MLS Weekend Preview
A Showdown in Seattle; DC's Facelift; a Peruvian Import
August 10, 2017
THE U.S. OPEN CUP TROPHY is within reach. Now, inching closer to another piece of hardware is the task at hand.
Sporting Kansas City advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final yesterday with a stirring penalty shootout win over the San Jose Earthquakes, but now has to quickly shift the focus back to its quest for the Supporters’ Shield. Sporting KC is seven points behind league leader Toronto FC in that race, and needs to prevail on Saturday in order to try and avoid that gap from growing.
The problem for SKC? On top of playing on short rest it has to go on the road to face the Seattle Sounders in a matchup of the two most in-form Western Conference sides. Both clubs enter the Saturday afternoon showdown at CenturyLink Field with long undefeated streaks that stretch back to June, but it is Sporting KC that has the challenge of solving the puzzle that are the Sounders.
Seattle has won four of its last five games and hasn't lost in its last seven. What’s more, the team has been fairly dominant since July, scoring 14 times while conceding just four goals in that stretch. Clint Dempsey has returned from U.S. national team camp reinvigorated, too, evidenced by his two-goal, one-assist outing in last week’s 4-0 romp over Minnesota United.
Kansas City, meanwhile, is looking to rediscover some of its attacking flair. The club has found the back of the net just once in its last six matches, including the cup semifinal vs. San Jose on Wednesday. That sort of output probably will not cut it against an improved Sounders defense that has posted three straight shutouts.
All of the Week 23 tilts take place on Saturday so there is almost no chance that you will be able to catch them all. (Not that you would want to, with summer winding down and European leagues starting back up again.)
In any case, if you are looking for the crème de la crème of the remaining fixtures, look no further than these two interconference bouts. The first takes place in the evening, with Toronto FC hosting the Portland Timbers. Toronto is still undefeated at home this year, and Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Co. will be eager to rebound from last week’s discouraging draw at lowly D.C. United by winning in front of the their supporters at BMO Field.
On the other side of the field will be a Portland squad that is coming off a comprehensive home win over the LA Galaxy. The Timbers have lost just once in its last seven games but only two of those contests ended in victory so they will need to put together another strong overall outing in order to oust Toronto FC.
That, or cross their fingers and hope for more Diego Valeri magic.
The week’s final meeting happens late on Saturday, but it could be noteworthy. The struggling Galaxy will welcome New York City FC to town in their sole regular season clash this year, and there should be plenty of star power on the field with the likes of David Villa and Giovanni and Jonathan dos Santos.
Yes, the Galaxy’s poor play this season takes some shine off of this match, but seeing how Villa follows up his MLS Player of the Week-winning showing is worth watching all on its own. The ageless Spaniard scored his first MLS hat-trick to lead NYCFC in a narrow victory over the New York Red Bulls last Sunday, and he will look to once again steal the show and add to his league-leading total of 17 goals.
Villa has been an absolute menace of late, tallying nine times in his last eight games, so it might be wise for the Galaxy to take a cautious approach to this one.
D.C.’S DRASTIC FACELIFT
The secondary MLS transfer window slammed shut this week, and the biggest storyline was D.C. United’s dramatic makeover.
United purged its roster, ridding itself of veteran pieces like Bobby Boswell and Lamar Neagle while signing exciting youngsters Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, and Bruno Miranda. These moves are being made with an eye toward next year, when D.C. United will at last open its own soccer-specific stadium, but how that affects the squad this year is something that will bear watching.
Will the changes add some immediate energy and quality to a squad that has been performing abysmally all year? Or will it lead to more struggles as players get to know one another? We will get a first glimpse this weekend when United hosts Real Salt Lake in one of the final matches at RFK Stadium. After all, what does head coach Ben Olsen stand to lose by trotting out some of his younger nucleus?
Designated Player TO WATCH
We could see a Designated Player debut this weekend in Central Florida.
Orlando City signed Peruvian international midfielder Yoshimar Yotun late last week as its third DP, and he could see time in Saturday’s match against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J. Yotun may not be a big name on the global stage but he does possess plenty of talent and can help an Orlando side that needs someone to help link the defense to the attack.
The Lions have strangely listed Yotun as an “attacking midfielder" but the left-footed 27-year-old veteran has never really played that position. He started his career as a winger, was shifted to left back, and eventually moved to central midfield in 2015 by Peru head coach Ricardo Gareca. Yotun has thrived ever since as a box-to-box player, as the spot allows him to show off his good technical ability and vision. He is also someone who can build up play through quick combination passes or long balls, and that will surely serve an Orlando attack that boasts Cyle Larin, Dom Dwyer, and Kaka.
Yotun’s arrival may lead Jason Kreis to switch back to his preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation, but the only way that switch does not look like a stubborn move is if Yotun thrives while helping Orlando City reach the playoffs for the first time in its history.
MLS WEEK 23 SCHEDULE
Saturday’s MLS Games
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City
Toronto FC vs. Portland Timbers
D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake
Columbus Crew SC vs. Chicago Fire
New York Red Bulls vs. Orlando City
FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids
New England Revolution vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact
Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes
LA Galaxy vs. New York City FC
Franco Panizo is a bilingual New York-based reporter who has covered the U.S. men's national team, MLS, and all levels of American soccer for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter.