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MLS Watch Grid for 3/25/2023
Today We Struggle Through International Window Attrition
APOLOGIES THAT THIS IS A SPREADSHEET: The more reasonable, easier way that I’ve been doing this (handwritten on a legal pad, then scanned in) ran into a snag last night as I accidentally spilled water on the legal pad when I fell asleep watching Ken Burns’ Baseball and pawed at a cup containing some still water searching for the TV remote to turn it off. A photo of the fallen legal pad will be attached at the end of this entry. I have tried to adapt the aesthetic I’ve been bringing to this Google Sheet, but I can only gesture at the simple, understated reality that the legal pad brings. I promise I’ll bring you back to the aesthetic you’re used to next weekend.
This has been the most difficult grid post to write so far, as most of the good teams, which are typically made up of good players, have suffered some degree of attrition to the FIFA International Window. In an odd way, the better your team is, the worse off they are this weekend. To make matters worse, MLS dangled a bunch of really intriguing matches in front of us, especially in the Eastern Conference, but left us without the best players on those teams.
For further explanation of the whole idea here, consult the Week 2 guide.
Window 1: 3:30 PM
Window Winner: Los Angeles Galaxy at Portland Timbers
International Break Attrition: Galaxy Missing 4 Players (Jovelic, Leerdam, Ferkranus, Zavaleta), Timbers Missing 1 (Mosquera)
Both of these teams are on to slower and thus more interesting starts than we are used to from them. The Galaxy are venturing into 'must-watch' territory due to the turmoil surrounding them in the front office and their inability to score goals so far this year despite having such dynamic attacking talent. The Timbers are experiencing something of a Porterian dip, where all the stuff that's worked for them in years past is just not doing so all of a sudden and nobody knows what to expect from them. I've been burned by "This should be an entertaining match between two teams that are starting to feel desperate" in previous weeks, but, as the only daytime match this weekend, this could be an entertaining match between two teams that are starting to feel desperate.
Window 2: 6:30 PM
Window Winner: New England Revolution at DC United
IBA: Revs Missing 2 (Borrero, Makoun), United Missing 2 (Fletcher, Palsson)
There is a delicate balance to an international break weekend like this. In this window, we are dangled tantalizing options between good teams: Orlando and Philadelphia might meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta and Columbus could also do that, and they each have one of the best free-kick specialists in MLS. However, each of those teams are missing several players, including their primary stars (7 on Orlando, 7 on Philadelphia, 7 on Atlanta, 3 on Columbus including Zelarayan), so while I think each game will be intriguing for weirdos like me who want to see how these half-strength teams play, they don’t jump out the way that they should.
New England and DC will not be missing many of their best players and have been playing interesting and surprisingly effective soccer to begin the season. I don’t know that there will be a ton of goals, as the Revs are strongest defensively and have broadly struggled to produce since the departure of Adam Buksa last year, but these two teams look evenly matched and will be at the very least at something resembling full strength.
Window 3: 7:30pm
Game of the Weekend: FC Cincinnati at Nashville SC
IBA: FCC missing 2 (Angulo, Moreno), Nashville UNSCATHED
Junior Moreno came up big for FCC last weekend, but they won’t be missing their most important player in Luciano Acosta, who’s been one of many early-season MVP candidates to jump out in these first few weeks. Angulo had only his first start with FCC last weekend against Chicago, so the… Griffons? Garies? What do we call them? FCC should know how to play without him.
Mike Jacobs, current Nashville SC General Manager and former Technical Director at Sporting Kansas City, has mastered the metagame of MLS roster construction management with regards to riding these international pseudo-breaks in which everybody but MLS is on break for some reason. We have a really good team, whose best players are far enough down the depth chart on their national team rosters – Hany, all the Americans other than Walker Zimmerman, who was probably left off of this USMNT Nations League roster in favor of the mid-April friendly against Mexico, and apparently Jacob Shaffelburg’s not Herdman-quality despite his quite-good early season form) – and thus they’re at full-strength for this home match against a good FC Cincinnati side. I think this match could be a feasible Eastern Conference Final matchup as well – both of these teams are well-balanced in attack and defense and they’ve been able to score goals consistently so far this year.
Artisan’s Choice: Seattle Sounders FC at Sporting Kansas City
IBA: Seattle missing 6 (Arreaga, Baker-Whiting, Nouhou, Alex Roldan, Ruidiaz, Vargas) and Kansas City missing 1 (Tzionis)
Sporting Kansas City can score goals. Well, they have scored a goal. They have still yet to win a match. Sporting Kansas City builds up in attack from the outside-in, making heavy use of their wingers and sending fullbacks forward. Seattle is playing without two of the best full-backs in the league. This should be a perfect situation for Sporting Kansas City to play at their best, overcome their early-season slump, and put goals into the net. If they do that, we should have a goalsy celebration of soccer fireworks (as Seattle’s attack is basically intact, substituting Ruidiaz for Heber), and if they don’t do that, if they still can’t score despite Seattle coming out with half of a backline, you’ll get to see how well AppleTV can transmit pure angst bouncing off of the walls of Children’s Mercy Park.
Window 4: 8:30pm
Window Winner: St. Louis CITY at Real Salt Lake
IBA: RSL missing 4 (Beavers, Luna, Ojeda, Rubin) and CITY missing 2 (Hiebert, Perez)
The primary question to develop so far this MLS season is “Who will deliver St. Louis their first loss?” They’ve proven to be better than ‘lucky’, they’ve shown themselves as a well-oiled, high-pressure, high-effort, undefeated machine. It could very well be RSL, who has had a week of rest coming into this match and an entire identity based around gumming up the gears which push well-oiled machines forward. Regardless, this match will find its way into the Salt Zone, which is similar to the Rapids Zone, in which it will be the only game live on MLS 360 while the 9:30 window matches are at half.
Window 5: 9:30pm
Window Winner: FC Dallas at Los Angeles FC
IBA: Dallas missing 2 (Carrera, Norris) and LAFC missing 4 (Bouanga, Cifuentes, Maldonado, Palcios)
Please god deliver us a 5-4 shootout this evening at the Banque (We can call it that, right? BMO is Banque de Montreal). It would be a treat to those of us who got through a full Saturday of so many on-their-face great matchups between teams missing the players who make them so great. Please let this be Arriola, Velasco, and Ferreira bearing down against a half-strength LAFC backline and Vela, Tillman, and whoever is the striker behind Bouanga bearing down against a full-strength FC Dallas backline and some classic MLS After Dark explosiveness. Either that or deliver us a 0-0 draw as punishment for being foolish enough to sit through a full matchday of games between teams missing the players who make them so great. Just make it sensible, whatever you choose to do.
The Odd Team Out:
Montreal — Vous etes libres ce fin-de-semaine! Mangez les petits bagels et euh… regardez les Habs? Non. J’ai juste consulté le table de l’LNH et vous pouvez ignorez les Habs.
Et pour tous les autres, s’amusez avec le soccer du Ligue Majeur!
Thank you for your brave service, legal pad.