We’re moving into a pretty interesting stretch of the MLS season in Week 14. Many teams will be without key players who have been called into the USMNT or other national teams for World Cup qualifiers set to take place over the next two weeks. The Gold Cup is right around the corner, too. Combine those with the U.S. Open Cup, and you’ve got a busy summer of soccer. The next two months will be the toughest, but most important, time for MLS teams. Who has the depth to enter August relatively unscathed? It all starts this week.
Best game of the week: Orlando City SC v. Chicago Fire – Sunday, June 4, 7:30PM ET, Fox Sports 1
Two of MLS’ top strikers in a primetime national TV game? You can’t ask for much more. Not to mention this could end up being a preview of a playoff matchup come postseason time. Orlando City got embarrassed by NYCFC at home two weeks ago before being bested on the road by expansion side MNUFC. As it stands now, OCSC are riding a six game winless streak and haven’t won a game in May. That may change when they take on D.C. United tonight at home (more on that later), but it’s clear that OCSC needs to turn things around quickly. They may not have #CanadianMessi much longer if recent reports linking him to Europe are to be believed. Taking as many home points as possible are a must. Chicago conversely may be the hottest team in MLS right now. They’re in the midst of a four game win streak, including last week’s 2-1 victory over FC Dallas. Nemanja Nikolic looks like a serious Golden Boot contender, and suddenly the Fire are one of the most formidable teams in the East. This should be a fun match, with the potential for lots of goals.
Worst game of the week: FC Dallas v. Real Salt Lake – Saturday, June 3, 8:00PM ET, MLS Live
Look, I’m sorry RSL. I want to believe you have a chance in this game. I do. But, if we’ve learned anything from MLS this season it’s that winning on the road is hard, no matter who you are. Now combine that with the fact that RSL has been one of the worst (and arguably most disappointing) teams in 2017, and they’re traveling to face perhaps the best overall team in the league. I just don’t see a way that FC Dallas loses this game. I know Dallas will be without their usual backline with Matt Hedges called into USMNT camp and Walker Zimmerman out with an MCL strain. They’ll also be without star midfielder Kellyn Acosta who joins Hedges with the USMNT. As bad as RSL has been, though, I’m just not sure it matters.
Wednesday, May 31
New York City FC v. New England Revolution – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
New York City is a good soccer team. We know that. But they got owned at Atlanta last week. I mean, the game was never close. Were they still celebrating their big win at Orlando City the week before? Possibly. Whatever it was, I don’t think it will happen again this week. NYCFC returns to Yankee Stadium, and they’ve only lost one match this season at home. New England is playing better than they were earlier in the season, but they’re still a below-average MLS team struggling to stay in the middle of the East. Perhaps the Revs only hope for a result in NYC is that Vieira may opt to rest David Villa for the midweek match ahead of the early Saturday matchup with Philly.
Orlando City SC v. D.C. United – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
As I mentioned earlier, OCSC is in a terrible run-of-form as of late. Six straight games without a win is less than ideal. The good news for Orlando City is they have three straight home games, all of which are winnable games if they’re playing up to their potential. They need to capitalize on this home stretch, as their days with #CanadianMessi may be coming to a close. D.C. United broke a three game losing streak last week with a less than thrilling 1-0 victory over a mediocre Vancouver team. A road win in MLS is always impressive, but back-to-back road wins is a daunting task that I’m not sure D.C. can accomplish.
Columbus Crew SC v. Seattle Sounders FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Columbus desperately needs to head back home after perhaps the worst loss in club history. The Crew fell to Toronto FC 5-0… and TFC didn’t even have Giovinco or Jozy. Not great. The Crew were atop the Eastern Conference early in the season, but they’ve slowly slid down the table and are now sitting in sixth place, just one point above Atlanta United (who have two games in hand on the Crew). The good news for the Crew is they’re playing a Sounders team that isn’t even close to the MLS Cup winning team of last year. Sure, the Sounders are on a two game winning streak, but both of those games were at home. The Sounders have been very poor on the road in 2017, and there’s no reason to believe that will change this week.
Houston Dynamo v. Real Salt Lake – 8:30PM ET, MLS Live
I could say Houston is in the midst of a three game winless streak and say how they’re struggling because of it. But let’s be honest, a scoreless draw at FC Dallas should be considered a massive win, especially for a Dynamo team that’s struggled so much on the road. The Dynamo now head home to face RSL, who are still in tenth in the West with an MLS worst -12 goal differential despite winning two of their last three games. Houston need to take a full three points in the midweek matchup before heading to Seattle for a very tough Sunday matchup.
Friday, June 2
Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes – 11:00PM ET, UniMás, facebook.com
From a pure standings perspective, this game should be somewhat compelling. Two decent Western Conference teams that are fourth and fifth in the standings should be interesting. But both of these teams have been in poor form and sliding down the table in recent weeks. Portland hasn’t won a match since April 22, and one of their losses in that time was a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Earthquakes in San Jose. Sure, San Jose shocked the world and beat FC Dallas 1-0 in Frisco, but they followed that up with a dreadful 4-2 loss at home against the Galaxy. They also lost 3-0 at Colorado, the worst team in MLS, just a week after they last played the Timbers. Ultimately, this game will likely follow the trend that the rest of MLS seems to follow this year: the home team will almost certainly win. Oh, and even though this is the only game on Friday and is a national game being broadcast on Facebook, the 11PM ET start time doesn’t exactly help its cause.
