Weekend preview: Huge clash at Red Bull Arean, Pulisic surging, and more
MLS steps to the plate this weekend with a solid slate of games and matchups that should be great for American fans on many different levels. Meanwhile in Europe, Pulisic looks for four straight solid games and Matt Miazga aims to turn around Nantes.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedJUDGING the slate of games, this should be the best weekend of the season in MLS as several games are of huge importance. In Europe, meanwhile, several Americans will be playing in meaningful contests among several different countries.
September 28, 2018
September 28, 2018
Atlanta United vs. Red BullsSunday 1:00pm EST
This could be the most anticipated game in the entire 2018 season because it pits the two best teams in MLS. If the Red Bulls win, they will close Atlanta’s lead in the East and the Supporters Shield race to just one point. If Atlanta wins or perhaps ties, they are all but assured of the Supporters Shield.
This game has it all. It has two teams that can score goals, high priced starts, current U.S. national team players, former national team players, and two of the brightest teenage American players.
There are two big factors at play. The most obvious is the high-power Atlanta offense going against a very good Red Bull defense – including goalkeeper Luis Robles. Red Bull central defenders Tim Parker and Aaron Long both enjoyed a strong performance last weekend against Toronto – which came off the heels of a disappointing outing against DC United.
The other factor is how the Red Bulls offense will flow without the suspended Bradley Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips is one of the best strikers in the history of the league and it will be exceptionally difficult to fill his shoes.
Meanwhile, neutral fans will want to watch Tyler Adams and Atlanta left back George Bello. Bello, 16, made his first start last weekend and is considered one of the top teenage prospects in the game.
The edge favors Atlanta right now – which enters the game having won three in a row. But the Red Bulls at home will be a huge test.
With a lot on the line, this game will be intense.
Leverkusen vs. Borussia DortmundSaturday 12:30pm EST
Christian Pulsic is playing at a very high level right now. Over the past three games he has scored a late match-winner, a late match-equalizer, and a highlight-level assist.
Now the Hershey native will be looking for a fourth straight game where he could have a major impact on the result. Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen began the season with three losses but has won its last two.
Pulisic has already shown the can make amazing plays but this season is about proving his consistency at playing at a very high level. Four games in a row would certainly be a nice indicator.
DC United vs. Montreal
Saturday 7:00pm EST
Both DC United and the Montreal Impact will have a lot to play for on Saturday when the two face off at Audi Field and it only takes a brief glimpse at the standings to understand why. Montreal currently has a five point lead on DC United for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.
DC United, however, has two games in-hand. A DC United win on Saturday will reduce the gap to two points while maintaining its two games in-hand. A DC United win essentially gives DC United a heavy advantage towards qualifying for the playoffs. A DC United loss, however, essentially gives Montreal what should be an insurmountable lead.
DC United should have the advantage playing at home and momentum is on its side. It is in the middle of a four game unbeaten run which has included results against some of the league’s best teams: a draw against the Red Bulls, a win over Atlanta, and a draw against New York City.
There is so much going DC United’s way right now. Wayne Rooney has lived up to his high-profile billing, Paul Arriola is improving, Russell Canouse has played so well that he should be on the verge of earning his first U.S. national team callup.
Montreal, meanwhile, is continuing to ride Ignacio Piatti and Uruguayan forward Alejandro Silva continues to impress in this league.
Olympique Lyon vs. FC NantesSaturday 11am ET
Matt Miazga, 23, has played well recently but FC Nantes has struggled badly to start the season. Nantes should be a midtable team but it is currently in 19th place in the 20 team Ligue 1.
Lyon is arguably the second best team in France right now behind Paris St. Germain. For Nantes to go to Lyon and achieve a result is a very difficult task but it could be a huge confidence boost if it is able to pull off.
Miazga is currently at Nantes on loan from Chelsea and helping Nantes earn results against top teams will boost his stock tremendously. The New Jersey native should be approaching midseason form after joining the club late at the tail end of preseason. He is beginning to hit his stride but can he help Nantes?
Fortuna Sittard vs Ajax
Saturday 2:45pm EST
Andrija Novakovich, 22, is coming off perhaps the best game of his season when he scored two important goals for Fortuna Sittard in a 2-2 draw against Willem II. The Wisconsin native now has four goals in six games.
