MLS Weekend Preview
The Big Apple Derby Takes Centerstage This Weekend
May 20, 2016
Big Apple Derby Day
New York City FC hosts the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium (3pm ET, MLS Live) and a huge crowd is expected in the Bronx. For the first time in the brief history of the Big Apple Derby, NYCFC will be the favorite.
NYCFC has been the best team in the Eastern Conference the past two months and now sits in first place on 17 points. After winning three games in a row, NYCFC played to a 1-1 away draw against Toronto—which was impressive given that it rested Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara, and had David Villa come off the bench. Head coach Partrick Vieira bably wants to defeat the Red Bulls and he rested his star players in an effort to do so.
That said, NYCFC has concerns along the backline. Attacking-wise, the club has not missed Frank Lampard at all. Villa has been a model designated player and Tommy McNamara is one of the fastest-rising players in MLS. Both players have been very fun to watch.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have had an up-and-down season. Despite losing six of its first seven games, the Red Bulls have gradually rebounded and now have 13 points through 12 games. Still, Jesse Marsch’s side looks like a shell of the team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2015. Last weekend, the Red Bulls were horrible and showed little energy in a 2-0 loss to D.C. United. It managed to win 1-0 against the Fire on Wednesday but there were still plenty of causes for concern as it mustered just one shot at home against the worst team in the league.
This game should be great for the league. The crowd should be rowdy and electric. Red Bulls fans in attendance were angered this past weekend when NYCFC announced it would cut the visiting ticket allotment due to undisclosed “incidents” last year.
But both teams will have a lot on the line and a lot to prove. Neither will want to slip up on the big stage. You won't want to miss this one, soccer fans.
Seattle, Colorado, and the USMNT
On Saturday night Seattle will host a Colorado (10pm ET, MLS Live) team that—shockingly—boasts the league's best record. As the full Copa America Centenario team for the United States assembles on Monday, this game will have a real U.S. national team feel as Jermaine Jones and the Rapids take on Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and the Sounders.
Jones is now 34 and it remains to be seen if he will be a viable candidate for the 2018 World Cup roster. But as far as 2016 is concerned, he might just be the most valuable player in MLS for what he has done for Colorado. Yes, he’s scoring goals and making big plays, but his intensity and commitment is inspirational. Jones has elevated his team.
By any measure, Seattle has had a disappointing start to the season although there have been recent signs of life. Prior to last weekend’s lethargic 2-0 road loss to FC Dallas, the Sounders had won three of four. Jordan Morris has been central to the club's success, and scoring goals in four consecutive contests.
While MLS is taking a break during the group stages of the Copa America, a deep run by the U.S. national team would likely force Seattle to play without Dempsey and Morris, which would be catastrophic.
Is Philadelphia for real?
Like Colorado, the Philadelphia Union is a tough team to read. Predicted by most to finish out of the playoffs, the club is in fourth place with 15 points through 10 games. So far Philadelphia clearly looks like a playoff team and its defense is a big part of the equation.
Whether or not Philadelphia is a threat to win the Eastern Conference remains to be seen. Home games like the one against D.C. United on Friday (7pm ET, UniMas) will be telling.
There are a couple of Union players to keep a close eye on. Keegan Rosenberry has the potential to be the rookie of the year. Also, C.J. Sapong could force himself into the national team mix by the end of the year—mostly because so many national team forwards are perpetually injured (Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson), long in the tooth (Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski), or inexperienced (Jordan Morris).
Timbers face tough test
The Portland Timbers have been slow out of the gate. Last weekend’s loss to NYCFC, its third in a row, kept Caleb Porter’s team at 12 points and ninth place in the Western Conference. On Sunday Portland hosts a Vancouver Whitecaps side (4:30pm ET, ESPN) that has won three in a row. Another loss and Portland could find itself in last place in the Western Conference.
What is wrong with the defending MLS Cup champs? A lot of things.
For one, injuries have taken a toll and too many players have missed too many games. Second, its defense has been the worst in the league, conceding 22 goals so far in 2016. But it’s not just the defenders, the midfield has also failed in its defensive responsibilities so far. Attackers Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla have largely disappointed and Melano’s designated player status limits the team’s ability to sign a top player.
If Portland doesn't turn things around quickly it could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.
Can a California Derby gain traction?
MLS has its flaws but the league is generally good at promoting rivalries. Yes, there have been some clunkers—promotions for the “Super Classico” between now-defunct Chivas USA and the L.A. Galaxy were comically bad—but the Portland—Seattle rivalry is strong. The D.C. United—Red Bulls rivalry dates back to the founding of the league, and there is growing buzz about the New York Derby.
When LAFC opens shop, perhaps that will be a good fit with the Galaxy but it would be nice to see the San Jose Earthquakes emerge as a rival. Geographically there is always a bit of animosity between Northern and Southern California. Both teams are founding members of the league and the Landon Donovan played for both clubs.
On Sunday night (7pm ET, FS1) the surging, fourth-place Galaxy will host the fifth-place Earthquakes. Only one point separates the two teams but the Galaxy is on such a roll that it would be favored in any MLS game. Bruce Arena’s squad is firing on all cylinders and its +12 goal differential is six better than the next best team. It has scored a league-high 24 goals and its 12 goals conceded is behind only Colorado in the Western Conference.
The Galaxy also have had a very good fortunes with its designated players. Robbie Keane is one of the best players in MLS history and Giovani Dos Santos is finally living up to his lofty expectations.
On paper, the Galaxy could be the most talented attacking team in MLS history. Now just add Zlatan into the mix....
Philadelphia Union 2-0 D.C. United
New York City 2-1 New York Red Bulls
Toronto FC 1-1 Columbus Crew SC
Chicago Fire 0-0 Houston Dynamo
New England 1-3 FC Dallas
Orlando City 2-2 Montreal Impact
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders 0-1 Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps
L.A. Galaxy 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes