Week 19 is going to be one of the toughest weeks for just about every team in MLS this year. Many teams are without players who are gone on international duty. Some teams are still alive in the U.S. Open Cup and have played many more games than normal over the past month. Oh, and with most of the games being played on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s the shortest amount of rest just about every team will get this year. It’s sure to be filled with great thrills some fans and even greater heartbreak for others. That’s MLS in a nutshell.
Best game of the week: Portland Timbers v. Chicago Fire – Wednesday, July 5, 10:30PM ET, ESPN
If things break right, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if this were an MLS Cup matchup. When both of these teams are firing on all cylinders, they’re among the best in MLS. Unfortunately for Portland, Chicago has pretty much been firing on all cylinders as of late. They’re on a ten game undefeated streak, and they’ve won eight of those ten matches. Nemanja Nikolic is continuing his goal-scoring tear, leading the league with 16 goals, including two last week in the Fire’s 4-0 shutout of Vancouver. Portland hasn’t been quite as hot as of late. The Timbers are coming off of two draws after two road losses to Minnesota and Colorado. But Portland plays much better at home than they do on the road. The Fire will be a huge test for PTFC, and a win will show the rest of the league that they do belong with the rest of MLS Cup contenders. The Timbers are coming off a draw with Sporting KC, but could’ve had the full three points if Valeri hadn’t sent a penalty kick straight at Tim Melia. Will Portland’s defense be able to hold up against the Golden Boot leader and one of the best midfields in the league? It’ll be tough, but they just might.
Worst game of the week: FC Dallas v. D.C. United – Tuesday, July 4, 8:30PM ET, MLS Live
I’m starting to feel bad for D.C. fans, because they find themselves here more often than they’d like. But, when you’re the worst team in the East with the worst offense in the league, you don’t often find yourself in entertaining matchups. Unfortunately for D.C., traveling to Frisco is one of the toughest trips in MLS. Dallas took down Toronto FC with ease at home last week in a 3-1 victory. D.C. United was shut out 2-0 by Montreal, another weak Eastern Conference team. Maximiliano Urruti is one of the most underrated players in the league, so even though Dallas will be without Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Maynor Figueroa, I think Dallas will take down D.C. at home without issue.
Tuesday, July 4
Atlanta United FC v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
Atlanta and San Jose meet for the first time this week, and both teams are coming off good wins. Atlanta handled Columbus 2-0 in the rare away victory. Tito Villalba scored both goals for ATLUTD, bringing his tally up to eight goals total, tying Miguel Almirón for a team high. With that victory, Atlanta vaulted over Columbus to find themselves sitting fifth in the East. The Earthquakes are coming off one of the more exciting Cali Clasico’s in recent history. It came down to just about the very last second before Shea Salinas hit the game winner in the third minute of stoppage time. The Quakes now sit fourth in the incredibly tight Western Conference and have kicked off the Chris Leitch era in just about the best way possible. Will San Jose be able to capitalize on their momentum and earn a result in Atlanta? It will be tough, but maybe Leitch can keep getting the best out of his new team.
Minnesota United FC v. Columbus Crew SC – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
Minnesota United will be thrilled to be headed back home after having to travel to The Bronx to take on NYCFC. Their 3-1 loss to NYC doesn’t really tell us anything and went just about as well as we all expected. Fortunately for MNUFC fans, the Loons have been much better at home this year. All five of their victories have come at home, and they’ve only lost three at home all year. Not bad for a team many expected to be the worst in MLS history before the season started. The challenge for the Loons will be Columbus’ offense. The Loons defense is the worst in MLS, having allowed 41 goals through 18 games, and Columbus’ 29 goals scored this year is nothing to sneeze at. To make things worse for MNUFC, they’ll be without Francisco Calvo, Jermaine Taylor and Johan Venegas who are all on international duty. Columbus has Mohammad Abu on international duty, but that will be of minimal consequence. Higuain, Kamara, Meram and Manneh will all have great opportunities to find the net this week. The loons just might lose their fourth home game of the year the way this one is shaping up.
Colorado Rapids v. Seattle Sounders FC – 9:00PM ET, MLS Live
Colorado is coming off one of their best wins of the year, even if it was against a shorthanded Dynamo team that hasn’t won a road game all year. Anytime the Rapids score three goals, it is cause for celebration amongst Rapids fans. Meanwhile, Seattle is one of the few teams that actually has had a full week of rest due to their bye week this past weekend. In their last action, Seattle lost 2-1 to San Jose in an Open Cup match. They earned a road point in Portland just a few days earlier when Clint Dempsey scored the equalizer at the death to the dismay of everyone in Oregon. Normally I would say that Seattle has a great chance at earning the road point, but Colorado has been playing a bit better as of late and actually has one more win on the year than Seattle, even though they’re one spot back in the standings. This game will probably be a bit tougher for Seattle than Sounders fans would like.
