Week 29 Preview

We’re in the home stretch of the MLS season, and suddenly the playoff race in the Western Conference isn’t quite so clear. Houston and FC Dallas are on the outside looking in, while San Jose and RSL are looking to do just enough to stay above the red line. Atlanta United is playing as well as anyone in their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and they’ll be right back there Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. Oh, and we have a U.S. Open Cup final as well. Not a bad week of soccer.
 
Best game of the week: Sporting Kansas City v. New York Red Bulls – Wednesday, September 20, 9:00PM ET, ESPN2
 
No, this technically isn’t an MLS Cup match, but this is a game you’re going to want to watch. Sporting KC are vying for their fourth U.S. Open Cup championship, and their fourth trophy in six years (2012, 2015 U.S. Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup). The Red Bulls will be searching for their first Cup in club history (U.S. Open Cup or MLS Cup). They’ve won the Supporters’ Shield twice (2013 and 2015), but outside of that they haven’t had much success winning trophies. Unfortunately for RBNY, the game is in Kansas City, and SKC is just about one of the toughest teams to beat in MLS at home. Sporting KC fans will show up in a big way for this match, and it will be an incredibly energetic atmosphere. No, the U.S. Open Cup isn’t quite on the same level as MLS Cup, but any chance a team has to win a trophy is a big deal. SKC always take this competition very seriously, and RBNY won’t want to squander their shot at the club’s first cup.
 
On the field, Sporting KC’s best-in-MLS defense will look to shut down a threatening offense led by Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan. Sporting KC’s offense isn’t quite as prolific, but they’ve actually been performing better on a goals-per-game basis after the Dom Dwyer trade than they were in 2017 before the trade. Both teams will look to come out and score early to set the tone of the match. I expect this to be an incredibly fun match to watch, with the home field advantage giving the slight edge to Sporting KC.
 
Worst game of the week: Vancouver Whitecaps FC v. Colorado Rapids – Saturday, September 23, 10:00PM ET, MLS Live
 
There’s not much to look forward to in this match. While most of the other games involve two teams that in some way are vying for a playoff spot, this one features the top team in the West against the last place team in the West. Moreover, Colorado has to travel to Vancouver. The Rapids single road win won’t inspire confidence that they can go into BC Place and get a result. Meanwhile, Vancouver will be looking to take all three points to bolster their shot at a first round bye in the playoffs. The Whitecaps beat the Rapids in their first matchup and drew the second, both at Dick’s Sporting Goods park. I would expect round three to be more of a 2-0 or 3-0 score line in favor of Vancouver.
 
The rest:
 
Wednesday, September 20

 
Atlanta United FC v. LA Galaxy – 7:00PM ET, ESPN2
 
The hors d’oeuvre to the best game of the week, Atlanta United are back at home in the gorgeous Mercedes-Benz stadium where they’ve been nearly unstoppable. Nearly. Orlando City was able to earn a result last week in a 3-3 draw, thanks in part to two goals from the $1.6M Dom Dwyer. Despite that draw, Atlanta United is outscoring opponents 16-3 through just three games at MBS. That’s unreal. Josef Martinez has had one of the best three game stretches of any player in MLS this year, scoring seven goals on fourteen shots over the last three games. There’s no way he can keep up that pace, but the struggling Galaxy aren’t likely to be the team to stop him. The Galaxy looked like maybe, just maybe they were going to have a halfway-decent stretch after beating Colorado 3-0 at home and drawing Seattle 1-1 on the road. Then they ran into Toronto FC and were systematically dismantled in a 4-0 loss. If I had to guess, this game against ATLUTD is more likely to be another 4-0 loss than a 1-1 road draw.
 
Toronto FC v. Montreal Impact– 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
 
It’s always fun when Toronto and Montreal face off. Unfortunately, this one may be a bit less fun than normal, though. Toronto are far and away the best team in MLS, and at this point there’s really no chance of Montreal making the playoffs. What that means is the only thing on the line in this one is bragging rights. Even so, it’s a midweek match with both teams having games just a few days later, so we may not get a full-strength starting XI out of either side (especially Toronto). Toronto beat the Impact 3-1 at Stade Saputo just a few weeks ago. Given that this game is being played at BMO Field, I fully expect TFC to take all three points. It may be a bit closer and a little more sloppy than it would be if Toronto’s regular starting XI played, but the Reds shouldn’t have too much trouble with Montreal.
 
