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MLS Western Conference Week 8: Second Time Around

Khari Stephenson played both as a CDM and as a CAM this past week.
Khari Stephenson played both as a CDM and as a CAM this past week.

This weekend the Whitecaps play the Earthquakes for the second time this season, the first of many second chances built into this unbalanced MLS schedule. San Jose won the first meeting, a 3-1 romp in front of their home crowd. This time the first place Quakes will have to try it in Canada after having played two games in the previous eight days.

As has been mentioned on this blog previously, the unbalanced schedule seems particularly rewarding of teams that can use their depth and versatility to win multiple times against the same opponent, as well as multiple times in one week. We saw this sort of mastery when Salt Lake started 16 outfield players during their three-game week earlier in the season. We saw it again this week as San Jose trotted out two very different-looking lineups in quick succession versus Philadelphia and DC.

At the same time, teams with lesser depth and versatility have failed this important test. Los Angeles, Seattle and Toronto showed earlier this season that they were unable to keep up a Champions League run at the same time as they competed in MLS. Los Angeles betrayed their lack of depth again this week, drawing against Dallas at home, and then getting shut out in Seattle without Robbie Keane and David Beckham on Wednesday.

The Portland Timbers' first three-game week comes in June-July, and then again a week after that. I'm holding out hope that they can build some depth and versatility before then.

The Western Conference Weekly follows the jump.

San Jose Earthquakes

Last week: 2-1 win at Philadelphia; 5-3 win vs DC United

The Quakes are now not just the best team in the West, but after playing two games last week they now have more points than even Sporting Kansas City (although SKC still have a higher ppm). They have also scored more goals than any other team and have the league's biggest goal differential.

All that is thanks to Steven Lenhart's first four goals of the season and the team's ability to change up their formation to suit their opponents. Khari Stephenson and Tressor Moreno switched off between attacking and defending in the center in the two matches, as Rafael Baca, Marvin Chavez and Simon Dawkins shared duties on the wings. Overall the Quakes played two completely different strategies on Saturday and Wednesday, playing a more cautious 4-5-1 on the road in Philly and a very aggressive 4-4-2 against DC United.

They play Vancouver for the second time of the season on Saturday, where they'll try to keep the streak alive in their third game in eight days.

Week 9 projection: 1-2 loss at Vancouver

Real Salt Lake

Last week: 3-2 win vs Toronto

RSL just keeps finding ways to win. If there were a trophy for MLS' luckiest team, RSL would already have it wrapped up for the season. Toronto, meanwhile, would have the award for unluckiest team in the bag. Seconds away from collecting their first point of the season, who else but Johnny Steele scored the go-ahead. RSL are making it happen with just about everyone on the roster.

Week 9 projection: 2-0 win vs New England

Seattle Sounders

Last week: 2-1 win at Chicago; 2-0 win vs Los Angeles

The return of Mauro Rosales was a welcome sight for the Flounder faithful, as it meant both Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero finally opened their 2012 accounts. They're still having trouble connecting between the midfield and the strikers, but now that they have Rosales around to float the ball in to Johnson's head, they should find improved options up front. Especially if opponents give Rosales a literal quarter acre of space, as Landon Donovan and the Galaxy did.

Week 9 projection: 2-0 win vs Philadelphia; 3-1 win at Dallas

Vancouver Whitecaps

Last week: 1-0 win at Columbus

The Caps still haven't quite figured out how to score goals with the excessive talent they have at the top of their 4-3-3 lineup. But they have figured out how to win games in spite of not dominating. Vancouver were content to play defense and spend most of the 90 minutes pinned in their own half, just waiting for that one opportunity to score. With the quality they have on their back line, they can afford to take that chance.

Week 9 projection: 2-1 win vs San Jose

Colorado Rapids

Last week: 4-0 win vs Chivas; 2-1 loss at New England

All the Colorado fans just dying to get Conor Casey back out on the field got a huge boost late in Saturday's match, followed by a big let down as they saw with their own eyes how much more time he's going to need before he's ready to start. That's a problem, because, as they showed on Wednesday, Omar Cummings isn't getting it done by himself. They also showed their lack of depth on the backline, as a Marvell-Wynne-less defense led to far too many chances against New England.

That's not to deny that they took Chivas to the cleaners on Saturday, but the 4-0 scoreline resulted mostly from an uncharacteristic late-match breakdown that allowed three goals in the final ten minutes.

Week 9 projection: 1-1 draw at Dallas

FC Dallas

Last week: 1-1 draw at Los Angeles

Dallas finished a three-game week with a respectable 1-1 draw in Los Angeles that would have been a win, if not for some late game heroics from some dude named Noonan. Still, with their one goal coming on a penalty kick, Dallas fans should be concerned that Brek Shea is the only man creating anything on the attack. And with another tough week coming up -- three games in seven days starting on Sunday -- Dallas needs to find some different ways to win.

Week 9 projection: 1-1 draw vs Colorado; 3-1 loss vs Seattle

LA Galaxy

Last week: 1-1 draw vs Dallas; 2-0 loss at Seattle

Week eight was not good for the Galaxy. First Robbie Keane missed badly on a penalty kick Saturday and were fortunate to snag a point against flailing Dallas at home. Then they traveled to Seattle and played just atrocious defense while creating next to nothing with their midweek lineup that has proven so impotent all year. That they only lost 2-0 Wednesday night is thanks to Seattle's poor finishing and some excellent work from backup goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, filling in for former Timber Josh Saunders, whom we wish the best as he deals with some personal issues.

(If the name Bill Gaudette sounds familiar, you might remember him for failing to keep this golazo out of the Puerto Rico Islanders' net.)

Week 9 projection: 2-2 draw vs New York

Chivas USA

Last week: 4-0 loss at Colorado

It's tough to be a Timbers fan right now. It's almost as tough to be a Chivas fan. Fans who were hoping for an offensive explosion with the return of Juan Pablo Angel were treated to more of the same in his first start since opening day. Well, not exactly the same, as the defense gave up more than one goal for the first time all year, thanks to a late game breakdown in Commerce City.

Week 9 projection: 1-0 win vs Chicago