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MLS Watch Grid for June 10-11, 2023
A slate full of on-field intrigue follows a week full of off-field intrigue
It’s been a week of news in the Major League, but we have two days chock full of matches coming right up! We have six cross-conference matchups between teams we rarely see interact, which should provide some novelty, and we have a few teams entering lame duck periods as they wait for a big new signing to come through for them.
Window One: 6:30pm
Season Pass Window Winner: DC United at Atlanta United FC
As Ian Wright said, famously, in a UK-only Chicken Tonight ad that I – kid from Overland Park, Kansas, who didn’t know this man’s identity and would only figure it out when watching his son score for the New York Red Bulls in the mid-2000s – somehow was exposed to frequently by UK-based YouTubers in the late-2000s to the point that I think of it every time I think of this phrase: soccer is a game of two halves. In the case of the two Uniteds partaking in the first window this evening, it’s been closer to a game of two parts: The first eighty minutes, and the rest of the match. No two MLS teams have built their identities off of goals scored or given up in the final ten-to-fifteen minutes or so of matches the way that these two have. Atlanta both scores the most and gives up the most, DC gives up few and scores few, and when they do, it requires a physics lecture from the goal-scorer.
I think this will be entertaining regardless, but if you’re flipping around the Season Pass tonight, be turn to this one around 8:15pm CST for the life-affirming glory of a free-kick goal from the Argentinian phenom we’ve all come to associate with MLS, Thiago Almada, followed by the inexplicable and also in some ways life-affirming glory of Donovan Pines hopping over Andrew Gutman for a stoppage time goal off of a corner kick. In the words of one of Georgia’s musical offsprings: Physics makes us all its bitches.
Free Window Winner: Minnesota United FC at CF Montreal
The mercurial Argentinian whose name has been on our lips all week will show up in Montreal tonight! That’s right, Emanuel Reynoso is back, and he completely flipped the switch for Minnesota last weekend when he came on against Toronto. It’s not clear if he’ll start against the Fighting Kasabians, but he’ll be one to watch. Montreal came back down to Earth very hard last week against the again-unflappable Union buzzsaw, losing 3-0 in Chester, but they’re still hovering around the playoff line. Minnesota’s one of the twelve enigmas in the Western Conference (Colorado is bad, Houston is profoundly average, everybody else has some major flaw to poke at) but outside of Hany Mukhtar in Nashville, there’s hardly anyone you can point to in Major League Soccer over the past four season whose presence has been more felt in his team’s successes and his absence has been more felt in his team’s failures than Reynoso.
There are a few teams in this league whose seasons didn’t seem to really start until we hit the summer months – Philadelphia and LAFC were so focused on the Champions League over the first part of the season, Sporting KC had to wait for everyone to get healthy, and Inter Miami’s obviously waiting for the famous Argentinian to whom they’ve been linked, but Minnesota’s a far different team with Reynoso in the fold. Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Jeong Sang-Bin have been incredibly fun and fairly effective, and Miguel Tapias has been a great central defensive anchor, but we’re only now starting to see the real loons take flight, and this match in Montreal will give us another taste.
I’m Interested In This:
Artisan’s Choice: Inter Miami at Revs
Inter Miami has been fascinating, what with Phil Neville getting fired for playing his kid, then with all the ballyhoo this week with the new guy and all the rising ticket prices in away markets regardless of his actual presence, which I imagine might bring them some irate away crowds. They have about a month or so before their franchise changes forever in which this version of Inter Miami, who fights hard and plays interesting soccer despite a lack of marquee talent, whose best player is arguably either DeAndre Yedlin or Kamal Miller, who is coached by Javier Morales, one of those guys who people like me who have been deep in the weeds with MLS for a long time are going to be even more emphatic about referring to as a league legend now as so many newcomers flock in, will have to keep the flame of Inter MIami soccer alive. They showed some fight with ten men against DC United last weekend until the aforementioned Donovan Pines physics lesson took them down. We have a month left of this scrappy, tenacious, and in my opinion interesting version of the Herons before they become an entirely different team, and that’s worth watching in my eyes.
New England’s riding three draws in a row, they haven’t won a match since the beginning of May. They need to stop the bleeding if they want to get back to their stature at the top of the East, especially now that Nashville’s figured itself out and the Union have woken up.