Saturday, June 3
New York City FC v. Philadelphia Union – 1:00PM ET, MLS Live
New York City has had a strange few weeks. They lost at Real Salt Lake, which shocked much of MLS, then destroyed OCSC at Orlando City Stadium 3-0, then were dismantled again by Atlanta United 3-1 in Atlanta. After a four game road trip, NYC will be thrilled to be at Yankee Stadium for the second time in four days after playing New England on Wednesday night. NYC sit third in the East, but they have a real opportunity to make up some serious ground over their home stand against less than stellar teams. Philly finally came back down to earth after an unreal four game win streak and six game unbeaten streak. I’m not sure many would have guessed it would be RSL that would finally end the Union’s run of form, though. If Philly can’t handle RSL on the road, I’m not sure how they’ll be able to deal with NYC.
Sporting Kansas City v. Minnesota United FC – 5:00PM ET, ESPN
Sporting KC welcome the Loons of Minnesota to Children’s Mercy Park for the first time in the Loons MLS era. SKC traveled north a few weeks back to take on MNUFC in what many expected to be a fairly easy SKC win, but lineup changes and a resilient Loons side caused SKC to fall 2-0. The bad news for SKC is their back line will once again be filled with changes, as Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are with the USMNT ahead of the World Cup qualifiers. The good news is Children’s Mercy Park is a very difficult place for road teams to earn a result, and Minnesota hasn’t exactly been a great road team. In fact, they haven’t won a game on the road yet. But, with Zusi and Besler gone and Dom Dwyer possibly out again with fluid in his knee, you never know what will happen.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC v. Atlanta United FC – 5:30PM ET, MLS Live
Two seventh place teams go head-to-head after pretty opposite performances last week. Vancouver struggled against a poor D.C. side and lost at home 1-0. Atlanta easily handled NYCFC in a 3-1 victory just a week after dominating the Dynamo 4-1. ATLUTD is definitely clicking on all cylinders right now, but as with most teams in MLS, road games are a bit tough for them. The Whitecaps home loss last week was the first loss at BC Place since their March 18 matchup against Toronto FC. Atlanta’s only two road wins came in the second week against (a very different) MNUFC and in late April against a struggling RSL side. Miguel Almiron has been playing lights out for Atlanta as of late, but with Josef Martinez still sidelined with an injury for another week or two, I think ATLUTD will be satisfied leaving Vancouver with a draw.
D.C. United v. Los Angeles Galaxy – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
This is one of the most historic matchups in all of MLS. These two sides have won a combined nine of twenty-one MLS Cups, and they’re tied for most Supporters’ Shields at four apiece. That’s why it’s so strange to see these two sides struggling as much as they are this year. D.C. in particular have had an especially rough year. They currently sit tenth in the East and have a -9 goal differential. They are tied with Colorado for a league-worst 10 goals scored. They beat Vancouver on the road 1-0 last week, but they’ll be taking on LA on short rest after playing OCSC on the road Wednesday night. LA are currently in the middle of a not only a three game winning streak, but a three game road winning streak, something truly incredible in MLS. The Galaxy also seem to be playing a lot better since Jermaine Jones went down with an injury. The Galaxy will be confident heading into this match.
New England Revolution v. Toronto FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
The Revs and TFC face off for the first time in 2017. The Revs are playing a bit better as of late, but they’ll be coming off a mid-week matchup at NYCFC. Toronto FC may get back Giovinco from injury in their midweek Canadian Championship matchup, but he may not play in New England due to the turf. The other good news for New England is Toronto will be without both Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore who are with the USMNT. The Revs will be at full strength since they didn’t have any national team call-ups, so if there was ever a time for New England to take on TFC, it’s now.
Colorado Rapids v. Columbus Crew SC – 9:00PM ET, MLS Live
Colorado will be feeling good after defeating the Western Conference leading Sporting KC 1-0 at home, a win reminiscent of the 2016 Supporters’ Shield contending squad. Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying the 2017 Rapids are going to turn the corner and become a playoff side. Far from it. But, if they Rapids are able to grind out a tough 1-0 win against a team like SKC who statistically dominated the game in every category aside from score, who’s to say they can’t do it again at home against a struggling Crew team? A potential positive for the Crew is that they have a midweek home game where they can get their minds off their abysmal 5-0 loss to TFC. If the Crew beat Seattle Wednesday, I think they’ll be in a good mindset heading into their matchup with the Rapids.
Sunday, June 4
Seattle Sounders FC v. Houston Dynamo – 10:00PM ET, MLS Live
This is a very big matchup, folks. The Total MLS Derby, we like to call it. Our founder and fearless leader, Dustyn Richardson, is from Houston. More than one of our writers are from Seattle. Our Slack chat is rife with trash talk in the week leading up to this game. This year we find ourselves in the relatively unusual position of Houston being atop the West while Seattle struggles to stay a mid-table team. Both teams will be coming off midweek matchups, so the late start time on Sunday helps. The question is, who will be more rested? The Dynamo have a bit more depth, and thankfully for them their Honduran players called into national team duty won’t be leaving until after the Seattle game. Houston is on a three game winless streak at the time of this writing, while Seattle is on a two game winning streak. In a TMLS Derby, none of that matters. This is for all the marbles. Bragging rights for the year. Houston won the first leg 2-1 back in Week 1. Can Seattle bounce back and claim the next leg of the TMLS Derby? Only time will tell.
Hot take of the week: The Dynamo will go into Century Link and beat the Sounders, securing the prestigious Total MLS Derby title for 2017. Oh, and Cubo will score a goal NOT from the penalty spot, a very rare occurrence.
GIF of the week: “So I put my hands up, they’re playing my song, the butterflies fly away…”