LA Galaxy v. Real Salt Lake – 10:30PM ET, MLS Live
LA is going to be furious after the way they lost the Cali Clasico last week, and they’re going to take it out on RSL. Whether you agree or not, many LA fans feel they were robbed by questionable refereeing decisions against the Quakes. Jelle Van Damme was a yellow late in the game for arguing what appeared to be a hand ball by a Quakes defender Victor Bernardez. Things got worse for LA when Van Damme was shown a second yellow after the match for continuing his dissent, meaning JVD will miss the matchup with RSL. But even without Van Damme and Gyasi Zardes who is with the USMNT, I don’t see any way RSL puts up much of a fight. The game is in LA, and RSL has an MLS worst -21 goal differential. The most exciting part of this game will be whether or not we get another crazy header from Galaxy keeper Clement Diop.
Wednesday, July 5
New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Well that New England showing on Sunday was… something. With that embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Union, the Revs fall down to tenth in the East, a mere two points above D.C. Missing Juan Agudelo, who is with the USMNT, certainly didn’t help. The Red Bulls haven’t played an MLS game since July 24, when they lost at home to NYCFC. They then beat the Union in an Open Cup shootout, but have been resting ever since, which will be a huge advantage over New England. This will be the second matchup of the year between these two teams, with RBNY taking the first matchup 2-1 at Red Bull Arena back in May. The Red Bulls have slowly and steadily slid down the Eastern Conference table since then, but their full week of rest just might give them enough to beat New England on the road.
Orlando City SC v. Toronto FC – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
Orlando City got their star man Cyle Larin back after being suspended for a DUI, and they also got their first win since before his absence. Coincidence? Maybe, as Larin himself didn’t score the lone goal of the game. But having someone with Larin’s ability on the field adds just another element of difficulty for defenders. Toronto FC took a bad beating on the road at FC Dallas. A 3-1 loss on the road against Dallas is a forgivable sin for most MLS teams, but if you’re trying to cement yourself as MLS’ best and the favorite to win MLS Cup, you need to show a bit more there. The first time OCSC and TFC played this year, Toronto won 2-1 at BMO field. It’ll certainly be a much tougher match down in Orlando, and Toronto is without a large number of impact players due to international duty, including Armando Cooper, Raheem Edwards, Justin Morrow, Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts. Will TFC’s depth be able to hold up on the road in one of the toughest places to play in MLS? If last week was any indication… probably not.
Houston Dynamo v. Montreal Impact – 8:30PM ET, MLS Live
Houston had a chance to finally win a road game last week against the Rapids, and they blew it. Now, one could argue that their international call-ups are a significant reason for that. Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Oscar Boniek Garcia are all key members of this team, Elis and Quioto in particular. Things looked like they were going to get a bit worse for Houston when Cubo Torres received a call up to El Tri on Monday. Thankfully for the Dynamo, Cubo will wait until after this match to join the Mexico national team. Last week, Montreal beat D.C. 2-0, which isn’t that impressive considering how bad D.C. is. What is impressive, though, is the Impact did this without Piatti, who missed the game after being injured in the second leg of the Canadian Championship. Oh, Montreal was also missing Patrice Bernier and Anthony Jackson-Hamel. Yet somehow, they were able to find a way to win, thanks to Blerim Dzemaili and Chris Duval who both had fantastic games for the Impact. Even if Piatti can’t go in this one, I think Montreal has a better chance to win against the Dynamo than most would give them. Those international absences may just be a bit too much for Houston to overcome.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC v. New York City FC – 10:00PM ET, MLS Live
So last week Chicago destroyed Vancouver and NYCFC handled Minnesota. Pretty much as expected. As hard as it is for road teams to win in MLS, I expect NYCFC to do it this week, and I don’t expect it to be close. Vancouver is without five players who are away on international duty, including key players like Christian Bolaños, Alphonso Davies and Kendall Waston. NYCFC actually has felt very little impact of international call-ups. Their key players are all still there, including goalkeeper Sean Johnson who didn’t get called into US camp for the Gold Cup. Combine that with David Villa, Maxi Moralez, Jack Harrison and Tommy Mac (yes, I include him in this group) all still available for NYCFC, things don’t look good for Vancouver.
Thursday, July 6
Sporting KC v. Philadelphia Union – 8:30PM ET, MLS Live
Sporting KC has felt the international call-ups about as hard as anyone in MLS, at least on paper. Starting forward Dom Dwyer and starting defenders Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are all with the USMNT. For a team that has struggled to score at times and has one of the best defenses in the league largely due to lineup consistency, that’s not great. SKC was able to salvage a point at home against Portland thanks to Tim Melia’s unbelievable third penalty save in the four he’s faced this year. Philadelphia will likely be much less of a challenge for SKC, but if Philly is anything it’s streaky, and they’re on a mini two-game win streak right now. So far this season they’ve drawn two, lost four, drawn two, won four, lost three and now won two. Will Philly be able to follow their season pattern and keep up the win streak? Not likely. The Union won’t have Alejandro Bedoya nor Haris Medunjanin. Combine that with playing in a tough place like Children’s Mercy Park, and I think this one spells “doom” rather than “doop” for Philly.
Hot take of the week: Montreal are going to at least earn a point on the road in Houston. Dzemaili looks very comfortable running things on the pitch for the Impact, and Houston just looks lost without Quioto and Elis.
GIF of the week: Jim Curtin solved the mystery of time travel, went back in time and brought back young Jim Curtin to coach the Union.