Major League Soccer
Atlanta—Seattle Clash Tops MLS Weekend Must-Sees
March 31, 2017
THE U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM has stepped out of the spotlight and off the main stage. Now, eyes will turn back toward Major League Soccer.
Week 5 of the 2017 MLS campaign is set to begin on Friday night with a pair of matches that contain plenty of intrigue. Up first is a battle between Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City, and the intra-conference battle in Ontario will reportedly mark the return of TFC’s star playmaker, Sebastian Giovinco, after a short spell on the sidelines due to injury.
Later in the evening, a star-studded affair will see the reigning MLS Cup champion, the Seattle Sounders, welcome exciting expansion side Atlanta United to town. Both clubs are likely to be without a top scoring threat, but there are still plenty of big names like Clint Dempsey and Miguel Almiron that add to the appeal of this one.
The rest of the weekend’s slate is not short on interesting storylines, either. Real Salt Lake will not be under the guidance of Mike Petke on Saturday, but the club’s new head coach will be watching closely as it visits dreadful expansion team Minnesota United. Many observers will expect a rout in favor of RSL, and many observers might be right given Minnesota’s ghastly start to the year.
Also on tap are showdowns between Bastian Schweinsteiger’s World Cup Qualifying participants the Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact, and the Portland Timbers and the New England Revolution.
Here’s a closer look at Week 5 of the MLS season:
The Chicago Fire’s road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins in earnest on Saturday.
OK, not really. But we had to go there....
Try not to cringe watching a reporter ask Bastian Schweinsteiger if Chicago can win the World Cup. pic.twitter.com/hMz4NZfFxG— AtTheBuzzer (@TheBuzzerOnFOX) March 30, 2017
The Fire will begin the BSE (Bastian Schweinsteiger Era) this weekend against the Montreal Impact. Not only do the Fire have the benefit of playing at home against an Eastern Conference foe, but will likely also not have defend 2016 MLS MVP candidate Ignacio Piatti because of a reported groin injury.
Adding to day of #MLS injury news: Hearing Montreal's Ignacio Piatti has groin injury. Could keep him out several weeks, per league source.— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) March 28, 2017
That could open the door for central midfielders Dax McCarty and Juninho to operate more freely in the attack—like they did in Week 3 against Real Salt Lake. There's a good chance the revamped Fire will pick up three more points at home even before Schweinsteiger fully integrates into the group.
A day earlier, the Seattle Sounders’ star-studded attack will welcome high-flying Atlanta United in what may possibly be the game of the week. The Sounders are likely to be without Jordan Morris, who is day-to-day with an ankle problem sustained before international duty, but Atlanta United is assured of being without current MLS Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez because of a quad injury.
Even if those goal-scoring threats are both sidelined, Seattle and Atlanta should still have enough to be dangerous in the final third. The reigning MLS Cup champ has a confident Clint Dempsey at its disposal after he scored four times in the U.S.’ two recent World Cup Qualifiers. Atlanta United has Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, and likely starting striker Kenwyne Jones at manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino’s disposal. The defense that holds firmest will probably lead its side to victory, but the task is a sizable one for both sides.
Saturday’s slate will also see the two clubs from the Big Apple involved in tough matches. New York City FC will test itself at Yankee Stadium against a reinvigorated San Jose Earthquakes team, while the New York Red Bulls start a two-game road trip against a surprisingly potent Houston Dynamo that is looking to bounce back from its first loss of the year.
There is so much soccer on television these days, there are bound to be games that are worth missing—especially in MLS.
The Minnesota United-Real Salt Lake tilt is one of those matches, as the Western Conference showdown pits a struggling expansion club against a team that has appointed a new head coach that will not yet take charge this weekend.
Mike Petke will travel with the team to Minnesota, but reiterates he doesn't want to be a distraction as team preps for game.— Chris Kamrani (@chriskamrani) March 29, 2017
How exactly that unusual approach will affect RSL is unknown, but you may want to skip seeing a defensively challenged Minnesota side try and outpunch a Real Salt Lake group that is in the process of figuring itself out.
Another fixture that neutral fans will probably want to skip is the Philadelphia Union’s home game against I-95 rival D.C. United. While a rivalry game usually makes for good viewing, neither side has yet to get going offensively. D.C. United has not even scored a goal yet this year, and two anemic attacks do not make for must-see viewing.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Plenty of observers will be looking to see how U.S. men’s national team members fare in their returns from international duty, but the one American most spectators should be keen on watching is fringe international Juan Agudelo.
Fresh off a two-goal performance that saw him named MLS Player of the Week in Week 4, Agudelo leads the New England Revolution into Providence Park to take on a Timbers side that is aiming to bounce back from its first loss of the year.
The 24-year-old forward served as the crux of the Revolution attack in last week’s lopsided win over struggling Minnesota, and will have to again be heavily involved if New England is to have a shot at pulling off an upset against a talented squad that boasts offensive juggernauts like playmaker Diego Valeri, the dynamic Darlington Nagbe, and winger Sebastian Blanco.
New England has other pieces it can rely on, such as Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen, but the talented Agudelo is the player that is most capable of both scoring goals and setting up chances for his teammates. Another strong outing from the crafty attacker would raise the Revolution’s chances of pulling off an upset, but it would also improve his odds of getting noticed by U.S. head coach Bruce Arena ahead of the next round of World Cup Qualifiers.
MLS WEEK 5 SCHEDULE
Friday's MLS Games
Toronto FC vs. Sporting Kansas City
Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United
New York City FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact
Columbus Crew vs. Orlando City
D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union
Minnesota United vs. Real Salt Lake
Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy
Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution
Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas
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. This is Franco's first piece for American Soccer Now and we encourage you to follow him on Twitter.