Next up for him will be a much harder game Fortuna when it welcomes Ajax to its Stadium on Saturday. What is most interesting about Novakovich is that Fortuna Sittard is putting so much stock in the American that a large part of the newly promoted team’s fate of remaining in the Eredivisie this year will be the success of Novakovich to provide the necessary offense.
The club has invested in Novakovich. He is not a role player. He is a critical piece of the puzzle.
Another strong performance, this time in a more high-profile game, will increase his chances at taking a bigger role with the national team.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
Sunday 5:00 pm EST
This is a great weekend in MLS and a lot of the games have real importance on how the post season will shake up.
Sporting Kansas City is coming off a bad loss to Philadelphia last weekend but Peter Vermes’ team could move back into first place in the Western Conference with a win combined with FC Dallas failing to beat Portland away on Saturday.
Real Salt Lake is in fifth place and this game could be a huge factor as to whether or not it makes the playoffs. A win makes it very likely. A loss could result eventually result in the team being over taken by the Galaxy and Seattle.
Saturday 7:30pm EST
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union
The Columbus Crew is trying to make the playoffs in a wave of adversity – including a possible relocation to Austin, a small budget, and the potential loss of a few key players.
Philadelphia Union is also trying to make the playoffs despite low expectations at the start of the season and the loss of technical director Earnie Stewart midway through the year.
Both teams look likely to make the playoffs and there is a lot of reason to enjoy the success of both teams. Philadelphia is not afraid to play young players and sometimes that has consequences (see Austin Trusty’s own goal midweek against Houston in the Open Cup final). But Philadelphia is continuing to push forward.
It will also be interesting to see how the Union responds to the deflating loss to Houston on Wednesday in the Cup final. Can it shake it off or will the team still be down as a result? That will be a big test for Jim Curtin, who has done a very nice job in recent weeks and could demand a contract extension if the team finishes well.
Meanwhile, the Crew start three U.S. national team players and have a head coach who could be in the running for the U.S. national team job. Philadelphia plays very promising youngsters in 2017 U-20 World Cup veterans Austron Trusty and Derrick Jones along with Mark McKenzie who might be the 2019 U.S. U-20 captain.
Newcastle United vs. Leicester CitySaturday 10:00am EST
After six games, DeAndre Yedlin and Newcastle United are still looking for their first win of the Premier League season. The beginning of the season was brutally tough but Newcastle has winnable games and it needs to capitalize. Last weekend’s draw against Crystal Palace was disappointing and a win against Leicester City is becoming important.
Sunday 8:30am EST
RSC Anderlecht vs. St. Truiden
Kenny Saief, 24, has missed a lot of time in 2018 because of various injuries. But he is healthy now and has been coming off the bench for Anderlecht in recent games.
Anderlecht no doubt view Saief as a starter when he is fully fit but it remains to be seen when that will exactly be.
Saief will surely play on Sunday against St. Truiden but it is possible that the Florida-born, Israel-raised left midfielder will earn his first start. Anderlecht currently sit in third place in Belgium and Saief’s comeback could help the team narrow the four-point gap that separates it from second place Genk.
A strong performance from Saief could also see him return to the U.S. national team in October and his return would be very welcome news as the squad needs depth from outside midfield and wing positions.
Coventry vs. SunderlandSaturday 7:30am EST
It is fun to watch Americans who are playing well and who are critical to important goals for their respective clubs. Like Andrija Novakovich who is important to Fortuna Sittard remaining in the Eredivisie, Lynden Gooch is critical to Sunderland earning promotion to the English Championship.
There is no doubt that League One is a lower level but Sunderland is a huge club. It is a club that is as big as some in the Premier League. The past two seasons has seen it tumble and now Gooch is part of the turnaround.
Last weekend, Gooch scored two goals in a 4-1 rout over Rochdale. The Santa Cruz native has had a great start to the season and he is trying to rally the club back to prominence in English soccer. Low level? Sure. High pressure filled with a lot of responsibility? Absolutely.
When you combine it with the fact that Gooch has been affiliated with the club since he was 10 years old and signed his first pro contract with Sunderland when he was 16, there is also a lot of emotion at play.