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MLS Talking Points: California Clasico a clash of strugglers

Goal.com logo Goal.com 25/05/2018

As far as MLS derbies go, few have more history than the LA Galaxy-San Jose Earthquakes rivalry. Unfortunately, there is also no derby in the league that has lost more luster than this clash of multiple-time MLS Cup winners.

It has been a while since either team has looked like a legitimate title contender, and this year isn't much different. The Galaxy looked like they might turn things around with the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but instead find themselves struggling again.

Last Monday's win in Montreal, which came down a man after Ibrahimovic's red card, should provide the Galaxy with some momentum. It will also mean having to play without Ibrahimovic for the first time since his memorable arrival. Ola Kamara will be able to reprise his role as the team's target striker, though Gio Dos Santos' availability remains a question mark.

The Earthquakes hired a new coach, and shook up their roster, but head toward the summer near the bottom of a weak Western Conference. Last week's 3-1 home loss to lowly D.C. United felt like rock-bottom for an Earthquakes side that has been uncharacteristically shaky at home.

While the California Clasico may not have its classic sizzle, Memorial Day Weekend in MLS has several tasty matchups, including the Columbus Crew's visit to Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas' trek to Canada to take on Toronto FC. The Crew are unbeaten in six, but they visit an Sporting KC side with just one loss in its past 11 matches. Gyasi Zardes will look to continue his hot form by beating reigning MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara in one of the best one-on-one matches of the weekend.

The Houston Dynamo have hit their stride in recent weeks and play host to NYCFC in one of the weekend's more underrated matchups. Rumors are swirling about Patrick Vieira's future with NYCFC, and Friday's match should show is whether it's become a distraction.

Here is a closer look at the key talking points for MLS Week 13:

Match of the Week: Sporting Kansas City vs. Columbus Crew

Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew are both enjoying good seasons so far, and owe their early success to improving in areas that used to be seen as weaknesses.

Sporting KC was known more as a defensively stingy team before the 2018 season, but came out of the gate scoring goals in bunches. Last year's best defense shook off a slow start to eventually regain its stingy form, but the attack remains the highest-scoring group in the Western Conference.

The league's stingiest defense so far this season is now the Crew, which enter the weekend riding a streak of four straight shutouts. Led by goalkeeper Zack Steffen, and an improved Lalas Abubakar thriving in his second pro season, the Crew are now the type of well-balanced team that could challenge for a title.

Will the Crew's defense keep its run going, or will Johnny Russell and Sporting KC be able to find the weak spots? That clash of in-form units makes Sunday's showdown the best of the weekend in MLS.

Match-ups to Watch

Sebastian Giovinco vs. Matt Hedges. As good as Hedges is, even he will have trouble with the elusive Giovinco, so help from midfield will be key to Dallas containing the Atomic Ant.

Gyasi Zardes vs. Ike Opara. The league's co-leader in goals, Zardes will have a tough time cracking Sporting KC's stingy defense, led by the dominant Opara, who has the size and speed to neutralize the Crew striker.

Mauro Diaz vs. Michael Bradley. Now that he's back in his normal position, Bradley can focus on shutting down Diaz's playmaking presence as TFC rebounds from an awful start in league play.

Sacha Kljestan vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Dax McCarty sidelined, Schweinsteiger will be needed to help win the battle in central midfield, and part of that is trying to keep Kljestan quiet.

C.J. Sapong vs. Tim Parker. Sapong can usually overpower most defenders, but that won't be the case against Parker, who is in the best form of his career.

Clint Dempsey vs. Justen Glad. Glad may still only be 21, but he's had his share of battles with Dempsey before, and must keep the U.S. legend quiet if RSL is to pull off the road win.

Alberth Elis vs. Ben Sweat. Elis is in some of the best form in the league, but Sweat has been strong as well. If Patrick Vieira goes with a 3-4-3, then it will likely be Ronald Matarrita with the task of stopping the Honduran speedster.

Yordy Reyna vs. Wilfried Zahibo. The Peruvian playmaker has begun to find a good rhythm, but Zahibo has been a force in his first season with the Revs, and has the muscle to frustrate Reyna.

Romell Quioto vs. Anton Tinnerholm. Quioto usually benefits from teams having to key on Elis, but he also doesn't normally see right backs as good defensively as Tinnerholm.

Luciano Acosta vs. Benny Feilhaber. Acosta is coming off his best game of the year, and will keep Feilhaber busy in a match-up D.C. United needs to win to have any chance of an upset.

Week 13 Predictions

(*Best Bet)

TORONTO FC 2, FC Dallas 0. As its defense gets healthier, TFC gets closer to looking like the reigning champion. Sebastian Giovinco's return is big, but look for Victor Vazquez to be the difference-maker.

Dynamo 1, NYCFC 2. Houston is tough at home, but the NYCFC attack should break through against the Dynamo defense, with Jesus Medina being the key to a road win for the visitors.

GALAXY 2, Earthquakes 1. Monday's win in Montreal should help give the Galaxy some momentum, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's absence won't be nearly as detrimental as you'd expect. Ola Kamara scores again in a win.

SOUNDERS 2, Real Salt Lake 0. Drama is bubbling over at RSL, which will be without disgruntled playmaker Albert Rusnak. Seattle is missing several key players as well, but this game has Clint Dempsey written all over it.

Whitecaps 2, Revolution 2. Kei Kamara will net at least one goal against his former team, but the Whitecaps defense continues to struggle as Teal Bunbury matches his former teammate on the scoresheet.

RED BULLS 3, Union 0. The Union have won two straight, and are feeling good, but going to Red Bull Arena is a different animal. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kaku should find plenty of chances in a comfortable win.

ORLANDO CITY 2, Fire 0. The Lions have hit a bit of a slump, but closes losses to top teams doesn't make Orlando City any less tough, especially at home. That doesn't bode well for a Fire defense struggling of late.

MINNESOTA UNITED 2, Impact 1. The Montreal freefall should continue, even though the Loons are one of the league's most inconsistent teams. If they can keep Ignacio Piatti from running wild, Minnesota should grab three points.

Rapids 1, TIMBERS 2. This has the makings of a classic MLS trap game, with the Timbers riding a five-match winning streak. That said, it's tough to pick the Rapids, even at home.

*LAFC 3, D.C. United 0. A win in San Jose seems to suggest D.C. is showing signs of life, but it's tough to see the D.C. defense being able to cope with LAFC's dynamic attack. Diego Rossi has a monster game in a romp.

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SPORTING KC 1, Crew 0. The Columbus defense is on a roll, as is the Crew's attack, but Sporting KC is very tough at home and matches up well with the Crew. Don't expect many goals, but look for Daniel Salloi to notch the winner.

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