After a thrilling round of World Cup Qualifiers and upset-laden U.S. Open Cup, we’re back to a full slate of MLS games this weekend. The upcoming Summer months are where MLS seasons are made or broken as managers try to balance midweek Open Cup games and international call-ups. Every game matters, and every point counts.
Best game of the week: NYCFC v. Seattle Sounders – Saturday, June 17, 1:00PM ET, ESPN
At first glance, you might be wondering why I have a 6th place Sounders team playing a very talented NYCFC team as the game of the week. The first reason is that the Sounders have been in very good form as of late, winning three of their last four matches, including games against the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers. Additionally, the analytics show that Seattle has been a bit unlucky throughout the first half of the season. They’ve scored 18 goals, but their xG is much higher at 23.85. Conversely, they’ve allowed 22 goals but their xGA is only 18.73. Now, obviously it’s the real numbers that matter more than xG or xGA, but this data does give us a decent look at whether form is sustainable over the long term. What it seems to say is that Seattle should start finding their form a bit more, which seems to be the case over the last few weeks. Of course, NYCFC is one of the top teams in MLS. Not to mention their xGD is 9.4, which is even higher than their already impressive goal differential of 8. No matter what the stats say, though, the game being in NYCFC is a huge advantage for NYC. If we’ve learned anything this year in MLS, it’s don’t bet against the home team.
Worst game of the week: Real Salt Lake v. Minnesota United FC – Saturday, June 17, 10:00PM ET, MLS Live
It breaks my heart to list the Loons as the worst game of the week, but I have no other choice. I could get into stats about why this is the worst game, but all you really need to do is watch any RSL game and you get the point. I know it was an Open Cup game, and RSL didn’t exactly put their A-team out there, but Salt Lake got embarrassed by Sacramento Republic in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday night. MLS play hasn’t been any better, as RSL is 10th in the west with a shocking -20 goal differential. MINUS TWENTY. That is by far the worst GD in MLS. Minnesota isn’t much better, as they’re in 9th place in the west and have the second worst GD in the league at -14. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if this game ends 1-1 after two own goals the way these two teams seem to be playing.
Saturday, June 17
Atlanta United FC v. Columbus Crew SC – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
Atlanta United will be thrilled to get back star striker Josef Martinez. He made his return in the midweek Open Cup matchup against the Charleston Battery, scoring a crucial goal to help ATLUTD advance in their first Open Cup. ATL desperately needs Josef to return in MLS play, as they’ve lost their last two games, against Vancouver and Chicago, by a combined score of 5-1. Columbus will be a team to watch after their 1-0 loss in the Open Cup to FC Cincinnati. The loss itself isn’t the interesting part… MLS teams lose to USL teams in the Open Cup periodically. It’s not ideal, but it happens. What will be the thing to watch is the relationship between Crew supporters and Crew coach Gregg Berhalter. The coach allegedly got into a heated argument with supporters after the game, and Crew player Justin Meram got involved to defend his coach. While this likely is an isolated incident involving just a few supporters, it’s not going to help the already souring relationship between fans and the coach.
New England Revolution v. Chicago Fire – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
The Revs and Fire face off for the second time this year. Back in April the Fire took down New England 3-0 at Toyota Park. Sure, the Fire were riding high off the recent acquisition of Bastian Schweinsteiger (who scored the game's first goal), but the Fire have been the much more consistent side all year. I wouldn’t count out the Revs in this one, though. The Revs have been good at home this year (as has pretty much all of MLS). Their last two games were a road draw at NYCFC and a home win against Toronto FC. Golden Boot leader Nemanja Nikolic will provide a tough challenge for New England’s defense, though. His 12 goals are two ahead of second place Cubo Torres, but only two of Nikolic’s are from PKs where five of Cubo’s ten goals came from the spot. The Fire will certainly be a tough challenge for the Revs, but I think this game will be much closer than the previous match between these two teams.
Orlando City SC v. Montreal Impact – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Orlando is in crisis mode right now. Star striker Cyle Larin was arrested for DUI early Thursday morning, and as a result he’ll miss this match and an unknown number of future matches due to league suspension while he completes the League’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (“SABH”) Program. To be honest, without Cyle Larin this isn’t a great team. Larin has eight of Orlando’s 16 goals this year, a full 50%, more than any other player has for any team in MLS. Even with #CanadianMessi’s eight goals, Orlando has struggled to score as they have the least amount of goals of any top four team in either conference. Montreal isn’t very good this year, but they are on a three game unbeaten streak, including their most recent game in which they drew with Sporting KC. Granted, they only scored because of a terrible giveaway by SKC, but a road draw is still a huge result no matter how you get it. If there were ever an opportunity for the Impact to go into Orlando and win, this is it.
Toronto FC v. D.C. United – 8:00PM ET, MLS Live
This was almost my worst game of the week just because the gap between these two teams is so large. I mean, there really isn’t a ton to say about this game other than if you’re a D.C. fan you may want to find something else to do on Saturday night. The game is at BMO Field, Toronto is the best team in the league, has a +11 goal differential and aren’t coming off a midweek Open Cup game. DCU is dead last in the East, almost lost to Christos FC in the Open Cup and have a -11 GD. Simply put, this game should be an absolute blowout by Toronto.
