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MLS Watch Grid for June 3rd, 2023
It’s all free this Saturday! I don’t know what to extrapolate from that, I’m sure the people still on social media are doing enough of that and drawing all manners of new conclusions from this fact along with the accompanying price-drop and free trials occurring right as most major European league seasons come to a conclusion, but for those of you looking for MLS action this Saturday, you can get it for no charge, just by signing up for an account with Apple. I think we have some good matches on the deck as well, with a Saturday afternoon rivalry double-header and a few clashes of star attacking players to follow.
Window One (2:30pm)
Window Winner: New England Revolution at New York City FC
It took all of five days for New York City to fall from ‘undefeated at home’ to ‘undefeated in the Bronx’ to ‘fans arguing with James Sands after a second home loss in a row’. New York City is facing down an eight-day, three-match stretch in which they welcomed the teams currently in third, first, and fourth in the Eastern Conference into one of their home stadiums. They’ve lost the first two matches by a score of 3-1. Just a week ago, I thought that this stand would give them the opportunity to cement themselves as among the best in the Eastern Conference, even among the best in the league, and they’ve failed the first two tests, so there’s a desperation following New York City into this match against a New England team that will relish every opportunity they have to avenge that 2021 playoff loss.
The Revs are playing very entertaining soccer at the moment. It is one thing to recognize that a strong defensive team, when they lose good players to injury, must see attacking talent step up to replace them, but it is another thing entirely to see guys like Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore step up to fill that gap. They’ve given up three goals in each of their last three matches, but they’ve managed to take a point off of each of the last two. They’re a truly fascinating, impressive team to watch: With such a lengthy injury list featuring so many key players, I’ve been ready to type that they’re entering a slump that will hopefully be remedied with the Leagues Cup break and be fully resolved by the time the playoffs come around, but the Revs are just refusing to go quietly. We have desperation on both sides here coming from places not so different: One saw an opportunity to take control of their year slip through their hands, and one’s trying very hard not to let go of what’s been a great year so far.
Window Two (3:30pm)
Window Winner: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC
The Southern leg of the Cascadia Cup is always worth watching, but we don’t always see both teams come in standing on such uncertain ground, which I think adds some intrigue. We don’t have one team standing tall and proud while the other struggles, as we did last season when a struggling Portland team shocked the Sounders’ at their Champions League banner unveiling, or in 2016 when the Timbers delivered the first of two blowout road losses that led to the end of Sigi Schmid’s tenure in Seattle. We don’t have a clash of title contenders like we did in the Western Semis of 2013 and 2018 or the two late-season matches of 2015. What we do have are two intriguing teams, both of whom have looked good at points this year, but are nonetheless ambivalent about their current positions due to injuries and recent poor form.
Seattle has had the superior season so far this year, and they currently stand near the league’s peak, but the recent injuries to Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan have them struggling as of recent, with one win and three losses (two of which came at home) in their last four, and only two goals scored during that period. The Timbers looked like they had begun to turn a corner at the beginning of May, with the road win in St. Louis and a dominant home win over Vancouver, but they’re now on a skid of their own, losing two in a row. They’re back to failing to score, they’re looking uninspired, and they’ve now lost Yimmy Chara again.
It’s similar to the preceding NYC/Revs match, where neither team comes flying in, but it kind of makes the match more interesting. A win here would be huge for both teams to right the ship. An added caveat to this is that Portland has taken four straight off of the Sounders ever since the 6-2 blowout Seattle delivered them at home in early 2021. In the two teams’ shared MLS history, that matches the longest winning streak in the rivalry – Seattle won four straight between US Open Cup and MLS matchups in a span from July 2014 to early 2015. Portland has the chance to take an unprecedented five straight over Seattle here, a fact which might take some of the edge off of what’s been a rough recent period for them.
