Heineken Rivalry Week is upon us. No, not every game is a rivalry game, but there’s still plenty to be excited about this weekend. Will NYCFC finally win at Red Bull Arena? Will Portland v. Seattle live up to the hype: WILL MINNESOTA START A TWO GAME WIN STREAK? All of these are important questions. Let’s examine them.
Best game of the week: New York Red Bulls v. New York City FC – Saturday, June 24, 1:30PM ET, FOX
The Hudson River Derby, as it is affectionately known (apparently). Is this the time that NYCFC finally break through and win a game at Red Bull Arena? It just may be. They’ve only managed to beat RBNY once through six MLS matches played in this rivalry’s brief history, but everything seems to be falling into place for a NYCFC road victory this time around. RBNY has been struggling mightily this year, and somewhat uncharacteristically has been having trouble scoring goals. Now, the analytics show that the Red Bulls xG is nearly 10 goals higher than their actual goals scored, so one would assume that the goals would start coming at some point, but that time hasn’t quite come yet. NYCFC has nearly double the total goals of RBNY on the year and have allowed fewer goals than their New Jersey counterparts. The good news for the Red Bulls is they did just beat NYCFC a couple weeks ago in the Open Cup. Oh, and former captain Dax McCarty thinks they’re going to win. That has to count for something, right?
Worst game of the week: San Jose Earthquakes v. Real Salt Lake – Saturday, June 24, 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
I feel bad for Real Salt Lake fans. Honestly, I do. I never thought I’d actually say that, but there’s really no other option at this point. For a split second after RSL fired Jeff Cassar it looked like Mike Petke may have sparked a bit of improvement, but that didn’t last long. RSL have a league worst -19 goal differential, and they’re on pace to challenge for most goals allowed in a single season at 35 goals allowed through 17 matches. San Jose has sort of turned into the San Jose we’ve all come to know over the past few years. After a very hot start, San Jose has settled into the lower-middle part of the table, aren’t scoring many goals and don’t seem to show any signs of real improvement. My guess is there will be a Wondo goal or two in this game and the Earthquakes will take the game at home, but it won’t be a fun game to watch.
Saturday, June 24
Atlanta United FC v. Colorado Rapids – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
One of the biggest rivalries in all of sports right here, to be honest. I mean, when Atlanta and Colorado get together to play… okay, well, this is their first time ever playing. And no, it’s not a rivalry. Both these teams lost last week and will be looking to bounce back. Atlanta in particular still has a realistic shot at a playoff spot, so three points in this game would be especially helpful for ATLUTD. Honestly, I’m not sure I see a scenario where they don’t win. Colorado has by far regressed more than any other team in MLS, going from Supporters’ Shield challengers to the worst in the West in a single season. Is there any way the Rapids can pull out a win in front of 40,000 screaming Atlanta fans? I just don’t see it.
Philadelphia Union v. D.C. United – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
Well, at least it’s a rivalry! This game has that going for it, and not much else. There’s no name or fancy trophy for this rivalry, but the geographical proximity has made them de facto rivals. After a nice little mid-season win streak, Philadelphia is now on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to Real Salt Lake. Not great. D.C. pulled out the home victory last week against Atlanta United to the surprise of many (except for yours truly who called it in last week’s preview). They scored not one, but TWO goals, which is incredibly rare for this year’s DCU team. D.C. gave up a bunch of allocation funds and an international roster spot to sign Deshorn Brown from the Tampa Bay Rowdies to bring in some pace and an attacking threat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make an appearance in this game. These two teams may not be the best, but sometimes crazy things happen when you put two bad teams together and let them go at it.
Columbus Crew SC v. Montreal Impact – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Columbus is one of the most frustrating teams in the league to watch, in my opinion. Some weeks they look absolutely great, and other weeks they look like they belong near the bottom of MLS. They’re record shows there isn’t much room for middle ground at 7-9-1 (W-L-D). But Montreal hasn’t had nearly the season they did last year. They’re tenth in the East and have only managed four wins all year long. They do have one of the best players in MLS on their side in Ignacio Piatti, and when you have someone like that on your roster you always have a shot to win games. But, Justin Meram has been playing incredibly well for Columbus, and I’m not sure Montreal will be able to go into MAPFRE Stadium and take down Columbus at home.
