Didier Drogba leads Impact's West Coast swing; Quakes on playoff quest
Drogba, Impact on West Coast swing
The Mauro Biello era in Montreal got off to a memorable start last weekend, with designated superstar Didier Drogba scoring a hat trick against Chicago in his first MLS start.
It took Drogba more than a month to get into the Impact lineup after signing in July, but he needed just 65 minutes to make league observers wonder if the imposing 37-year-old striker's goals might just make bleu-blanc-noir a legitimate playoff threat this fall.
On Wednesday, Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti went as far as saying that with the Chelsea legend on board, Montreal could win the MLS Cup. That seems like an overreaction after a narrow win over the worst team in MLS, but then again, the Impact are a proven tournament team. They almost beat mighty Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League final in April and that was before they added Drogba and active internationals Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) -- and got veteran Justin Mapp back from an elbow injury.
This week's two-game California swing will provide a better idea of where the Impact stand. LA Galaxy, Montreal's opponent Saturday, have lost just one of the 14 games they've hosted this season, and their 36 home goals top the league. In San Jose on Wednesday, the Impact are sure to face a desperate foe, no matter the outcome of this weekend's playoff bubble battle between the Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders.
Picking up points won't be easy. But if Biello, who replaced the fired Frank Klopas two weeks ago, somehow finds a way to keep Montreal's momentum while out West, there's no telling how far it can take them.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
MLS WEEKEND FIXTURES
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11
- N.Y. Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
SATURDAY, SEPT. 12
- Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew
- FC Dallas vs. NYCFC
- Houston Dynamo vs. RSL
- Colorado Rapids vs. D.C. United
- LA Galaxy vs. Montreal
- S.J. Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders
SUNDAY, SEPT. 13
- Toronto FC vs. New England Revs
(5 ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
- Orlando City SC vs. Sporting KC
Quakes' playoff quest continues vs. Sounders
The San Jose Earthquakes let a big opportunity slip last week. Facing Philadelphia at Avaya Stadium with a chance to add three important points to their late-season push for the playoffs, Dom Kinnear's team came up short in a 2-1 loss. Worse, it was 34-year-old Union striker Conor Casey who did the damage by scoring both goals off the bench.
The loss hurt more than it might have otherwise because San Jose had been playing so well -- and getting good results -- in a late-season bid to squeak into the playoffs. Kinnear's magical touch didn't desert him when he traded Houston for San Jose, or so it seemed. But the defeat at the hands of the Union ended a four-game win streak and, worse, delivered no points from one of the six home matches remaining on the Earthquakes' schedule. Those home dates represented the biggest advantage San Jose had over their rivals in the chase for the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Kinnear and co. get their next chance to make the home field count on Saturday against visiting Seattle. A few weeks ago, San Jose might have looked forward to playing the Sounders, regardless of venue. Now, the men in Rave Green enter with some momentum and the services of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. That raises the difficulty for San Jose significantly.
Never mind that Seattle is within striking distance of San Jose in the playoffs. Not only do the Quakes have a chance to pick up points, but they also can hurt the Sounders in the process. It's not quite do-or-die for San Jose, but as they say, it's getting late early.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
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Dallas in thick of Western Conference fight
When it comes to contenders for trophies, it's easy to forget FC Dallas. The club plays in the Western Conference, which these days counts as Major League Soccer's high-rent district. There are glamor teams such as the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, a recent MLS Cup winner in Sporting Kansas City and a club on the rise in the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But Dallas has shown impressive staying power this season. Sure, Oscar Pareja's side bolted out of the gate as it usually does, won its first three matches and went 6-2-2 in its first 10. This was followed by a sideways period in which it went winless in six, but Dallas has since won seven of 10 and is solidly in the running for the Supporters Shield. It has done so with a heavy reliance on homegrown products such as Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta and Jesse Gonzalez. Even the team's bigger names -- Fabian Castillo, Matt Hedges, Mauro Diaz and Blas Perez -- aren't massive stars beyond the world of MLS.
This weekend, that approach will make for a stark contrast when FCD hosts New York City FC; the club of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. If Dallas can collect three points, that will propel it further toward the top of the Western Conference and on the road to its first trophy since it claimed its lone piece of silverware, the U.S. Open Cup crown, in 1997.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)