with news and notes.  Week three in Major League Soccer, with eight league matches all in one day, will be a test of endurance and patience, that much is sure.  Nevertheless, I'll be here, attempting to watch it all and probably going insane in the process.

APRIL FOOLS PRANK OF THE YEAR:  Kansas City defender Michael Harrington found himself the target of a brilliant, if completely cruel, April Fools' Day joke when his Wizards teammates convinced him that Maxim magazine was doing a feature on animal-loving athletes.

The gullible Harrington was made to wear a kitty cat costume, complete with ears and makeup, and directed to a fake photo shoot.  Give the youngster credit though, as he took the joke in stride.  
Word on the street is that the real Maxim magazine may even do a story on his unfortunate level of trust, and feature him in a future issue.