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MLS Talking Points: Struggling Cascadia rivals face off, California Clasico and more

Goal.com logo Goal.com 26-05-2017

Rivalries, reunions and a clash of high-profile foreign coaches headline what should be an entertaining Week 13 in MLS.

The league may not be formally dubbing this a "Rivalry Week," but it has all the ingredients for one, with three of the league's best rivalries on the docket.

The Portland Timbers visit the Seattle Sounders in the most high profile of this weekend's grudge matches, but the Houston Dynamo's improvements in 2017 should help boost a Texas derby that had lost its luster in recent years.

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Then you have the California Clasico, which has always produced fireworks, even when the teams were far apart in the standings. This time around their roles are reversed a bit, with the San Jose Earthquakes ahead of the LA Galaxy in the West.

Adrian Heath will face off against Orlando City for the first time since being fired as Lions coach a year ago, while another battle between recent expansion teams — Atlanta United vs. New York City FC — gives us Patrick Vieira doing battle with Gerardo Martino in what could be one of the weekend's most entertaining matches.

Here is a closer look at the key things to watch in MLS Week 13:

IT'S A BIG WEEKEND FOR ... WESTERN CONFERENCE DERBIES

The winners of the past two MLS Cup titles square off in Seattle, only neither team is playing much like a champion these days.

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are a combined 1-5-3 over the course of the past month, with the win coming courtesy of a thin and underwhelming Sounders side against Real Salt Lake at home.

The Timbers began the season playing like title contenders before some key injuries and an overall dip in form saw them cool off considerably. The Sounders have spent the bulk of the season struggling to find a consistently high level. They have had masterpiece showings against the New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy, but more recently were humbled in big losses to Chicago and Sporting Kansas City.

Those struggles aside, the Timbers and Sounders tend to bring the best out of each other when they meet, so Saturday's clash at CenturyLink Field should still be a barn burner. The Timbers had their full attacking squad available last week for the first time in a month, but Diego Chara's red card spoiled the reunion in an eventual 4-1 loss to Montreal.

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The tandem of Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe should keep Seattle on its toes, but the absence of Chara could make it tough for the Timbers to win the midfield battle against the likes of Osvaldo Alonso, Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan.

In Texas, the Houston Dynamo travel to FC Dallas with plenty to prove. The Dynamo have been one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch, but more so at home. They have yet to earn a single point in five matches on the road. The drive to Frisco, Texas, isn't exactly a far trip, though, and Dallas showed some vulnerability at home, dropping a 1-0 decision to San Jose at home last week. Oscar Pareja trotted out a mostly second-choice squad in Thursday's loss to the Chicago Fire, and should have a rested group ready to go at the Dynamo on Sunday.

The California Clasico isn't generating as much buzz as in years past, but the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy actually enter this contest on good runs after some rough early stretches. The Earthquakes are unbeaten at Avaya Stadium this year (3-0-3) and will also be riding a wave of confidence after posting a road shutout win against Dallas last week. The Galaxy have looked like a much better team in recent weeks, and are unbeaten in four.

DON'T MISS ... ATLANTA UNITED vs. NYCFC

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Two of the league's most dynamic attacking teams square off in Atlanta on Saturday in a match that should be wide open and filled with entertaining soccer.

Patrick Vieira and Gerardo Martino are two coaches who believe in proactive styles of soccer, even if it can sometimes leave their teams exposed defensively. But both men also know that it is a long MLS season, and this time of year is still a period of discovery as they each search for better balance in their squads.

When these teams met earlier this month at Yankee Stadium, it was NYCFC that controlled the match for longer stretches, and generated more opportunities — as evidenced by its 11 shots on goal to Atlanta's 4. The expansion side will have more room to work with at Bobby Dodd Stadium than it had at the notoriously narrow Yankee Stadium, which should help the Atlanta attack use space to pressure NYCFC's defense.

That said, NYCFC's attack is also better suited for a bigger field, so we should see an even more wide-open game than their last meeting.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Osvaldo Alonso vs. Diego Valeri. There are plenty of key battles that will help determine the winner, but none is bigger than this clash of All-Stars.

Federico Higuain vs. Michael Bradley. Though Justin Meram has become more of a force in the Crew attack, Higuain's playmaking role is still vital, and Bradley will need to keep him contained.

Chris Wondolowski vs. Jelle Van Damme. Wondolowski's well-timed runs and nose for open space make him a constant threat, especially if Van Damme gets caught on one of his upfield adventures.

Matt Hedges vs. Erick Torres. Though he might be fatigued from starting Thursday against the Fire, Hedges should have the duty of containing Torres, who has cooled off lately.

Giovani dos Santos vs. Florian Jungwirth. You never know what you're going to get from Dos Santos, but Jungwirth has emerged as an All-Star-caliber defender who could keep the Mexican star under wraps.

David Villa vs. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Villa had a goal and assist the last time these teams met, but may find the going tougher this time around.

Christian Ramirez vs. Jonathan Spector. If Ramirez wants to boost his chances of getting on Bruce Arena's U.S. national team radar, having a big game against a tough veteran like Spector will go a long way.

Jack Harrison vs. Greg Garza. Harrison managed an assist the last time these two met, and will need to have a strong game to help NYCFC secure a road win.

Lee Nguyen vs. Felipe. If Jesse Marsch keeps Felipe in a defensive midfielder role, then the Brazilian will have his hands full trying to contain Nguyen while helping with the red-hot Diego Fagundez.

WEEK 13 PREDICTIONS

TORONTO FC 2, Crew 1. Playing without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore will make things tougher for TFC, but Greg Vanney's squad is deep, and still has the weapons to win at home.

SOUNDERS 3, Timbers 1. A home game against their biggest rival should be enough to help the Sounders regain their rhythm, and Clint Dempsey is due for a big game.

WHITECAPS 2, D.C. United 0. The Whitecaps have won three of four, and three straight at home, taking on a D.C. team that hasn't scored a goal during its current three-game losing run. Should be a cakewalk, but this is MLS, so this is a candidate for a typical bizarro result.

RED BULLS 2, Revolution 1. The Red Bulls finally looked like a good team last week after a recent dry spell, but they face a Revs side confident after two wins. Give the Red Bulls the edge, with Daniel Royer having a big game.

Rapids 0, SPORTING KC 1. With seven losses in eight matches, the Rapids are a shell of last year's surprise team, and even their altitude advantage won't be enough against a dangerous Sporting KC side.

Real Salt Lake 1, UNION 2. This could be a letdown game for the Union after four straight wins, but RSL has lost five of six and will sorely miss the suspended Kyle Beckerman.

MINNESOTA UNITED 2, Orlando City 1. The Lions are suddenly mired in a five-match winless slide, and the Loons have been a handful at home. Look for Adrian Heath to enjoy some revenge against the team that fired him.

Earthquakes 2, Galaxy 2. This one is a toss-up, so we'll leave it a draw, with Chris Wondolowski netting a late equalizer in true Goonies fashion.

ATLANTA UNITED 2, NYCFC 1. Tata Martino's men have struggled with consistency, and NYCFC has been tough on the road, but we'll give the edge to Atlanta, as Miguel Almiron has another big game.

FC DALLAS 3, Dynamo 1. Thursday's loss to Chicago shouldn't impact Dallas too much considering how many reserves played, so look for Maximiliano Urruti and Kellyn Acosta to lead FCD to the derby win, while keeping the Dynamo point-less on the road.

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