Week 18 Preview

Heineken Rivalry Week part one is behind us. We’ve witnessed crazy midweek US Open Cup games, including FC Cincinnati and Miami FC taking down MLS sides Chicago Fire and Atlanta United FC. Players are gone on international duty. Yet life in MLS continues. Seasons can be made or broken in weeks like this. Teams with depth that can navigate short rest and roster holes are the ones that find themselves in a good position come playoff time. We have some potentially big games in Week 18, so buckle up.

Best game of the week: FC Dallas v. Toronto FC – Saturday, July 1, 7:00PM ET, MLS Live

Could this be a preview of MLS Cup? It just might be. Toronto FC are coming off their latest Canadian Championship win, and they needed all the heroics of Seba Giovinco to pull out the victory. FC Dallas is coming off a short break, too, but they will have an additional day of rest since they played on Tuesday in the US Open Cup. They also played a slightly less competitive game against Colorado, so advantage FC Dallas there. It’s also a home game for Dallas, and even though Frisco isn’t looked at as a “fortress” like Orlando, Portland or Seattle, but they’ve only lost once there this season. TFC isn’t bad on the road, as they’ve earned three wins away from BMO this year, one even being the second of back-to-back away games no short rest against Columbus. Long story short, this is going to be a fantastic game to watch, and it’s a shame that it’s not on national TV.

Worst game of the week: Philadelphia Union v. New England Revolution – Sunday, July 2, 5:00PM ET, Fox Sports 1

Speaking of games on national TV… Sorry Fox Sports 1. I’m not sure this is the type of game you were hoping for as your national TV showcase game. Philly and New England sit at eighth and ninth respectively in the Eastern Conference, and neither of them have been very exciting to watch as of late. Philly won their last MLS game against a very poor D.C. United team, but they had to go to penalties on Wednesday night against RBNY in their US Open Cup matchup. When you’re playing a midweek game, the last thing you want is to go to extra time and then penalties. New England took down D.C. in their midweek Open Cup matchup, but they’re in the middle of a two-game skid in MLS play, having lost to TFC and Chicago in their last to league matches. I guess one thing that this game has going for it is even if the two teams aren’t very good, at least it may be competitive? It’s all I’ve got.

The rest:

Thursday, June 29

New York City FC v. Minnesota United FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live

Oh Loons, I’m so sorry. Minnesota doesn’t even catch an NYCFC on short rest since New York was knocked out of the Open Cup in the last round by RBNY. NYCFC will be feeling good, too, coming off their first win at Red Bull Arena last week. David Villa is playing as well as you’d expect David Villa to play. He has a team high ten goals to go along with six assists. Midfielder Maxi Moralez has been a great addition with two goals and seven assists of his own. Forward Jack Harrison is having a breakout year in his sophomore campaign with seven goals and four assists. Meanwhile, MNUFC is on track to challenge for the most goals allowed in a single season. Their 38 goals allowed through 17 games played is good enough for dead last in MLS. I’m sorry, Loons Nation. I don’t see this one going your way.

Friday, June 30

Real Salt Lake v. Orlando City SC – 9:30PM ET, ESPN

Before the season started, I’m sure ESPN was very excited about this game. Then RSL happened. While technically they don’t have the worst defense in MLS thanks to the Loons, RSL does have the worst goal differential in MLS at -20. The only team RSL has managed to beat in June is MNUFC, and that includes a US Open Cup thrashing at the hands of USL side Sacramento Republic FC. Orlando City will be happy to get Cyle Larin back from suspension as a result of his recent DUI arrest. Whether he’ll slot right back into the starting lineup remains to be seen, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t at least make an appearance off the bench. Larin missed three games during his suspension, and Orlando managed to earn two draws in the first two games of his absence. Things fell off the rails a bit last week when they lost 4-0 on the road to the Fire. Orlando hasn’t won a game since May 31 and have fallen to fourth in the Eastern Conference, so a road win would be huge for OCSC.

Saturday, July 1

Chicago Fire v. Vancouver Whitecaps – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live

Okay, first things first props to FC Cincinnati for their unbelievable Open Cup win over Chicago. They have a great thing going in Cincy, and I’m excited to see that club continue to grow. Okay, back to MLS play. Chicago is hands down the hottest team in MLS right now. They haven’t lost a game since April 29, good enough for a ten game unbeaten streak. They sit only one point behind Toronto FC in the East, and they have the MLS Golden Boot leader in Nemanja Nikolic with 14 goals. Chicago will be without David Accam who’s been in fantastic form but is on international duty with Ghana, as well as midfielder Dax McCarty who’s with the USMNT. That may give Vancouver a bit of hope, but not much. Vancouver remains perfectly mediocre, with six wins, six losses, 21 goals scored and 21 goals allowed. Sorry, Whitecaps fans. This will be a tough one.

