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MLS Match Grid for May 20th, 2023
Dry Tinder, the River Runner Ruckus, and the Unnameable
I severely apologize for my ever-shifting formatting. Blame Major League Soccer, or Apple, or me, or whomever you want for only offering two matches for free this Saturday (and they're both at the same time!). Again we're back to the quality-based dividers, and I'll be sure to speak on both of the free offerings for those of you without the Season Pass. For what it's worth, the 360 show is on YouTube for free this weekend, and from what I understand Apple is offering a free month-long trial now as well.
We sit here on the latter edge of Unsponsored Rivalry Week and are presented with several matchups underladen with varying levels of venom. We have all manner of rivalries – Brand new ones, historical ones, historical in the sense that like ten years is a long time in MLS ones, theoretically interesting ones, proximity-based ones, ones that are not by any real measures rivalries, and Salt Lake versus Colorado. Many of these rivalries are either unnamed or have a name I find unsatisfactory, and for those, I will do my best to present both a moniker and a reasoning behind it.
Window One (6:30pm):
Game of the Weekend: Columbus Crew at FC Cincinnati
Title: The Hell is Real Derby
No notes on this one. Perfect. A+. Based on a billboard between the two cities that proclaims that Hell is Real. One of those things we couldn't improve on if we tried. I have nothing to criticize about the matchup, either. FC Cincinnati has proven itself to be the best team in MLS to this point in the season. First in the supporter's shield, they're good in every facet save maybe for bench depth (and even then, you can do much worse than Ray Gaddis and Marco Angulo as bench pieces), they can outscore you, they can suffocate you, their leading goal-scorer can go on a slump for the first month of the season and not even faze them. They're unbeaten at home.
And I may be speaking out of turn, but I think Columbus can be just as good. Can be. They've certainly looked it at points, and they finally broke out of the inconsistent dip they suffered over the last month by hammering the Galaxy in the mid-week (which I realize is not that impressive of a feat, but they finally got a win). Their attacking talent is phenomenal, and though they may be a bit lacking at the moment in defense, a fast start in enemy territory for the Crew could turn this into one of the games of the season. I'm all-in on this rivalry (Me and My Boy Mike will be in attendance at the one in Columbus in August) and I think there's a good chance we see them meet in the playoffs. We've come a long way from the two mediocre-to-bad teams united only by Pissed-Offedness that we saw in the rivalry's MLS roots in 2019.
I'm Interested In This:
Nashville SC at Charlotte FC
Title: Currently Unnamed
Before I get into the naming conceit of this post, let me take a moment to say that I am in love with Charlotte Football Club right now. They are playing so freely, they're winning, they're scoring, and they're getting their goals from everybody. It was Justin Meram last weekend, it was Brandon Cambridge in the mid-week, and it'll probably be somebody else (other than, I suppose, Jozwiak and Swiderski) this weekend against Nashville. Nashville is not precisely the opposite (I think they're exciting as well) but they're the opposite of Charlotte in one key sense, in that we know precisely from whom their goals will come. It's Hany versus The Field out at the Bank under the watchful eyes of Sir Minty.
Now, is this a rivalry? According to the MLS website, it's a designated part of rivalry week. These two teams have only met once, a 4-1 win for Charlotte in July last year that didn't seem particularly bad-blooded. The two cities are in relative proximity, or at least Tennessee and North Carolina border one another (though Tennessee and Missouri border one another and I don't see MLS rushing to pitch a NSC/SKC rivalry to us), but they don't seem to have immediate acrimony in my eyes. Nashville is the 'Music City', Charlotte is the 'Queen City'... Nashville is known for the country music industry, Charlotte is known for the banking industry... Both cities have suffered dramatic Super Bowl losses... Both are growing hubs for young professionals... There are connections between the two, but they're loose ones to my ignorant Kansan eyes. You know what I see there, though? Potential. If these two cities don't hate each other right now, these two teams have the duty to start some shit together. Let's embadden the blood, let's enmurken the waters, let's spark the fire that eventually engulfs both cities in vicious hatred. I deem this the Dry Tinder Derby.
Window Two (7:30pm)
Window Winner: Houston Dynamo FC at FC Dallas
Title: El Capitan
It's one of the league's oldest rivalries, which is to say it's like seventeen years old. It diminished in terms of shared indignation in the 2010s, but I think it's back finally to a burn reminiscent of the home team's original name for the first time since what feels like the away team’s original name. El Capitan is an antique cannon of which the winner takes control, and fittingly, both teams are firing in spurts this season. Houston's in a little bit of a slump as of the last two matches, but they've shown consistent competence under Ben Olsen that they'd been lacking in prior years. FC Dallas came back to beat Vancouver at home in the mid-week off of two goals from Jesus Ferreira, and their vaunted attack can look phenomenal when they’re playing well together.
Jesus, I think, is key to the intrigue surrounding this match, as he truly seems to relish scoring against Texan opponents. He was criticized (and I think unfairly, but if I get too deep into describing why I think it was unfair I go off into a lengthy screed about the unnecessary cynicism rife in the discursive spaces surrounding MLS and these pieces run too long anyway) last week for how proudly he took off his shirt and displayed it to the crowd in Austin after his match-winner. Last year, some Dynamo fans threw garbage at him for scoring and taunting them in Houston, which I think at the very least demonstrates that he got an emotional reaction from the Houstonians that hadn't been there in a good while. I actually think Austin joining the league and very loudly proclaiming themselves Texas's gift to soccer has forced the original Texan teams to knuckle down, look one another in the eye, remember Ricardo Clark kicking Carlos Ruiz, and say “I am choosing to continue to hate you the most.” Houston really needs to develop a player that can antagonize the Dallas fans, and maybe we see somebody seize the moment in Frisco on Saturday, but I think this one's at a healthily angsty simmer and definitely worth watching.
