Armchair Analyst: Sjoberg has big chance to prove All-Star credentials

Once again I got absolutely trounced in Pick 'Em last week, as home teams went 4-4-2 and I went 0-2 on non-home team picks (I had Montreal getting a point at Orlando City and the Rapids earning a road point in Seattle, neither of which happened). Between that and yet another midweek draw -- Philly got a point in Orlando thanks to a 2-2 result, which means that home teams are 5-0-6 on Wednesdays over the last month -- I am slipping badly.

Here are the gory details: I went 3-7 last week, and 0-1 on Wednesday. Home teams have won 65 of 123 contests thus far; I have chosen something other than a home team win 5 games, and the home team has won four of them. So I've slipped under 50% for the first time all season, at 61-for-123.

Here are my picks for this weekend:

  • Sporting KC finally break their slump vs. D.C. on Friday (8:30 pm ET; Unimas)
  • Vancouver roll over Houston
  • RBNY collect all three points against Toronto FC
  • Columbus crack the code vs. RSL and get a win
  • Struggling New England get full points against Seattle
  • The Galaxy go to Montreal and get a point
  • Portland go to Chicago and take all three
  • Colorado posts yet another 1-0 win, this time over Philly
  • FC Dallas take all three points in San Jose
  • NYCFC top Orlando City on Sunday (4:30 pm ET; ESPN)

There are obviously a few good reasons to watch the Sporting/D.C. game beyond "soccer is fun and I like to watch it. You can see the Benny Feihaber video embedded above, but I also think it's worth focusing on just how good D.C.'s Patrick Nyarko has been. Dude has ruthlessly punished overlapping fullbacks all season, and few in MLS overlap as high and hard as KC's guys. If they give Nyarko space, he will make them pay.

Ignore that part about Nyarko -- he's out with a concussion according to the D.C. injury report. United have depth on the wings, but nobody who's the type of instinctive, ruthless playmaker that Nyarko's been this season. Advantage: Sporting in this one.

  • Update: A defensive duel was punctuated by an MLS newcomer, Alhaji Kamara, scoring a late winner for D.C. That has to make the days-long saga of traveling to the game worth it for United.

Here's what else to watch out for:


Shock Me

MLS All-Star voting is open, and a lot of the names basically write themselves in. Andre Blake, Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani Dos Santos... and Axel Sjoberg.

There isn't one outstanding, obvious leader for MLS Defender of the Year, which means that the smartest thing to do is start looking at guys on the best defensive teams and sort of expanding out from there. After a couple of weeks of really starting to dig in on Sjoberg, I'm having trouble moving on from him when I make my very early "Defender of the Year" list, and it's not just because he is a monster in the box.

You're not surprised by that, right? The 25-year-old Swede is 6-foot-7 so he damn well better be good in the air and he did, in fact, score his first professional goal in last week's 1-0 win over the Sounders. In his 11 starts, Colorado have conceded 7 goals and posted five shutouts. Everything sort of lines up, doesn't it?

But he's a much better passer than you realize. Simple plays like this one:

...keep the Rapids from being unidimensional. His was just one touch out of many in that sequence, but it was a crucial touch -- one that reversed the Columbus pressure and allowed the Rapids to keep pushing numbers forward. A less intelligent or patient center back would have just skipped the midfield, but he chose a smart pass and his team was rewarded, several touches later, with a good chance.

Now, the Rapids still absolutely prefer to just boot it long and don't put much of a premium on possession, but in the few moments when they do possess the ball, Sjoberg's an asset.

And in my opinion, he's also an All-Star. He'll get to prove it on Saturday night against Philadelphia (9 pm ET; MLS LIVE) when C.J. Sapong -- one of the better and more physical No. 9s in the league -- visit Commerce City.

I'll also be watching: Tranquillo Barnetta's finishing touch. His movement and vision are both spectacular, but he's been sloppy in front of goal. Perhaps Wednesday's success can lead to bigger and better things.


Mr. Speed

The best game of Fabian Castillo's career came against the San Jose Earthquakes a couple of years ago. That same night, Tesho Akindele also put together the best game of his career. Castillo had two goals and an assist, while Tesho had a hat-trick as Dallas stomped all over the Quakes to the tune of 5-0.

Castillo and Akindele are both back in fine form, and while the Quakes have been a tough out all year, it has to be assumed that this is the week that the dam's destined to burst. Anibal Godoy, Alberto Quintero, Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski are all off on international duty. Clarence Goodson and Marc Pelosi are still hurt. FCD, meanwhile, will be at close to full strength when they visit Avaya Stadium on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

Missing Godoy in particular will hurt, since Dallas are vicious with their selective high press and will punish any sort of lost rhythm:

Castillo is built to take advantage of openings like that. San Jose -- who will likely start Fatai Alashe and Matias Perez Garcia in central midfield -- have to be aware of it.

I'll also be watching: QuincyTime? Dom Kinnear has hinted that the bowling ball of a center forward could be available for the first time in more than a month.


Nowhere To Run

NYCFC return to the scene of the crime on Sunday, hosting Orlando City at Yankee Stadium (4:30 pm ET; ESPN) -- the spot where they conceded a touchdown last week.

Two tweets to explain how wild this one can get:

I can't even begin to imagine how the Pigeons will rebound from last week's humiliation. One thing Patrick Vieira may want to consider, though, is getting Patrick Mullins into the lineup in order to add another aerial threat on restarts. OCSC's inability to defend on those pretty much demands that you expose their weakness.

I'll also be watching: Julio Baptista as a No. 10, perhaps? Really more of a second forward than Kaká, but I think he's the natural choice to step into that role now that Kaká is off to join la Seleçao.


One more thing:

We've all seen it by now, but I just can't get enough.

Happy weekending, everyone.

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