MLS Western Conference Week 18: Forcing Errors

Fabian Espindola suggests to Silviu Petrescu that he take another hit.

The MLS All Stars put on a nice show last night and proved that if you put the UEFA Champions League winners on enough planes in a short enough span of time, even a bunch of loosely assembled MLS players can emerge victorious. None of this changes the fact that MLS is far from the best soccer on the planet.

Real Salt Lake proved as much this past weekend, stealing some passes out of the Colorado backfield to pull off a win against the Rapids. Yes, they also held Colorado without a single shot on target, but their goals were scored on the laxness of their opponents.

While Portland Timbers strikers still struggle to figure out how to get their wings to pass them the ball, a growing number of MLS strikers have figured out how to get opposing defenses to pass them the ball. Which is quite a bit more effective, because it negates the whole offside problem.

The Galaxy has been particularly well known for exploiting the trust that MLS sides have developed -- that MLS attackers are going to go ahead and let defenses have space to work the ball back and forth on their end of the pitch. Landon Donovan and Mike Magee have thrust their team into the playoff picture by taking advantage of their opponents' lazy play.

The point is, scoring goals in MLS doesn't have to result from the rare, tremendous confluence of skill and luck the Timbers have relied on for most of the season. Sometimes, all you have to do is apply a little more pressure a little higher on the field, be a little more sneaky, and wait for the opponent to make a terrible mistake.

San Jose Earthquakes

Last week: 2-1 win vs Dallas, 2-1 loss at Vancouver

San Jose hosted a self-destructing Dallas side last week before traveling to the very difficult BC Place for the last time of the regular season. They finished their 2012 season series with Vancouver, suffering another 2-1 loss.

This weekend they'll have the good fortune of hosting Chicago, a team that has been reeling since losing Sebastian Grazzini. It will be interesting to see what Sherjill MacDonald can do against the league leaders.

Week 19 projection: 2-1 win vs Chicago

Real Salt Lake

Last week: 2-0 win vs Colorado

Well, that was easy. RSL emerged from their 5-0 embarrassment against San Jose by letting a well rested Fabian Espindola run all over Colorado's defense, while holding the Rapids to three shots, none on target. That they did it without Kyle Beckerman is encouraging, although everybody but the Timbers is beating Colorado lately. A more formidable test will come against Vancouver.

Week 19 projection: 2-1 win vs Vancouver

LA Galaxy

Last week: 2-2 draw at Vancouver, 3-1 win vs Chivas

These designated players can kill you any number of ways, and they continue to do so. You have to go back an awful long way (June 23) to find a Galaxy goal that wasn't scored or assisted by either Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane or David Beckham. They're pretty good.

They're doing so well, in fact, that I'm projecting them to finish third. That doesn't mean I like them any better.

Week 19 projection: 3-2 win at Dallas

Seattle Sounders

Last week: bye

Oh, let Eddie Johnson have his All-Star Game winning moment. Whatever.

Week 19 projection: 3-1 loss at Colorado

Vancouver Whitecaps

Last week: 2-2 draw vs Los Angeles, 2-1 win vs San Jose

Dane Richards looks good. The Caps have been missing out on some speed and size on the wings ever since the injury to Omar Salgado. Now with Richards paired up with Lee Young-Pyo, Vancouver's right side might start to rival San Jose's combination of Steven Beitashour and Marvin Chavez.

Week 19 projection: 2-1 loss at Salt Lake

Colorado Rapids

Last week: 2-1 loss at Toronto, 2-0 loss at Salt Lake

Seven losses in their last eight matches. Their lack of depth in defense and striker positions showed during a tough three-match week, but now with a full week of rest maybe they'll be able to turn things around.

Week 19 projection: 3-1 win vs Seattle

Chivas USA

Last week: 1-0 win vs Portland, 3-1 loss at Los Angeles

Chivas are another team that seems to be unable to win games except those against the Portland Timbers. Lucky for them, the Timbers are their next opponent. Unlucky for them, Ryan Smith, whose two best games of the season have come against the Timbers, is out with a hamstring strain. Portland might have a chance this time.

Week 19 projection: a match against Portland

FC Dallas

Last week: 2-1 loss at San Jose, 5-0 win vs Portland

It would appear that whatever drama lingered over Brek Shea's tantrum last week was erased by Saturday's result against Portland. I don't really want to get into it, but Daniel Robertson at Big D Soccer has some interesting observations about the game, related to the Timbers' reluctance to press high up the pitch and try to force Dallas to make errors.

Week 19 projection: 3-2 loss vs Los Angeles

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