Seattle Sounders FC at Charlotte FC
We have a few abnormal East/West crossovers this evening. For instance, here we have the first ever instance of Seattle playing at Charlotte! That’s something, I think. Seattle’s got Cristian Roldan back and Charlotte saw some life from Karol Swiderski (and some good second-half underdog gusto) last weekend.
Window Two: 7:30pm
Season Pass Window Winner: Austin FC at Sporting Kansas City
The iron’s not quite as hot for both of these teams as it was last week, but they’ve both shown signs of life as of recent. Austin’s working the mercurial Argentinian midfielder whose name has been hot on our lips all year, Sebastian Driussi, back into the lineup, though I’d be a little surprised (and since I’ll be there, this might be wishful thinking) to see him get his first start on the road like this. Sporting KC has found its gusto again with the return of Gadi Kinda from a lengthy injury break. I’ll admit I was skeptical about how much he’d be able to do during the dark period of March and April in which his and Alan Pulido’s return were hailed as the reason not to write the entire season off, but he’s been excellent. These two teams mended wounds in May and I think both of them believe that they have reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season. Unlike in the East, a clearly unimpeachable top-echelon has not developed in the West, everybody’s looked downright mediocre at points, and the one team that hasn’t, LAFC, has a tightly-packed schedule over the rest of the season.
The Shield’s probably out of reach for either of these two, but I think getting a top-four seed in the conference, guaranteeing two home games in the first round, will be significant, and that’s not out of reach for Austin or Kansas City by any means. Sporting KC can take this evening to further cement themselves as out of the cellar they spent March and April digging and Austin can pick up an emotionally significant result on the road.
Free Window Winner: LAFC at Houston Dynamo FC
LAFC came back to earth loudly with a 2-1 loss to Leon in the Champions League final, and they came back to MLS play quietly with a 0-0 draw against Atlanta on Wednesday. Outside of the obvious, LAFC’s going to be the most interesting team to watch over the rest of the year. They now have to play 21 league matches over the span of time in which the rest of the league will play between 17 and 18, they’ve played eight more matches than most of the rest of the MLS already due to Champions League, plus they’ll have to play Campeones Cup (though they will get a bye through the group stage of the Leagues Cup). That is just a lot of minutes racked up, and while they haven’t suffered the injuries that Seattle did in their run last year (though Aaron Long will miss some time due to the head injury he suffered in the second leg of the final), there are many factors which take a return to Shield-winning form out of the realm of the assumed for LAFC. Since the Concacaf Champions League shifted to taking place within one calendar year for the 2018 edition, no MLS team that has made the CCL final has proceeded to qualify for the playoffs (outside of the 2020 LAFC team that made the final in the version of the tournament that was completed after the MLS season had finished), typically due to the injuries and fatigue that playing such high-stakes competition in such a limited time-span brings. The emotional letdown of losing that final at home in that fashion can’t help, either. They’re in a difficult position – They’ve failed in their main task this year with a huge chunk of the season left to play, and they need to rebound. Any loss can start a slide that will be tough to break out from, so the pressure’s there to maintain good form.
Houston has been very good at home this season, and they’re coming off of a dominant road win in the mid-week in the US Open Cup against Chicago. Both teams will be fatigued from mid-week play, and I think that favors the Houston team who has made their bones off of 1-0 home wins so far this year.
I’m Interested In This
Columbus Crew at Chicago Fire FC
For those of you just now gaining interest in Major League Soccer due to the big transaction from this week, here is your first history lesson: Chicago and Columbus are considered rivals to some in both fanbases, they played a big playoff match in 2008, but the rivalry has cooled over the years due to the same reason1 many of Chicago’s other historical rivalries have cooled over the years.
Window Three: 8:30pm
Window Winner (By Default): New York City FC at Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake made a huge signing this week, one that got ignored in the MLS zeitgeist due to its timing, but the fact that MLS-proven striker (and guy who jumped into the stands and kissed his wife in the middle of a game last year) Chicho Arango will be arriving to this team — one who has struggled to score goals so far this year —is huge. They have the opportunity, especially now that they sit in the middle of the West’s logjam around the final playoff spot, to put themselves in a good position over the month of matches between now and Arango’s arrival, and with a New York City team forced to see a 0-0 home point against an injury-addled Revs team last weekend as their brightest point in the last month coming in, RSL has the opportunity to lay a good foundation with a win here.
