Week 31 Preview

We’ve reached another “international break,” and it is a big one for the USMNT. If the US loses to Panama Friday night, they’ll at best be forced into a playoff to earn a World Cup spot against Syria or Australia. A couple of wins against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago would be a much more desirable scenario. Even amidst the World Cup qualifiers, we still have a few MLS games as well, and they all have playoff implications.

Best game of the week: USMNT v. Panama – Friday, October 6, 7:35PM, ET, ESPN2

No, it’s not an MLS game, but it is by far the most important game for most soccer fans in the US this weekend. The USMNT currently sits fourth in the Hex standings, good enough to earn a playoff spot against either Syria or Australia. A win against Panama, though, would push the US up to third, good enough for an automatic qualifying spot. With only one game left against Trinidad & Tobago after tonight’s game, US fans should feel pretty good if the USMNT can earn the full three points against Panama.

If the US draws or loses against Panama, things get a bit more complicated. A draw would keep the US one point behind Panama, who will host Costa Rica in their final qualifying game. While it would still be possible for the US to finish third, they would have to beat T&T while hoping the Panamanians draw or lose to Costa Rica at home. A US loss against Panama assures that the Americans would at best be in a two-match playoff to earn a World Cup birth—assuming they beat Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.

Worst game of the week: Colorado Rapids v. FC Dallas – Saturday, October 7, 9:00PM ET, MLS Live

FC Dallas caught a break this week when MLS decided NOT to make them forfeit the match against Orlando City as punishment for an illegal use of Michael Barrios. In short, Barrios was listed on the starting lineup that was given to the ref before the game before he was pulled at the last minute. FIFA and MLS bylaws say that Barrios was then ineligible as a result, but he checked into the match late for FC Dallas anyways. Many fans and soccer journalists thought FC Dallas would have to forfeit the match as a result. Apparently MLS didn’t want to take a point away from Dallas while they’re fighting for a playoff spot, so instead, per Paul Tenorio, the league just took $75k in GAM from FCD and fined them an additional $25k.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Even without losing points, FC Dallas are in eighth place right now in the West, which means they’d miss the playoffs. A win on the road against the Rapids would be huge and would launch Dallas into fifth place. A loss would nullify their games played advantage they currently hold over both San Jose and Real Salt Lake, dramatically reducing their chances of making the post season. Colorado, well, they are in tenth place and have no chance of making the playoffs. They’re just hoping to play spoiler to FC Dallas.

The rest:

Saturday, October 7

New York Red Bulls v. Vancouver Whitecaps – 5:00PM ET, UniMás, facebook.com

This is a massive game for both sides. The Red Bulls can seal a playoff spot with a win at home. Vancouver can solidify their #1 spot in the West if they can earn a road victory. It won’t be easy for either team, as both squads will be missing players due to international call-ups. Vancouver is hit a bit harder than RBNY and will be without midfielders Christian Bolanos (Costa Rica) and Yordy Reyna (Peru), defender Kendall Waston (Costa Rica) and goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic (New Zealand). New York will be missing midfielder Derrick Etienne (Haiti) and defenders Michael Murillo (Panama) and Fidel Escobar (Panama). Vancouver has been in relatively good form as of late and earned a hard-fought three points on the road at Sporting KC last week, but playing in Red Bull Arena will be another tough road test. While the Whitecaps are decent on the road, RBNY will have most of their key contributors despite international call-ups. I expect the Red Bulls to take the full three points.

Minnesota United FC v. Sporting Kansas City – 8:00PM ET, MLS Live

If Vancouver does lose to the Red Bulls, that opens up a fantastic opportunity for Sporting KC to make up (in part, at least) for their loss at home last week to the Whitecaps. Sporting KC are four points behind the Whitecaps with a game in hand, so narrowing that deficit to a single point with three games left would be huge. Sporting KC will be without midfielder Benny Feilhaber and defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, all of whom will be with the USMNT. That will force Saad Abdul-Salaam and Erik Palmer-Brown into the back line while Jimmy Medranda will likely fill Benny’s attacking midfield role. MNUFC will be without their stars, too, with defenders Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) and midfielders Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and Kevin Molino (T&T) out for international duty. 

Minnesota was able to steal three points on the road against Atlanta thanks to late heroics from Christian Ramirez and Kevin Molino, but will they be able to keep that momentum this week? The Loons did beat Sporting KC last time SKC travelled north to Minnesota, but with a first round bye in their sights, I think Sporting KC will earn at least a point out of this game.

Hot take of the week: I know we all wish this wasn’t a hot take, but the USMNT will beat Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, pushing them into third place in the Hex and automatically qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Barely.

GIF of the week: Orlando fans after hearing MLS’ ruling on FC Dallas…