MLS Weekend Preview
The Kamara Krisis, Zlatan Chatter, and More MLS Fun
May 14, 2016
AFTER MAJOR SHAKEUPS over the past few days, it will be interesting to see how Major League Soccer teams and players adjust. Meanwhile, rumors of Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming stateside continue to dominate the chatter in soccer circles.
Here's what I am looking forward to following this weekend in MLS.
Marquee Matchup: Columbus v. Colorado
A cellar dweller vs. a powerhouse, right? Right—but not the way you might think.
Columbus, a preseason favorite among prognosticators, has hit the kids while Colorado, a disaster in 2015, has the best record in the league. Making matters more interesting, Columbus shipped star striker Kei Kamara to New England after he disparated a teammate following last weekend’s match.
Saturday’s matchup between Columbus and Colorado (7:30pm ET, MLS Live) will feature abundant subplots. The Crew now has a shortage of strikers but even with Kamara, the team struggled and played well below the sum of its parts. Was Kamara a locker room cancer? Will his removal now elevate the rest of the team?
The Rapids, meanwhile, play hard and Jermaine Jones has galvanized the entire team. Jones has a lot of freedom in the midfield and is engineeering the team’s attack. He's fun to watch and you can tell he is having a blast with his new Rocky Mountain team.
Can NYCFC Extend Its Streak?
Lately New York City FC has been playing with—wait for it—purpose and clarity. Patrick Vieira’s club is undefeated in its last three games, defeating D.C. United and Vancouver in its last two.
Now the reigning MLS Cup champions await on Sunday night in Portland (7:30pm, FS1). The Timbers will be relieved to be returning home after losing two consecutive games on the road. The champs have found life difficult early in 2016, sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference and conceding 20 goals (tied for league worst) in 11 games.
While New York boasts high-priced stars—Frank Lampard is listed as "questionable for this contest—the player to keep an eye on is New York City midfielder Tommy McNamara, who is playing great soccer and delivered a superb assist to David Villa last weekend.
Of course Portland has the ability to play very well through Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri but its defense is going to have to step up. It’s still early but Portland is five points out of the playoffs right now and Caleb Porter's men will be eager to stay the pace in the west.
Seattle faces tough test at Dallas
After a poor start the season, Seattle is gaining steam thanks to the emergence of rookie Jordan Morris. The much-heralded striker has scored in four straight games and is beginning to justify all of the hype.
Morris will face a tough test on Saturday night when Seattle visits FC Dallas (9pm EST, MLS Live) which lost three straight games on a recent road trip but turned things around by defeating Portland at home on Wednesday.
Despite its woes on the road, Dallas is still in second place in the Western Conference and has a dangerous offense. On the negative side of the ledger, captain Matt Hedges is still recovering from meniscus surgery and his absence leaves a big hole in the center of the defense. Oscar Pareja’s team will try to avoid yet another meltdown and stay focused: The club has formed a terrible habit of either getting blown out or looking like the strongest team in the league.
Kei Kamara in New England
New England made a blockbuster move when it acquired disgruntled forward Kei Kamara from Columbus in exchange for allocation money and draft picks. But was it a smart move?
New England is undermanned on defense, has conceded 20 goals this season, and has the league's worst goal differential—minus 20.
With attackers Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo, and Charlie Davies already on the roster, how is Jay Heaps going to find playing time for everyone without having his own locker room issues?
We'll get our first glimpse Saturday night when New England hosts Chicago (7:30pm ET, MLS Live).
Multiple publications reported Thursday that larger-than-life Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks to join the Los Angeles Galaxy and won’t return to Paris St. Germain next season.
That would be a massive, massive get for the Galaxy and MLS. Even at 34, Ibrahimovic is one of the most talented and colorful people in the game.
But what about MLS rules?
If Ibrahimovic wants to play for the Galaxy, how will that work? The Galaxy already have three designated players in Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos, and Steven Gerrard. Plus, Nigel de Jong will become a designated player next year to replace Gerrard if he plays enough games in 2016. Targeted allocation money can pay down a designated player and make room for another, but not at the price level of the current designated players.
The big question which is somewhat rhetorical because everyone knows the answer: can MLS ay no to a player like Ibrahimovic because of a concept like “Targeted Allocation Money”?
Despite pledges to be more transparent, the league will not let an opportunity like this. If Ibrahimovic does arrive in L.A., MLS will lose even more creditability but the league will benefit. Securing Ibrahimovic's services is a totally valid reason to for MLS to once againg make a mockery of its own rules.
But it also begs another question. When is one of these mega stars likeIbrahimovic, Beckham, or Henry ever going to want to play for a team like Columbus or Kansas City or Houston? They won’t. The stars want to go to glamour cities. That means that the big-city franchises will always have rules adjusted for them since the star players will force the changes.
The rules, it seems, are optional for New York and Los Angeles and perhaps for Florida teams. They really only apply for “flyover country.”
Montreal Impact 2-1 Philadelphia Union
Toronto FC 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Columbus Crew SC 1-1 Colorado Rapids
New England Revolution 1-1 Chicago Fire
Houston Dynamo 1-0 Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas 2-2 Seattle Sounders
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Orlando City SC
Portland Timbers 2-1 New York City FC