MLS Weekend Preview
Dax McCarty Returns to New Jersey, Loyal Fanbase
April 27, 2017
CASUAL MLS FANS and observers might view the Chicago Fire’s road game this weekend as Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first league match in the New York market.
Anyone who has been paying attention, however, knows the spotlight will largely be on someone else.
Dax McCarty is set to make his return to Red Bull Arena on Saturday night in an Eastern Conference bout that is sure to be as challenging emotionally as it is physically for him. The match in Harrison, N.J., will mark the first time McCarty plays against the New York Red Bulls since it surprisingly, though justifiably, traded him to the Fire this past offseason.
The defensive midfielder will walk back inside the walls of the stadium that he called home for six years. The same stadium that saw him transform from solid professional to widely respected MLS All-Star. The same stadium that still has blown-up images of him and the title-capturing memories he helped create for a fanbase and club that were starved of significant trophies prior to his arrival.
All of this will happen a mere hours before his 30th birthday.
Excited about Saturday for a number of reasons. The ability to thank all #RBNY fans in person for your amazing support is high on that list.— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) April 26, 2017
Nostalgia might be running high for McCarty, but his task once the ball gets rolling will require complete focus. Not only will he have to help lighten the defensive load for the more attack-minded Schweinsteiger to work his magic for Chicago, but the American veteran also needs to attempt to slow down a New York attack that has begun to find its rhythm again.
What that means for McCarty is dealing with a high-press Red Bulls system that he knows can be quite effective, as well as trying to outclass players like Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips—former teammates he used to lead into battle. It will be a formidable assignment for him given the whirlwind of emotions that he is likely to feel, but there will need to be a no-love-lost mentality if he is to head back to the Windy City with three points and even more fond memories.
EARN YOUR KEEP
The MLS Players Union released the lightning rod that is its list of player salaries earlier this week, and the figures on it only served as a reminder that some players need to step up and earn their keep beginning with this weekend.
MLS Player Salary Information as of April 15, 2017 is now available at https://t.co/4qV9D84NLw— MLS Players Union (@MLSPlayersUnion) April 25, 2017
For instance, New York City FC needs more out of Andrea Pirlo than it is currently getting. The 37-year-old Italian, who mind-numbingly makes more than David Villa (five goals and three assists this season), has yet to record a single tally or helper in NYCFC’s seven games. Pirlo’s leisurely work rate and disinterested defensive play only compound matters, but he is likely to remain a starter in the club’s midfield and should have another chance to impress on Saturday on the road against Eastern Conference foe Columbus Crew SC.
The LA Galaxy is another team that surely wants to see improved play from one of its marquee players, as Giovani dos Santos has gotten off to a dreadful start in 2017. The Mexican playmaker has contributed all of one goal and zero assists in six appearances, totals that are a far cry from what is expected of him. A late Saturday home affair against lowly Philadelphia might be just what the doctor ordered for dos Santos and the Galaxy.
Orlando City, meanwhile, may be doing an impressive job of getting by without Kaka, but could still use the Brazilian’s quality to bolster its attack. Kaka has played just 11 minutes this campaign because of injury, but might be healthy enough to give it a go on Saturday at home against the anemic Colorado Rapids. Regardless of whether he were to start or come off the bench, it would be nice to see Kaka contributing again. After all, MLS is shelling out approximately $7.17 million to its top earner this year.
Speaking of well-compensated Designated Players, one who is starting to find his magnificent top form is Sebastian Giovinco. The Toronto FC ace is fresh off a two-goal performance in a win against the Fire, and will be looking to find the back of the net for the fourth time in as many matches in Friday’s lone fixture against the visiting Houston Dynamo.
Houston showed defensive improvements in posting a shutout in a 4-4-2 formation in Week 8, but that came against the toothless San Jose Earthquakes. Stopping a (potentially still angry?) Giovinco and Toronto’s other dangerous weapons is slightly a different task.
Giovinco subbed off, and he's not too pleased. pic.twitter.com/vcm6S1YMhM— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 22, 2017
Seattle Sounders and U.S. national team attacker Clint Dempsey is also a DP to keep an eye on this weekend. Dempsey put forth his most complete shift of the season with a goal and an assist in last week’s rout of LA, and he might be able to build on that outing when the New England Revolution head from the East Coast to the West Coast to play at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night.
BEST OF THE REST? BEST OF THE WEST
If you plan on staying home on Saturday or want something to put on the TV in the background while you pregame for a night out, the battle of the best teams in the Western Conference right now might make for a good choice.
FC Dallas is set to welcome the Portland Timbers in one of the more intriguing showdowns of Week 9. Something will have to give here as Portland’s high-powered front line looks to oust Dallas’ stingy defense, though Timbers coach Caleb Porter will not be counting on orchestrator Diego Valeri because of a knock.
One game that could be a goalfest is the day’s early meeting between the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. While it might seem like a Canadian clunker given where the two sides sit in the standings, neither team is that great at the back. That could make for plenty of chances, and who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned shootout?
MLS WEEK 9 SCHEDULE
Friday’s MLS Game
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
Saturday’s MLS Games
Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew vs. New York City FC
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
Sunday’s MLS Game
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
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.