Minnesota United FC v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 8:00PM ET, MLS Live
The Loons are rising once more! Minnesota United took down the mighty Portland Timbers at home in what has to be the most MLS of MLS games this year. We saw a double red card, two own goals and a stunning goal from Superman Christian Ramirez to give the Loons the full three points. Can they put together a mini win streak and make it two in a row at home? I think they just might. Vancouver isn’t exactly the most exciting team to watch in MLS. In fact, they’re perfectly mediocre. They’ve won six games and lost six games. They’ve scored 19 goals and allowed 19 goals. They sit in sixth place out of eleven teams in the West. They just sort of… exist. Now they did have a nice little 3-1 victory over Atlanta United in their last game a couple weeks ago, but they also lost 1-0 to D.C. United the week before that. I think the Loons will be riding high off their victory over Portland, take another at home and will be singing “Wonderwall” with their supporters come night’s end.
Chicago Fire v. Orlando City SC – 8:30PM ET, MLS Live
Don’t look now, but the Chicago Fire are hot on the heels of Toronto FC in the East. Before Toronto’s victory over New England yesterday, Chicago only trailed TFC by one point through an equal number of matches played. They’ll need to take the full three points in this one to keep pace with Toronto, but when you have a striker as prolific as Nemanja Nikolic you’re in pretty good shape. Nikolic leads MLS with 13 goals so far, only two of which have come from the penalty spot. Even without those two PKs, he’d still be in the lead for the Golden Boot. Chicago also have this guy named Schweinsteiger. You may have heard of him. Basti has two goals and four assists on the year and has solidified the midfield of what was already a dangerous squad. Orlando City will enter the game after flying nearly as far as you can fly in MLS to take on Seattle in the midweek game. They took literally every second of that game to earn a point from the draw, and my guess is they’ll be tired heading into this one. Orlando will once again be without star striker Cyle Larin who is still suspended following his DUI arrest. If Orlando can somehow earn another draw, OCSC fans should consider it a success.
LA Galaxy v. Sporting Kansas City – 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
This game actually should be pretty interesting. Sporting KC seems to struggle earning wins when they visit LA, but they are certainly capable of playing the Galaxy to a hard-fought draw. Unfortunately for the Galaxy they will be without Gio Dos Santos, who’s still with the Mexican National Team for the Confederations Cup. Fortunately for the Galaxy they still have Romain Alessandrini, whose been playing very well for LA this year and leads the team in both goals and assists with eight and seven respectively. They’ll also likely be without Jermaine Jones once again, but the Galaxy have yet to lose a game since he went down earlier in the year. When he does return, it’ll make for an interesting decision for coach Curt Onalfo, but that shouldn’t be a problem for this match. Sporting KC have turned out to be one of the best teams in MLS this year, and they have what many consider the best defense in the league. They’ve allowed a league low eleven goals all year, four fewer than the next best team. SKC’s biggest problem has been their streaky goal scoring. Some games they’ll score four goals from three different players, and other games they’ll shoot 25 times but can’t buy a goal. Depending on which SKC shows up will likely determine which way this game goes.
Sunday, June 25
Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders FC – 10:00PM ET, ESPN2
Look, I know Seattle isn’t quite the Sounders of last year (well, at least the second half of last year) and just blew a win at home on a heartbreaking last second goal by Orlando City last week. And I know that Portland just lost to MNUFC and have been in poor form after their incredibly hot start to the season. But there’s something special about this game, and nearly every MLS fan will tell you it’s the best rivalry in the league. You never quite know what will happen when the Sounders and Timbers play. Both teams will be desperate for a win after disappointing results last week. Seattle needs three points badly if they want to keep from falling even further behind in the playoff race. Portland needs three points to show that they really are a solid playoff team in the Western Conference. This game may be late, but it’s on national TV and is worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep for.
Hot take of the week: Alright, I’m gonna say it. NYCFC will finally beat RBNY at Red Bull Arena. I was hesitant about it on this week’s podcast, but I think NYC will finally get over the hump. David Villa is having another MVP type season, and he’ll make New York blue this weekend.
GIF of the week: Marshawn Lynch never left Seattle. He just took up a new sport. #BeastMode is alive and well at Century Link.