Saturday, September 23
 
New York City FC v. Houston Dynamo – 3:00PM ET, Univision, facebook.com
 
This game could not come at a worse time for the Houston Dynamo. They find themselves on the outside looking into the playoffs right now, even though they’re tied on points with FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake and only one point behind San Jose. They need to get every possible point they can in the remaining games to secure a playoff spot, and going on the road to NYCFC is not going to make that easy. Houston is 1-9-5 on the road this year, and NYCFC is one of the two best teams in MLS. NYCFC has one of the leading MLS MVP candidates and current Golden Boot leader David Villa, and they have one of the best home records in all of MLS. Long story short, Houston will struggle in this one and will likely lose badly.
 
New England Revolution v.  Toronto FC – 5:00PM ET, MLS Live
 
Well, the Revs pretty much indicated they’re going into rebuilding mode when they fired head coach Jay Heaps this week. Heaps had been coach of the Revs for nearly six seasons, taking them to two finals and eight playoff games, but he never was able to deliver a trophy to New England. It was clear the Revs didn’t think Heaps was they guy to take them to the next level, so rather than drag out the inevitable they made a move now. They’ll also be without their big summer transfer window signing, Krisztian Nemeth, who was sent off in the 11th minute for an elbow to the face of SKC’s Graham Zusi. Yes, the Revs will be facing a TFC team on short rest, but as I mentioned earlier I expect that the full Toronto team won’t play on Wednesday night. The good news for the Revs is the game is at home, where they beat Toronto FC 3-0 back in June. Now that game is more than likely an anomaly, but if they’ve done it once, they can do it again.
 
D.C. United v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
 
The obvious intrigue for this game is can the Earthquakes build on their win last week against the Dynamo to stay above the red line? The Quakes have been incredibly inconsistent over the past few weeks, losing to RSL 4-0, beating the Galaxy 3-0, losing to TFC 4-0, and beating Houston 1-0. That’s sort of been the story of San Jose all season, though. At times, they look like a definite playoff team, while other times they look like a bottom half Western Conference team. San Jose isn’t great on the road at 3-11-1, but D.C. really isn’t that good at home at 5-7-3. This game has the potential to be fairly high scoring, with San Jose and D.C. allowing 48 and 49 goals respectively so far this year. Even though D.C. isn’t great at home and are the second-worst team in MLS by points, I don’t trust San Jose enough to feel confident that they can get a result on the road.
 
Philadelphia Union v. Chicago Fire – 7:00PM ET, MLS Live
 
Jim Curtin has outlasted another MLS coach. Last week’s draw at Red Bull Arena may have bought him another week in charge, and earning a result (or better yet beating) Chicago may buy him a bit more time. The Union aren’t going to the playoffs this year, but if they can finish the season strong over their last five games, they could climb from the bottom of the east to the seventh or eighth spot. Still not great, but better than the bottom two. Chicago isn’t as strong as they were earlier in the year, but they are still a very good team who will host a knockout round playoff game. A win would certainly give Philly some confidence to build on going forward. Chicago easily beat D.C. United last week 3-0 at Toyota Park, but they’ve been less successful on the road. This game will probably be closer than it should be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Union actually pull off the upset.
 
Columbus Crew SC v. New York Red Bulls – 7:30PM ET, MLS Live
 
The Crew are going to be feeling extremely confident going into this match. They not only are hosting the Red Bulls at MAPFRE, where the Crew are 10-3-2 on the year, they’re getting RBNY off a midweek U.S. Open Cup final match. The RBNY aren’t going to be saving their starters for the weekend with an opportunity to win the club’s first Cup, so it’s very likely the Crew will be facing a depleted and tired Red Bull team. On top of that, Columbus hasn’t lost a match since a 2-1 road loss to San Jose on August 5, good enough for a six game unbeaten streak. A win for Columbus will be crucial if they have any hope at all of staying above Atlanta United in the East, although that seems unlikely given the form ATLUTD has been in as of late.
 