Window Three (6:30pm)
Window Winner: Charlotte FC at Columbus Crew
Both of these teams are flawed, but they’re flawed in fun ways, and they’ve both shown the capability to play up to a very high level at points this year. I feel like we learn something new with every match that these two play. In a fashion similar to NYCFC, Columbus is coming off of two significant matches against quality Eastern Conference opposition, they failed both tests. They could have cemented themselves as a part of an upper echelon in the East over the past few weeks, but they’re currently in a second tier beneath Cincinnati, Nashville, New England, and Philadelphia, jostling around with Atlanta, Orlando, DC United, and, indeed, Charlotte. The mid-week comeback against Colorado feels significant, even if it came against a team currently at the bottom of the league standings – All three of their goals came in some part because of Lucas Zelarayan’s efforts, be it from scoring or assisting, and they got the pivotal second-half goals from a young up-and-comer in Sean Zawadzki and a Designated Player in Cucho Hernandez. The early Rapids goal felt like it could’ve been the catalyst for a lengthy slide for the Crew, but they pulled through in the end.
Charlotte’s coming off of what was, at most, a moral victory, holding an incandescent Philadelphia team who probably made the most of the month of May of anyone in MLS to a 1-0 home victory (and there’s a way, I’m sure, that you could spin the fact that the Union’s lone goal was an own goal off of a Daniel Gazdag shot that hit the post and then ricocheted off of the back of Kristijan Kahlina across the line into a positive for their defense). One pitfall of the goals-by-committee method, and particuarly Charlotte’s unique goals-by-the-committee-of-guys-that-excludes-the-guys-we-signed-to-score-said-goals method, is that committees are subject to groupthink and malaise after a while, and a great goal-scorer, one who can rise up and turn a decent cross or a loose ball in the box or a random shot that hits the post and ricochets into Kristijan Kahlina’s back into a goal, can both make and save games when the rest of the team’s struggling. They need somebody to be that for them, especially with Jozwiak and Copetti out with injuries.
Nobody’s been able to beat Columbus in Columbus this year, and Charlotte’s never yet been able to beat Columbus (most pivotally late last season, when the Crew kept them out of the playoffs with a 2-2 draw), so a win here for Charlotte is a tall ask, especially against a Columbus team that seemed to have worked something out emotionally on Wednesday.
I’m Interested In This:
DC United at Inter Miami CF: I really thought Phil Neville was going to do something good with this Miami team, and I was pretty convinced that he was at least a decent coach when they managed a decent start to the year, but now he’s out and Javier Morales is in! When I started my draft of this piece on Wednesday evening, I thought this would be DC United’s second Saturday in a row to travel on the road and potentially get a coach fired, but that job’s already been done. It seems like they’ll probably reunite Josef Martinez and Tata Martino, but I’m excited for MLS legend and innovator Javier Morales to get his chance as the interim head coach. In every instance so far this year (i.e.: both instances), interim coaches have won their first match in charge.
I think more of the intrigue here lies with DC United, who has, within the span of a week, gone from ‘relatively stable with a good core of veterans and a good mix of young talent’ to ‘gave up a two goal lead at home to Montreal in the span of two minutes and lost to a team with a player suspended for belligerent vaping.’ DC’s strikes me as the least stable member of those jostling in the second echelon of the Eastern Conference, and they haven’t won away from Audi Field since April 22nd, so a loss to a team reeling from sanctions with an interim coach and with Lionel Messi now either a year and a half away or never coming at all could turn a mild downturn into a genuine slide.
Window 4: 7:30pm
Window Winner: Nashville at FC Dallas
I said that Philadelphia was the MLS team that made the most out of May, but Nashville’s right up there with them. Back in April, Nashville fans got mad at me when I said they were watchable, but now who’s laughing! (They are, I imagine, as their team’s very hot right now). Hany Muktahr’s the MLS Player of the Month of May, he’s looking like he might be the first MVP to repeat since Preki in 2003, and the Coyotes1 are unbeaten in their last seven. They go to Dallas to play a team that was on a decent streak, a five-match unbeaten run, before they ran into a resurrected Sporting Kansas City team in the mid-week, a team that’s not lost at home since the first week of the season, and a team that I believe has the pieces to be among the league’s best.
This will be an interesting test: Dallas, for all of their attacking talent, has been unable to score more than twice in a match since week two, and Nashville has not allowed more than two goals to an opponent this year. Dallas’ defense, with the breakout campaigns of Nkosi Tafari and Ema Twumasi alongside Jose Martinez, has been far better than I expected. We have two fully featured teams here in Frisco in the fourth window, and I’m excited to see their stars in Mukhtar and Jesus Ferreira (fresh off of a Nations League roster snub) go at it.
