Thursday, May 4, 2017

Major League Soccer Week 9.5 / 10: 2 Glances Back, 11 Glances Ahead

Oh. Teddy bear's optional, I hear.
Let’s glance ahead to Major League Soccer’s “10th Week” – which, incidentally, will be one of the final weeks that I’ll feel compelled to bookend with scare quotes. I think the schedule catches up with the titular “week” as of May 17. And I’m no less sure it’ll fall behind again. Something, something, circle of life…

A couple games already passed in Week 10, but fuck those games, because of my…let’s go with refraction period. Look, I’m a guy, I need to pause between weekends, etc. Also, neither game produced anything by way of surprises – I mean, of course Sporting Kansas City ground down the New York Red Bulls at home (it’s what they do); and we all had every reason to believe that Toronto FC, since returned to a righteous path, would hold off Orlando City SC at home (in an admittedly scrappy affair).

Then again, with all four clubs in action this weekend, that feels like a good place to start the comments on some notes and narratives that I see heading into Week 10’s action.

Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC
Their “Ws” look lonely enough this 2017 that Seattle better hope that TFC walk into CenturyLink with weary legs. The league did both clubs’ fans a disservice when they allowed one team from last year’s MLS Cup to play on a short week. Toronto’s the better team right now – especially with Sebastian Giovinco back on track. Everything else is working. At home, anyway.

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City SC
For me, Orlando punched high enough their over their allegedly weak road form against TFC last night that, unless the travel saps ‘em, I’d expect a fight. Cyle Larin should trouble Houston’s backline and Carlos Rivas should make them chase across two lines; with Houston both scoring goals and leaking them, this one could become a duel.

Philadelphia Union v. New York Red Bulls
Holding LA goal-less in LA feels as close to momentum as Philly can get at this point – it sure as hell beats chucking a three-goal lead – but the Red Bulls, even fatigued, feel like a team designed to punish another team struggling with self-esteem. The Union needs this one. Where’s your money?

Minnesota United FC v. Sporting Kansas City
I can barely stand the thought of devoting another 90 minutes of my life to SKC, but this game still feels intriguing as any this weekend - and lord knows how much I’d love to see Minnesota beat them (sorry, SKC, but also, get bent SKC). The Loons have improved, but with Feilhaber playing like he demands to carry the whole damn team, and with Dom Dwyer looking two years ago good? Add that Gerso Fernandes fella – and I think Minnesota sweats this one. A lot.

OK, hopping to this week’s, and every week’s, edition of The Main Event:

San Jose Earthquakes v. Portland Timbers
With the anxiety about road games slowly leeching out of Timbers fans' collective systems, this looks like a reasonable bet to wring out some more. San Jose sits on the right side of the redline, but it’s worth taking a deeper look at how they got there and when – as in, sure they won last weekend, and credit to them for doing it on the road, but that did happen in Minnesota (have mercy on them this weekend, Lord). Their other two wins fell on the first two weeks of the season, so… I’m assuming Portland has to endure another weekend sans Diego Valeri, but they just did the same against FC Dallas and with some success, so… San Jose has been feeble in the attack – don’t let those 9 goals scored fool you, because they picked up 1/3 of those in one game (see "two" above) – but they do defend well enough. If Portland can score – and I mean at all – that could very well mean San Jose coughs up all three points – and Portland’s league-leading attack can do that (probably. right?). With too many of San Jose’s new guys failing to pan out (Danny Hoesens), or not panning out enough (Tommy Thompson, Jahmir Hyka, and Marcos Urena), and Chris Wondolowski shooting blanks even on the rare occasions he can find the ball, the ‘Quakes feel like a one-goal-per-game team right now. The biggest trick could very well come with how Portland manages this game – or even whether to manage it. I mean, why not send out the Timbers flying? That has a lot to do with feeling like it won’t backfire – clearly - but the first goal in this probably matters more than most. By that I mean, if the goal goes to San Jose, you’d be well-served to have a comfy place to doze off.

Colorado Rapids v. Vancouver Whitecaps
Even as I Vancouver looks like its best possible self right now (e.g.), this game feels oddly winnable for Colorado. There are definitely better teams in MLS than Vancouver, and with more lethal parts, but the Rapids will still have their work cut out: the ‘Caps absolutely have the horses to take over the midfield and Colorado looks lost without Axel Sjoberg and Tim Howard.

DC United v. Montreal Impact
DC’s road win over Atlanta probably turned some skeptical heads, and L’Impact has been wobbly at best thus far…and yet they’re only four points behind DC. It’s the points Montreal has coughed up and where that makes this look like a good sunny weekend in DC. The Black and Red may not look so sure-footed, but they look a damn sight better than Quebec’s finest.

Columbus Crew SC v. New England Revolution
This feels like another one to watch, if only to see which team shows signs they’ll stop sputtering first – and that’s because I think that team will matter, and soon. Maybe New England’s latest tinker comes off, or maybe it’ll be something simple as Columbus’ solid home record meeting the Revs’ weak-ish road form. Yeah, take back something above; I’ll probably be watching this one…

Real Salt Lake v. FC Dallas
Here’s a funny thing: Dallas has relied on defense this 2017. Only SKC tops them and it’s not all that close after that. The opposite holds for RSL, who run with the wrong side of the pack…on both sides of the ball, basically. That dynamic sucks for RSL, no matter where this one’s played. I smell opportunity for the league’s only remaining undefeated side; RSL should feel good if they pick up a point.

Los Angeles Galaxy v. Chicago Fire
After threatening to become interesting a couple weeks back, the Fire petered out badly over the last two, dropping results against the Red Bulls and resurgent Toronto. As for LA, GUYS, this is your second patsy in as many weeks, so, unless you want Curt Onalfo to get can…waitaminute… Kidding about that, but it’s not like the rest of the West is gonna wait on LA. A few things ain’t workin’.

New York City FC v. Atlanta United FC
While it’s premature to say that Atlanta’s fairy tale has ended, their two most recent losses should have their people at least pondering what’s wrong. I’m confident NYCFC has the players to handle Atlanta’s “Onslaught Style,” so this feels like the Bronx team’s game to manage. And, dang it(!), another one to watch.

And maybe that’s how I’ll end these things. For my money, the games with the bigger plot-lines for neutrals should be Columbus v. New England and NYCFC v. Atlanta. Houston v. Orlando feels like it could spit out a story line, too, and all you ghouls out there can turn into Philly v. Red Bulls to see if the former can come out of the coma. ($5 says they don’t.)

OK, that’s it. Enjoy the show(s), all y’all!

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