With the MLS All-Star Game less than a week away, this weekend's MLS match-ups offer up players the last chance to show us that maybe, just maybe New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe made a few mistakes when selecting the All-Star roster that will take on Manchester United on Wednesday.
Perhaps no team has as many gripes as Real Salt Lake, which will send two players to the All-Star Game (Jamison Olave and Kyle Beckerman) but saw several other worthy players passed over, including the likes of Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Will Johnson and Fabian Espindola.
Ultimately, the roster was Backe's call, and given some of his selections it was clear that he took personal preference and his opinions on who could help the MLS All-Star Team win over actual performance on the field in some cases.
RSL head coach Jason Kreis voiced his displeasure with the snubbing of some of his players and he and his team will have a chance to take on a San Jose side with its own two all-stars in Chris Wondolowski and Bobby Convey. Wondolowski has earned his place in the All-Star Game, and Bobby Convey has been one of the better wingers in the league in recent years, but that won't stop Real Salt Lake from trying to stifle the tricky striker and veteran winger and remind Backe and others which team in MLS has the best defense in the league.
Ultimately, the All-Star snubs won't do much to affect Real Salt Lake's season. The CONCACAF Champions League finalists have posted a strong year despite losing playmaker Javier Morales early on, and with five games in hand on West leaders Los Angeles and Seattle (and four in hand on FC Dallas), RSL is still holding out hope of a late run at the Supporters Shield and the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Ultimately those goals, more than any All-Star snubs, will offer Real Salt Lake the necessary motivation to go after silverware in a season where the club came in expected to sweep up multiple trophies.
Here is a closer look at this weekend's MLS matches:
New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas
Coming off an embarrassing drubbing against Colorado, the Red Bulls return home and will be hoping to have Teemu Tainio and Rafa Marquez back in the mix. They'll need them against a streaking FC Dallas side led by midfielder Brek Shea, who has the look of an MVP front-runner these days. The Shea-Jan Gunnar Solli will be a can't-miss encounter, as will a potential Thierry Henry-George John battle.
The young and overachieving Crew return to Crew Stadium looking to get an offense going that has struggled in recent weeks. Their opponent is a Portland side whose defense has had its issues in the past month, but recently scored a vital road shutout win at Chicago. Can Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer have another standout performance? Can the Timbers win two straight on the road?
Sporting Kansas City vs. Toronto FC
Sporting is still on an unbeaten run (11 matches to be exact) but three straight draws and a heart-breaking last-second draw against Houston last week has Peter Vermes' side feeling like it's in a bit of a slump. Enter new-look TFC, complete with newly-acquired Designated Players leading a half-dozen new faces trying to turn things around for Aron Winter's club. The newcomers didn't help in a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas, but should push Sporting in a tightly-contested Eastern Conference battle.
Game two of the Sanna Nyassi-as-striker experiment will pit Nyassi and the Rapids against a Revs side coming off one of its best games of the season. Nyassi torched New York for a hat-trick, but should find a tougher test against the New England tandem of A.J. Soares and Darrius Barnes. The real question is can the Revs generate enough goals to threaten the defending MLS Cup champions? Look for the Rapids to keep rolling.
Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes
RSL missed a chance for three points because of last week's postponed match against Vancouver, but the rest could do wonders against a San Jose side that battled to a 2-2 draw at mid-week against the Whitecaps. Chris Wondolowski looks to be back in All-Star form, but RSL's defense will surely be looking for a shutout to send one more message that a few more RSL players should be joining Wondolowski at the MLS All-Star Game.
Chivas USA vs. Houston Dynamo
It's tough to believe it but Chivas USA is just a point out of a playoff spot despite its ups and downs this year, and a win against the Dynamo would catapult the Goats right into a playoff spot. There's plenty of soccer to be played, but Robin Fraser's side needs to win these match-ups to secure a post-season spot. For the Dynamo, scoring their first road win of the season will be the task, which won't be easy unless Dom Kinnear's offense can do more than rely on Brad Davis to carry the attack.