Minnesota United FC v. FC Dallas – 8:00PM ET, MLS Live
 
The biggest news for either of these two teams is there’s a baby Superman on the way. We’re big fans of Christian Ramirez at Total MLS, and we are already fans of the future USMNT star striker on the way. The news of baby Superman was icing on the cake for an MNUFC team that won its second road game of the year when they defeated Montreal 3-2. One would think that FC Dallas should be able to handle MNUFC easily, but FCD is in the middle of one of their worst runs in recent history. They haven’t won a match in nine games, with their last win coming on July 22 against Montreal. Dallas is now out of playoff position in eighth place in the West, and they’re in desperate need of a win. But, Minnesota has earned six of their eight wins at home, so there’s a real chance that the Loons will extend FC Dallas’ winless streak to double digits.
 
Real Salt Lake v. Seattle Sounders FC – 9:30PM ET, MLS Live
 
When RSL fired Jeff Cassar earlier this year, how many of you thought they’d storm back and be in the middle of a fight for a playoff spot? Mike Petke has done wonders for RSL since taking over. They still give up goals at an enormous rate, allowing 52 goals on the season so far, worse than any other team except for Minnesota and LA. But, they’ve only lost two of their last eleven games, and they won their most recent matchup 2-1 against the Portland Timbers, one of the top teams in the West. RSL is 7-4-4 at Rio Tinto this year, while the Sounders are only 3-6-6 on the road. The Sounders are in the middle of a 13 game unbeaten streak, but they also haven’t won a match in a month, dating back to their August 20 matchup with Minnesota. The Sounders haven’t given up many goals during their run of four draws, but they haven’t scored many themselves either. This is a dangerous game for Seattle on the road during a crucial time when the Sounders are trying to fight for a first round playoff bye.
 
Sunday, September 24
 
Sporting Kansas City v. LA Galaxy – 2:00PM ET, FOX
 
This game may be a bit sloppy. Sporting KC will be coming off their midweek U.S. Open Cup finals match, and they’ll do all they can to win that match. Could that mean they’re tired for the Sunday match against the Galaxy? Possibly. The Galaxy are also a relatively strong road team, having won five of their seven wins this season on the road. But, LA also has a midweek matchup on the road against Atlanta United, so they won’t exactly be fresh either. Sporting KC are one of only two teams that are unbeaten at home this season, the other being Toronto FC. Not bad company to keep. Even if Sporting KC are a bit tired from their midweek match, they are in a great position to finish first in the West at 44 points, just one point behind first place Vancouver with one game in hand. Having been eliminated in the knockout round of the playoffs each of the last three seasons, Peter Vermes and SKC understand the importance of a first round bye. They’ll do everything they can to take all three points against a struggling team like LA.
 
Atlanta United FC v. Montreal Impact – 1:00PM ET, ESPN
 
Another home match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta, the fourth of six straight. I already mentioned how well they play at their new home, and I see no reason for that not to continue against the Impact. Both teams have midweek matchups, but the Impact will have the much tougher challenge facing their rival Toronto FC. Atlanta did lose to Montreal the first time they played, but that was on the road in April, and ATLUTD didn’t have Josef Martinez who was out injured. If I were a betting man, I’d say Atlanta’s unbeaten streak will continue after beating both the Revs and the Impact, and they’ll likely jump the Crew in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Portland Timbers v. Orlando City SC – 8:00PM ET, Fox Sports 1
 
Portland currently sit second in the Western Conference, but this is actually a very important game for them. They have played two more games than both Vancouver and Sporting KC, and one more than Seattle, who are all tied with Portland on points at 44. Portland need to beat mediocre road teams like Orlando at Providence Park if they have a shot at staying in the top two spots in the West and earning a first round bye. The Timbers lost on the road to RSL last week in a game that many Timbers fans thought would at least give them a result. Orlando City has only won three games on the road, but they did earn a draw against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, making them the first team not to lose and the first team to score at MBS. Dom Dwyer finally found the net (and did it twice!), so perhaps he’s settling into the new system. Orlando will miss the playoffs, but they have nothing to lose heading into this match and would love to play spoiler for Portland. The Timbers have the advantage at home, but it won’t be an easy win.
 
Hot take of the week: Real Salt Lake will continue their climb in the West after they beat Seattle at Rio Tinto. Whatever Petke has done, he has RSL believing in themselves. Salt Lake is averaging three goals per game over their last four matches, and they’ll continue that offensive hot streak and end Seattle’s 13 game unbeaten run.
 
GIF of the week: Something about PRO being bad and not doing anything right…