I’m Interested In This:
Houston Dynamo FC at St. Louis CITY SC
I think there’s good reason to believe that St. Louis will win this handily based on the fact that Houston, a team who struggles on the road to begin with, is following up a terrible mid-week road loss by traveling to play a St. Louis team that is playing their third home match in a row and who didn’t have to play in the mid-week, but I cannot say that their spirits are bruised. Or at least, we cannot say that Steve Clark’s spirit is bruised, at the very least.
Artisan’s Choice: Toronto FC at Minnesota United FC
Toronto’s still worth monitoring, even if they avoided the worst possible outcome last weekend and followed it up with a perfectly anonymous 0-0 in Chicago (if there’s anywhere to hide and pick up a nil-nil draw, it’s Soldier Field. Midweek on the road against the Fire is like agreeing to trade headshots on Rust in Modern Warfare 2 in third-person grudge match lobbies. It’s inconspicuous, everyone knows what they’re working towards, and everybody’s stats benefit). Minnesota’s the one to watch here, as a coalescence of factors has left us in a situation where Emanuel Reynoso might play today. We’ve gone from “We do not know where he is” to “He will probably play” in less than a month. His apology video was two weeks ago! I thought this would be like a season-long storyline, but he might just be back tomorrow, early June, against a mediocre Toronto FC team. Huh!
Window Five (8:30pm)
Window Winner (By Default): San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids
Window Six (9:30pm)
Game of the Weekend: Sporting Kansas City at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
You have to strike while the iron is hot! Both of these teams are coming off of big mid-week wins, both of these teams are scoring goals, both of these teams’ stars are performing! The West is wide open! Vancouver can get into the top four of the west and Sporting KC can GET ABOVE THE PLAYOFF CUT-LINE with a win in this match and a few other things breaking the right way!
Aside from both teams coming in feeling good about themselves after good mid-week showings, I’m intrigued by some of the individual matchups we’ll get – Ryan Gauld bringing the ball up against Nemanja Radoja, Daniel Salloi on the left wing against Javain Brown, Pedro Vite and Julian Gressel against Logan Ndenbe on the right wing – plus you have a good battle of two similar strikers coming into good form in Brian White and Alan Pulido. Vancouver’s been really good at home this year, unbeaten in MLS play at BC Place since week one, but they’ve been giving up goals there, even in wins, and Sporting’s recently-found success in the attack could mean we’re in for an entertaining shootout after dark up in BC. Add to the that the fact that one of MLS”s best crossers of the ball in Julian Gressel will get the chance to take on one of the players most consistently susceptible to losing track of crosses of the ball in Andreu Fontas, and this match is downright goal-dangerous.
It does feel like a bit of an odd sell from me, the writer who refused to speak the name of one of these teams for several weeks and has routinely treated the other like a misbehaving toddler, but I think that both of these teams, at their best, can be very fun to watch, and they’re both looking to be in about their best form of 2022 based on their Wednesday showings. Give ‘em a chance! At the very least, put it on your TV as you drift off to sleep, let that inhuman green of the BC Place turf bathe you in its hearty glow and let the soothing sounds of one of the Southsiders’ verbose, polytonal, multi-versed songs lull you to sleep, then let the sound of an announcer losing his mind as Brian White manages to mishit a point-blank shot so badly that it gets past Kendall Macintosh anyway wake you up, then let the ambience of historic BC Place guide you softly back to sweet dreams of polychromatic astroturf, Eric Hassli volleys, the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final, and getting yelled at by a drunk BC Lions fan.
Who’s Off This Weekend:
It’s the LA Galaxy and Atlanta United getting breaks this weekend. LAFC’s not playing today, but they have a big one coming up tomorrow that they have to study for. Atlanta fans are probably still reeling from the mixed emotions of Wednesday, so you might like kick back and read a book or something today. Galaxy fans, take today to put your Chris Klein Exit Plans into motion. Whatever you sacrificed in protest can be taken back up — get tickets for the rest of the season, buy jerseys, paint a tifo or practice a trumpet or map out a route to get to the
By the way, NSC might help themselves to get ready to make that a more official nickname somehow, through trademark or something… Either that or hop on to Nordiques or Scouts before the NHL’s Coyotes move and changes its name