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Champions League tests quintet; Real, Barça barnstorm the States


With the rash of international call-ups earlier this summer, Major League Soccer's managers had their hands full dealing with constantly shifting Starting XIs. Players are back from national-team duty, but the CONCACAF Champions League is just beginning, once again requiring participating clubs -- Houston, Columbus, D.C. United and New York (Toronto FC was eliminated on Tuesday) -- to manage minutes creatively. Of these teams, expect the Red Bulls, whose MLS season is essentially over, to field their best roster in the Champions League. Add Chicago's date Wednesday night in the SuperLiga final against Mexico's Tigres into the mix, and it's clear that the juggling job is never done (especially with such thin rosters).

After 21 matches, New York has 10 points from a 2-15-4 record. That's bad, but does the team have a chance to be historically terrible? In a word, yes. Juan Carlos Osorio's squad is pushing the 1999 MetroStars -- who managed just 15 points from seven wins (three via shootout) against 25 losses -- for worst of all time. A more recent contender is the '05 Chivas USA team that posted a 4-22-6 record (18 points). The next three RBNY matches come at home, which should help, although Osorio's boys face Chivas USA, a resurgent FC Dallas club and the Crew. Without a serious run of good form, this team is destined for the MLS annals of failure.

Barcelona finishes up its U.S. tour on Wednesday night with a game in Seattle, where Sounders star Freddie Ljungberg will seek a minor measure of revenge after his Arsenal side fell to the Spanish giants in the '06 Champions League final. Elsewhere, Real Madrid becomes the latest European powerhouse to grace Major League Soccer with its presence, playing matches against TFC on Friday and D.C. on Sunday The biggest MLS tilt of the week takes place on Sunday when the Fire travel to Houston. With Columbus playing a winnable game against the Quakes at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on Saturday (the opening act for Barça vs. Chivas de Guadalajara), it's likely Chicago will need three points to keep pace with the Eastern Conference leaders. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy fly across the country for a tilt with a New England side that's as healthy as it has been all season.

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