Set your fantasy lineups, because MLS is back! The Gold Cup still isn’t over, but MLS Week 20 kicks off tonight with seven games. Teams will still be missing key players out on international duty, but there will still be plenty of exciting action to watch.
Best game of the week: New York City FC v. Toronto FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Okay, so this game doesn’t have quite the luster it normally would. Toronto FC is hit hard with international call-ups. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have joined the USMNT for the Gold Cup quarterfinals. Defender Justin Morrow was already with the USMNT, Armando Cooper is with Panama, and Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts are with Canada. That doesn’t leave TFC with a lot of their regular starting XI, but head coach Greg Vanney will have to figure out something for this big Eastern Conference matchup. They still do have Giovinco, and Raheem Edwards has returned from his time with the Canadian national team, but those two can’t do it all on their own. To make matters worse for TFC, the game is in New York, and NYCFC have minimal international call-ups. The biggest missing piece for NYCFC was starting keeper Sean Johnson who was with the USMNT, but he returns to the lineup after being replaced for the Gold Cup quarterfinals. NYCFC currently sits five points behind TFC in the standings through equal games played, so this is a fantastic opportunity for City to gain a full three points on Toronto.
Worst game of the week: Minnesota United v. Houston Dynamo – 8:00PM ET, MLS Live
There’s a few reasons why this is the worst game of the week. Minnesota’s defense continues to look historically bad, having allowed 42 goals against through just 19 matches played. Next, Houston has yet to win a game on the road this season and hasn’t shown any evidence that that will change any time soon. Finally, Houston is missing four key players who are out on international duty, including Cubo Torres, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Óscar Boniek García. That pretty much leaves Mauro Manotas and Alex as the only real offensive options for Houston. Minnesota will be without Francisco Calvo and Johan Venegas who are with the Costa Rican national team for the Gold Cup. Calvo has been Minnesota’s best defender this season, which means the Loons defense could be even worse than normal. All this is to say neither team will be at full strength, and this game will likely not be very good soccer to watch.
New York Red Bulls v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:30PM, MLS Live
Both of these two teams are in the middle of a battle for a playoff spot. As it stands now, San Jose is just above the line at fifth place in the Western Conference with 26 points, while RBNY sits just below the line at seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 26 points. The good news for RBNY is that Columbus, who is just two points ahead of them in sixth place, has been steadily regressing throughout the last two months. A win against San Jose will jump the Red Bulls above the line and could give them the confidence needed to spark a good run of form going into the second half of the year. San Jose is in a bit more precarious position. They’ve been playing well since Chris Leitch took over as head coach, but both Seattle and Vancouver sit just two points behind them. San Jose’s hot start has been carrying them, but they’ll need to continue to capitalize on their recent forum under Leitch if they want to retain their playoff spot. San Jose is 2-6-2 (W-L-D) on the road, so playing at Red Bull Arena will be tough. They won’t have Anibal Godoy, either, who is with Panama in the Gold Cup. This one will be tough for San Jose.
Montreal Impact v. Philadelphia Union – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
It was a tight race for worst game of the week between Minnesota v. Houston and Montreal v. Philly. Even though this game didn’t quite “win,” it’s still not going to be a very fun match to watch. Philadelphia and Montreal sit at eighth and ninth respectively in the Eastern Conference. Philly is without starting keeper Andre Blake who’s in the net for Jamaica, and Chris Pontius who is with the USMNT in the Gold Cup. Montreal is still without key attackers Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Patrice Bernier. Fortunately for Montreal, Nacho Piatti and Blerim Dzemaili, who are the team’s goal and assist leaders, are still with the team and will wreak havoc on Philadelphia’s defense. I’m not sure Philly will be able to go on the road and get a result in Montreal, even against a shorthanded Impact team.
LA Galaxy v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
Man, what is going on with LA this year? I mean, no one really expected them to win against Manchester United. And yes, they were without Gyasi Zardes who’s with the USMNT, as well as Alessandrini and Sebastian Lletget due to injuries. But, it took Man U all of three minutes to net their first goal, and it didn’t get any better from there. LA has been nothing less than disappointing in MLS play this year as well. The fire Onalfo chants are only getting louder as the year goes on. The Galaxy’s home form has been unspeakably bad this season at 1-5-3 (W-L-D). It’s hard to call any game a “must win” at the midway point of the season, but this feels like one for LA and Onalfo. Vancouver won’t have starting CB Kendall Waston, teen phenom Alphonso Davies or Marcel de Jong due to the Gold Cup. LA lost 4-2 when they visited Vancouver in early April, and they haven’t improved as a team since then. If Vancouver takes out LA at the StubHub Center, Onalfo may want to begin updating his resume.
Portland Timbers v. Real Salt Lake – 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
This is going to be a next-to-impossible game for Real Salt Lake to win. They’re coming off barely 48 hours rest after their “friendly” with Manchester United. (When is the last time you saw a red card given in a preseason friendly with an EPL team?) Now they have to travel to one of the toughest places to play in MLS, Providence Park. The good news for RSL is Portland doesn’t have David Guzman who is with Costa Rica, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell who are with Jamaica nor Darlington Nagbe who was just called up by Bruce Arena to the USMNT for the knockout rounds. The bad news for RSL is Portland still has Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, two of the most dangerous attacking players in MLS. RSL is challenging Minnesota for the worst defense in MLS, having allowed 40 goals through 20 matches. Their -17 goal differential is tied for worst in the league. I just don’t see a way RSL gets a result here.
Seattle Sounders FC v. D.C. United – 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
Seattle should be very happy to be facing D.C. United at this point in the season. The Sounders already didn’t have Jordan Morris due to the Gold Cup, and now they are also without Clint Dempsey who was called up to the USMNT this week. They do get Christian Roldan back, which is a huge plus, but he’s not going to replace the missing goals of Dempsey. Will Bruin and Nicolás Lodeiro will need to provide the offensive firepower for Seattle in this game. Fortunately for Seattle, D.C. cannot score. They’ve only found the back of the net 14 times through 19 matches. They’re tied with RSL and Minnesota for the worst goal differential in MLS at -17. I only expect that to get worse this week as starting Keeper Bill Hamid was called up to the USMNT for the Gold Cup this week. A win for Seattle gives them a pretty good chance at jumping above the red line, depending on what happens with Vancouver and San Jose.
Hot take of the week: LA will win at home. I know how bad they’ve been at the StubHub Center this year, but they’re still right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Alessandrini should be on the field, which will be a huge boost, and I think Vancouver is missing too many key players to get a result.
GIF of the week: Peter Vermes has a lot of thoughts on Apple v. Android.