MLS Weekend Preview
Showdown in Frisco; NYC Boot Race; Desperate Union
October 14, 2016
THERE ARE JUST two weekends left in the 2016 Major League Soccer regular season and with the conclusion of the recent midweek action, all teams have played 32 games. Unlike the insanity—and the drama—of year’s past, this weekend could see all six playoff spots determined in each conference. The race for first place and first round playoff byes, however, is wide open.
Sunday should be a revealing day of soccer in both the United States and Canada and it should set the stage nicely for the final weekend
Game of the Week: Dallas-Seattle
Sunday's best game will take place in Frisco, Texas, when FC Dallas hosts the Seattle Sounders in a matchup of two highly motivated and talented teams. When Colorado defeated San Jose Thursday night, it leapfrogged Dallas for both first place in the West and the lead position for the Supporters’ Shield.
If Dallas wants to climb back into first and maintain its pursuit of the treble, it must defeat the Sounders as the following weekend it has to travel to Los Angeles and take on the Galaxy. Dallas has had to overcome a lot this year with injuries to key players like Matt Hedges and the departure of Fabian Castillo. Still, Oscar Pareja’s youthful team has remained in contention for top honors.
It has been quite a different story for Seattle, which was in last place during the summer and has had to deal with Clint Dempsey's season-ending heart troubles.
Thanks to strong leadership from interim head coach Brian Schmetzer and led by rookie Jordan Morris and Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, the team has enjoyed a rather remarkable rally and can not only clinch a playoff spot with a win over Dallas but it can also be in line to host its first round game.
The big test in the game will be the ability of FC Dallas’ talented central defense tandem—Hedges and Walker Zimmerman—to keep Seattle’s offense in check. The two have been the cornerstone of the team’s success this season. Similarly for Seattle, it will come down to Lodeiro and Morris being able to connect and get through the Dallas backline.
This should be a good one.
All eyes on Philadelphia
It has been a season of extreme peaks and valleys for the Philadelphia Union all year.
At the start of the season, the Philadelphia Union exceeded expectations and stood at the top of the Eastern Conference despite the long-term injury to Maurice Edu. Then, in June, midfielder Vincent Nogueira left the team and the Union began to fade. Expectations surged, however, when the club signed Charlie Davies and U.S. international Alejandro Bedoya—but the fresh blood did not prevent the club's current five-game winless skid.
Now Jim Curtin’s team is clinging to the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot and hopes to make just its second postseason appearance in team history. On Sunday it will host already-eliminated Orlando City SC.
This is a must-win game because the season finale will be against an in-form and conference-leading New York Red Bulls team.
A win would all but assure Philadephia a playoff spot because while it leads seventh-place New England by three points, it has a commanding +13 goal differential over the Revolution, which assures it of winning any kind of tiebreaker on points. A Union loss combined with a New England win over league-worst Chicago on Sunday makes everything up for grabs, with New England having an easier schedule on the final day.
Defending Champs on the Brink
Last December the Portland Timbers were the toast of MLS, making a great run to finish the regular season followed by winning MLS Cup—with impressive performances on the road against FC Dallas and Columbus Crew SC.
It has been a terrible title defense year, however, as the club has been winless on the road so far this season and is currently in seventh place, two points out of the playoffs. On Sunday the Timbers will host Supporters’ Shield-leading Colorado and a failure to win, combined with a Sporting Kansas City win over Real Salt Lake, will eliminate the champs.
Portland desperately needs to win this game and hope for help from Real Salt Lake because the last thing Caleb Porter wants is go on the road in the final game, at Vancouver, with the team needing to win its first away game of the season.
There is a lot of blame to go around for Portland’s poor season and injuries certainly played a role. But if the team can sneak into the playoffs, it could still be a difficult opponent. Getting there right now, however, is less than 50-50. On Wednesday, the club will also face a must-win CONCACAF Champions League game against Deportivo Saprissa.
It will be particularly interesting to see if Darlington Nagbe can play a pivotal role after electing not to play with the U.S. national team last week. When he is on, he can carry a team but when he is off, he is invisible.
Golden Boot Race in Big Apple
The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have put on quite a show, taking the conference's top spot, slugging it out on the pitch, and even chirping in the media.
NYCFC is loaded with aging superstars, is led by a famous European coach, and plays in a modified baseball stadium. The Red Bulls have a mostly American feel, a young Yank at the helm, and plays in a great soccer stadium. One team is original to the league while the other is only in its second season.
The teams occupy the top two spots in the Eastern Conference and are tied on points. But both teams also feature the two players who are tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race: Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa both have 21 goals this season.
Last year it was clear that Sebastian Giovinco was the league MVP but this season it is very debatable. Some still argue for Giovinco, NYCFC fans are adamant that David Villa is the only choice, while Red Bulls fans insist that either Wright-Phillips or even Sacha Kljestan are more deserving.
What happens in these next two weeks will be telling. My personal take is that the Red Bulls are an overall better team than NYCFC but that David Villa is the league MVP. But the proof will come on the field starting Sunday.
Chicago Fire 1-2 New England Revolution
D.C. United 2-2 New York City FC
Montreal Impact 1-3 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 3-0 Columbus Crew SC
Philadelphia Union 2-1 Orlando City SC
Dallas 2-1 Seattle Sounders
Houston Dynamo 0-1 LA Galaxy
Portland Timbers 0-0 Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake 2-2 Sporting Kansas City
San Jose Earthquakes 2-3 Vancouver Whitecaps