Window Three (8:30pm)
Window Winner: Sporting Kansas City at St. Louis CITY SC
I am going to shit my pants. Finally. It's been years of trying to hate Houston, trying to hate Minnesota, trying to hate the Rapids, successfully hating Salt Lake but being two and a half states away from them, but finally, Sporting Kansas City has a rival by proximity. They're offering discounted Amtrak tickets for it. There's litigation, there's social media chirping, there's a title both cities are fighting over, and finally there's a fucking game on the field. For neutrals, I think this will be fun, too – Sporting's found something that works for them in recent weeks, St. Louis has been struggling, so they might meet in a complementary middle that, combined with bad blood and two fanbases occupying the same space, produces a very fun match of soccer (available for free on Apple TV!).
As for the name, I am not a neutral party, but I don't like the ones we've been offered. I don't care for The Heartland Derby name they've given us, and as funny as I find “The Dar-B-Q” or “El Amtrackico”, I still haven't found one that's stuck. I can't even think of a good one. I've tried, believe me: The Missdourbi, The Denkingerby, the Show-Me Dar-be, The Soccer Ball of the Veiled Prophet, The Hawthorn Cup, The Union Station Series, The Shared Experience of Gastrointestinal Distress Wrought By The Dining Hall At H. Roe Bartle Scout Camp, The River Runner Ruckus...
Actually I like that last one. Apologies to everybody, but I will be calling it the River Runner Ruckus (named for the Amtrak train that runs between Kansas City and St. Louis) until other people come up with a better one.
Artisan's Choice: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids
Title: The Rocky Mountain Cup
Our dear friends at Real Salt Lake have played 370 minutes straight since their last goal. Their last was scored in a turquoise recycled plastic jersey. It was April 22nd, nearly a full month ago. I would list a whole bunch of stuff that's happened since Real Salt Lake scored their last goal, but I am apparently woefully not up to date on what's going on in the world outside of Major League Soccer and the Wikipedia article on the global events of the past month all seem absolutely terrible, like mass cult suicides and bank failures and a series of floods and landslides, so I'll keep it within the realm of this specific blog – Here's what I wrote about the game in which Real Salt Lake scored its last goal:
RSL’s just sort of spinning in the wind, fodder for other teams to prove themselves. I guess that's a reason to watch them, to see if you finally learn a little about them?
And, boy, how things have changed! I have learned, for example, that they are struggling to score goals. That's about it. The Rapids come into the Rocky Mountain Cup (a title which is accurate enough for me) hot off of a 4-0 loss on the road in Atlanta, so they might be just what the doctor ordered for Real Salt Lake! For no charge at all, you might see either a terrible streak broken or RSL's psyche crumble to unfathomable levels.
Window Four (9:30pm)
Window Winner 1: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC
They don't have the history that the Quakes and Galaxy do, but they make up for it with intrigue. San Jose, despite the relative anemia from which they've suffered in the early part of this decade, has played the new darling of MLS pretty well – They've won six of the last eight (after LAFC took each of the first five, but whatever)! Oddly enough, they've never drawn one another, either: It's 7 wins to LA, 6 to San Jose, and that's it.
LAFC's probably itching to get back at San Jose ever since they handed the Black and Gold their first loss of the year, and San Jose will be missing a few players for the U20 World Cup, so this might be a bit weighted towards the home side, but there's an X-Factor here whose name permeates the air around both of the 9:30pm matches today: Folarin Balogun.
His commitment to the United States leaves much less leeway for American Strikers to feasibly break into the USMNT, so the guys in MLS have to step their games up if they want to make the roster for one of these summer tournaments. Since the announcement on Tuesday, the American Striker goal-scoring table looks like this:
1. Jesus Ferreira – 2 Goals
2. Brandon Vazquez – 1 Goal
2. Gyasi Zardes – 1 Goal
3. The Field – 0 Goals
That means we might see Jeremy Ebobisse locked in and ready to tear it up in this as of yet unnamed rivalry on Saturday evening. I actually would leave it unnamed. It's like any other cool stuff in California – Once it's named, people know about it, and then it's less cool. The media people might be all-in on El Trafico and the Cali Clasico, but Quakes/LAFC is staying underground.
I'm Interested In This:
Seattle Sounders FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Title: The Cascadia Cup (Northern Leg)
The aforementioned Balogun corollary also applies to Brian White, and to a lesser extent due to the position, Jordan Morris, in this one. Vancouver's on a two-match losing skid, and my computer is telling me that Seattle lost to... Austin? Austin FC? From Texas? With the bruised pride and the technical director in the extortion scandal? At home, too? You, The Seattle Sounders? Jesus Christ. And on the week in which Sammy's bretheren have started attacking boats, of all weeks.
One of you has to figure your shit out under the roof in BC tonight. Let's get dueling hat tricks and some Cascadian representation on the list there, or at the very least let's get something weird going on as Saturday turns to Sunday.
Who's Off This Week:
New York Fucken City Babyyyy! You got all day Saturday to see the goddam Cleveland Guardians comin into your secondary home to take on Da Mets Baby (Let's Fucking Go Mets Baby) and the Liberty got a home game on Sunday and unfortunately all your other teams deadass lost in the playoffs! Ping pong! Everybody else enjoy the fucken soccer baby!!!