San Jose Earthquakes v. Sporting Kansas City – 9:00PM ET, MLS Live
San Jose travelled to Kansas City in week three of the season only to fall 2-1 to Sporting KC, with their lone goal coming late in stoppage time. Unfortunately for the Earthquakes, their form has fallen off a bit. They’ve only won one out of their last five games (on the road against Dallas strangely enough) and have fallen down to seventh in the West. Their -4 goal differential isn’t going to cut it against SKC, who’s had one of the best defenses in MLS this year. Sporting KC has only gotten better since these two teams first met. Gerso now is a legitimate goal-scoring threat. Graham Zusi has established himself as a great right back. Tim Melia has kept up his career-best form. Sporting KC has only allowed 11 goals all season through 16 games played. They’ve also proven they can go on the road and get a result. With how much San Jose struggles to score, this will be an immense challenge for the Earthquakes, even at home.
Colorado Rapids v. Portland Timbers – 9:30PM ET, MLS Live
Oh, Colorado. I’m not sure what to say anymore. RSL may be the worst team as far as form goes, but despite that Colorado is still dead last in the West with only 13 points. They can’t score to save their lives. The Rapids’ 12 goals is second worst in MLS only above D.C. United, but their xG of 11.53 is worst in MLS. Portland had slumped a bit, but two straight wins including a victory over FC Dallas has helped them surge back up to second in the West. Now, I will say Portland can be absolutely atrocious on the road, and this is MLS, so you never really know what to expect in any given game. But with the Timbers attack back at full strength after players return from international call-ups, PTFC fans should be feeling pretty confident going into this one.
Vancouver Whitecaps v. FC Dallas – 10:00PM ET, MLS Live
I was going to say that Vancouver actually has a better chance in this one than most people were likely giving them credit for. Well, that was before defender Sheanon Williams was arrested and suspended Friday for an alleged domestic incident. The veteran right back has started eleven games for Vancouver this year and has two assists, good enough to be tied for second place on the team. Vancouver’s saving grace during this distraction is that this game is at BC Place, where they’re 5-2-1 (W-L-D) this year. FC Dallas has proven to be much more vulnerable on the road, with a record of 2-2-2 when visiting other teams’ stadiums. Granted, one of those losses was against Portland in their last MLS match, during which Dallas was missing a number of key players on international duty. But, the point still stands that this team isn’t quite the same on the road. No team in MLS is really. The questions in this one are how distracted will Vancouver be after the Sheanon Williams incident, and will FC Dallas be able to capitalize on the situation?
LA Galaxy v. Houston Dynamo – 11:00PM ET, UniMás, facebook.com
The Galaxy are still in the midst of a pretty long unbeaten streak, having extended it to six games despite a frustrating scoreless draw against D.C. United in their last MLS match. Since Jermaine Jones went down with an injury, the Galaxy have earned three wins and the lone draw, which is much better than their early season form. They’ve outscored opponents 11-4 in that time, which accounts for more than half of their goals on the season. The Galaxy announced recently that Jermaine will once again be sidelined this week, despite returning to limited training. Houston still sits near the top of the West in third place, but they’ve been a bit more inconsistent. They’re 2-3-1 (W-L-D) in their last six matches, including a blowout loss at the hands of ATLUTD and a blowout win over RSL. This will be the first of two meetings for these two teams this year, and they may end up being important games come playoff time if LA keeps up their recent form and Houston slowly slides down the table.
Sunday, June 18
Philadelphia Union v. New York Red Bulls – 5:00PM ET, ESPN
These two teams faced off barely a month ago, and it was all Philly in that one. The Union handled RBNY 3-0, with all three goals coming from CJ Sapong in a span of 11 minutes. I don’t expect a hat trick quite like that from Sapong this week, but I do think it’s reasonable to expect another good showing from the Union. I know the Red Bulls are sixth in the East and the Union are tenth, but once again, home field is a huge factor here. The thing the Red Bulls do have going for them, though, is they’ve been extremely unlucky when it comes to goal scoring. They have 15 goals on the year, but their xG is significantly higher at 21.88. So the data seems to say that despite a -6 goal differential, RBNY should start seeing a better offensive output at some point. Philly’s defense is good, but not great. RBNY is 1-6-0 (W-L-D) on the road this year, though, with their only road win coming in Week 1 against expansion side Atlanta United. So while they may find the net, getting a win could be tough for New York.
Hot take of the week: Seattle will earn a point at NYCFC. As I mentioned in the preview, Seattle has been a bit unlucky in terms of goal scoring, with an xG of 23.85 compared to actual goals scored of 18. While the same data shows that NYCFC’s defense should have actually only allowed 14.23 goals compared to their actual GA of 19, something has got to give, and I think Seattle’s offense may do just enough to earn a point on the road.
GIF of the week: I mean, who doesn’t love Ike, tbh?