Sporting Kansas City v. Portland Timbers – 7:00PM ET, ESPN

This game was so close to being the game of the week, especially considering it’s on national TV. Sporting KC and Portland head into this game both in the top three of the Western Conference, SKC with 30 points and Portland with 25. Sporting KC haven’t lost a game since their May 27 trip to Colorado, and since then it’s been the Ike Opara show. The #IkeBike was one of the best goals of MLS Week 17, and Ike continued his goal scoring form in SKC’s midweek Open Cup match against Houston. Portland is in desperate need of a result in this game to keep pace with other top Western Conference teams. They’re winless in their last three MLS matches, including two road losses to Colorado and Minnesota. Luckily for Portland, they’ll be facing a shorthanded SKC side without forward Dom Dwyer and defenders Graham Zusi and Matt Besler who are with the USMNT. SKC will also likely be without midfielder Benny Feilhaber who suffered a sprained ankle against LA last week. Don’t be surprised if Portland steals a point, or maybe even three.

Montreal Impact v. D.C. United – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live

Poor Montreal. They’re coming off yet another heartbreaking loss to Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship. (My man Rob Ditta wrote a great look back at the history between the two Canadian clubs in the tournament.) D.C. is also coming off a midweek game, a 2-1 Open Cup loss to New England. Fortunately for the Impact, D.C. still cannot score goals. Their 12 goals scored are three worse than the next team in MLS. D.C. will hope that newcomer Deshorn Brown can solve some of those goal-scoring woes, but that’s a tall order for one man. If I were a betting man, I’d say the Impact take this one at home without much of a problem.

Columbus Crew SC v. Atlanta United FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live

Welcome to MLS, Atlanta. I know some ATLUTD fans are unhappy about their team’s jam-packed schedule, and that’s understandable. To be fair, they have played a midweek game almost every week in June. But, that’s the nature of summer in MLS. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they’re traveling on the road to a team who was already knocked out of the Open Cup. A fully rested Columbus side will be a tough opponent for Atlanta, which is why Tata Martinez rested many of his normal starters for the midweek Open Cup matchup. Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Yamil Asad were all left out of the eighteen on Wednesday with the hopes of earning a result Saturday at Columbus. The Crew looked pretty strong against the Impact last week, and Kekutah Manneh may finally be getting the playing time he was hoping for in Columbus. Ola Kamara, Higuain, Meram and Manneh is a strong attacking side. Good luck, Atlanta.

Colorado Rapids v. Houston Dynamo – 9:00PM ET, MLS Live

Will Houston finally win a game on the road? If there was ever a game where it would happen, this might be it. Yes, they’ll be without La Pantera Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Boniek Garcia who are all with the Houston national team for the Gold Cup. Yes, Houston is terrible on the road. However, Colorado have the fewest points in MLS, have one of the worst offenses in the league and are known to drop games at home. Cubo Torres and Mauro Manotas will be a tough duo for the Rapids to stop. I think Wilmer Cabrera’s “airplane blanket” strategy may actually work this week against Colorado.

San Jose Earthquakes v. Los Angeles Galaxy – 10:30PM ET, Univision and facebook.com

The Cali Classico, one of the original rivalries in MLS. The obvious storyline going into this match is how will the Earthquakes respond to the firing of coach Dom Kinnear and the installment of his replacement Chris Leitch? They won their first match under Leitch, a 2-1 Open Cup victory at home against the Seattle Sounders. Leitch’s first MLS coaching test is a big one. LA have been the most dangerous road team in the league this year. Romain Alessandrini has been a newcomer of the year candidate and LA’s best player, leading the team with eight goals and seven assists. The biggest question mark for the Galaxy in this game is who will be in goal? Clement Diop had a night to forget last week against Sporting KC, leaving many to wonder if LA would be better having Jon Kempin in goal. We may see Jermaine Jones return from injury in this game as well, which will create another issue for Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo as the Galaxy have been in better form without Jones than with him. Whatever happens, this game will be a fun one you won’t want to miss.

Hot take of the week: I alluded to it in my preview, but Houston will actually win a road game. For a while it looked like it may not happen, but despite their missing players on international duty I think this is the week the men in orange get it done.

GIF of the week: One more shout for the #IkeBike. Simply incredible, especially considering all that Ike has been through.