Window Four: 9:30pm
Game of the Week: Philadelphia Union at San Jose Earthquakes
Two of the brightest-burning forces in American soccer will meet tonight. In one corner, the Philadelphia Union: Winners of four in a row and unbeaten in MLS play since mid-April. In the other, the San Jose Earthquakes, who have been closer to glowing-in-the-dark than burning brightly in the past few weeks, but who should again feature Cade Cowell, who, mustache and mullet in tow, broke out at the U20 World Cup in Argentina for the United States, scoring three goals during the group stage. Cowell’s been a player with incredible promise but an inconsistent goal-scoring record since he first started playing for the Quakes as a fifteen year-old in 2019, so I’m hoping we see him come back from that run with a lot of confidence, and he has excellent pieces around him in Jamiro Monteiro, Jeremy Ebobisse, and Cristian Espinoza to turn that confidence into goals.
Philadelphia’s in the rare, desired, position, where they’re so good as an attacking team that nobody stands far enough above the others enough to justify inclusion in the league MVP discussion. Is it Daniel Gazdag? Julian Carranza? Mikael Uhre? As long as they’re scoring, I’m sure they don’t care that much. They’re also getting players back from the U20 World Cup in Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan. At their best, Philadelphia and San Jose have played some of the most gorgeous attacking soccer in MLS this season, and I’m hoping the rejuvenation from their young talent makes this an enjoyable watch.
I’m Interested In This:
FC Cincinnati at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
You know, both of these teams played fairly full-strength lineups in mid-week domestic cup wins, so I’m guessing this is a bit of a placid affair up in BC, but there are some fun little greebles on this matchup which would otherwise sit in my brain until they cause diseases (that’s how it works) if I didn’t put them down here. Firstly, this will FC Cincinnati’s first match ever in their five seasons of MLS play (and eight total) at BC Place! Secondly, you may remember my recurring thing about the “Soccer Capitals of America” title, which I thought was going to be stuck in the USL Championship for eternity after Atlanta lost it to Memphis 901 in the US Open Cup. I’ve been quietly following its path since then.
On April 26th, Memphis became the Soccer Capitals of America™ after defeating Atlanta United in the US Open Cup, which it held until May 10th, when Birmingham, Alabama became the Soccer Capitals of America™ with a 3-0 clobbering, then merely three days later, on May 13th, Pittsburgh took the titles of Soccer Capitals of America™ when the Riverhounds grimaced and flexed their way to a 1-0 win over the Legion, a titles that Pittsburgh held until this Wednesday, when FC Cincinnati did to them what a quality boot can do to a toadstool, 2-1. Therefore, Cincinnati, Ohio is the Soccer Capitals of America™ for the moment, though Vancouver could become the first Canadian city to stand as the Soccer Capitals of America™ with a win in this one.
Window Five: Sunday at 12:00pm
Window Winner By Default: Los Angeles Galaxy at St. Louis
And everything’s turned from gold into shit for the Galaxy. Their captain and starting striker is out for the rest of the year with an ACL tear, they’re out of the Open Cup, and now they must travel to St. Louis, who has won three straight at home. The one ace that the Galaxy may have up their sleeve? Why, it’s one of the many stars for which they’re named – St. Louis has yet to play a match under sunlight.
It’s unlikely, but it’s been impossible for us to judge if the Allcaps have a vampiric quality to them due to the string of evening matches they’ve played to this point. If that’s the case, like if they all burn up in the light of day, then the Galaxy should have an easy one here. If that’s not the case, then bad might turn to worse for LA.
Window Six: 9:00pm
Window Winner By Default: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers
The F’Zone has scheduled FC Dallas and Portland smack dab in the middle of bedtime for most of us working folk in the rest of the country, and I’m not personally inclined to stay up late for it. FC Dallas was able to score twice in a forty minute-long condensed weather makeup game on Wednesday against St. Louis, and Portland played one of MLS’s all-time snoozers last Saturday against Seattle. These two teams have some history, meeting in the playoffs in 2015, 2018, and 2020, but I don’t think the hatred necessarily so brightly burns (or, since 2005, so brightly FC Dallases). It’ll be on!
Who’s Off This Week:
Red Bulls! You’re off this weekend, so head on out to Action Park for some fun in the New Jersey sun!
I know it’s not open anymore but I know very little else about New Jersey
Everybody else, enjoy the soccer!