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MLS Watch Grid for May 13-14, 2023
It's [UNSPONSORED] Rivalry Week!
I had to blink and rub my eyes like a cartoon character does to show that they’re confused by what they’re seeing when I looked at the schedule this week. It’s Rivalry Week. Every weekend preview article, every piece of analysis, every little section break from the ExtraTime hosts, they proclaimed as much. That is accurate, there are many rival teams playing this weekend, but it’s moreso that I know this by another name…
Is it no longer Heineken Rivalry Week? Apparently not. That shatters my entire universe. Will my joke referring to Minnesota and Kansas City as “Heineken Rivals,” rather than actual rivals become anachronistic? That is a shame. In their honor, for their years of support of Major League Soccer rivalries, I will be pairing each of this Rivalry Week’s matches with a beer product beneath the surprisingly wide net of products under the Heineken umbrella according to Wikipedia.
Window 1: 12:00pm
Window Winner: St. Louis CITY SC at Chicago Fire FC
In Chicago, we see the first of two matches that are repeats of US Open Cup or Canadian Championship ties that took place on Tuesday (If you can think of a less wordy way to get that across, please put it in the Substack comments). This one was less eventful than the one that took place North of the border, but it set up some intrigue for this match. Chicago, who just fired their head coach, took an unexpected win over St. Louis in their old Bridgeview home (where they are undefeated so far this season). St. Louis, who came out of the gates better than anyone in MLS history ever had, has hit something of a snag, taking only one win in MLS over the course of April. This is theoretically supposed to develop into a rivalry, though they can ask across the other state they straddle how manufacturing a rivalry with Chicago goes (The Fire are MLS’s equivalent of a Rothko painting, where anything that comes out of trying to feel any negative emotion about them ends up revealing more about you than it does them, plus St. Louis didn’t even offer free Firehouse Subs for Fire losses like Sporting used to), so maybe there’s some intrigue to seeing the burgeoning hatred’s first little baby steps. Both are in odd places right now, odder now because of the midweek upset, and now we’re faced with a match lined with currents of pseudo-intrigue, even if it’s not really that intriguing on paper if judged as a match between two soccer teams.
I am coming to this match for reasons different from those which typically have me coming to things like it, which makes this match a Heineken 0.0. Normally, when I pick up a can that says “Heineken”, I am drinking it for an auxiliary effect that a 0.0 does not produce. I actually have had a Heineken 0.0 at a Major League Soccer match – Portland versus Minnesota in a phenomenal goalfest at Allianz Field last July – and I enjoyed its flavor and refreshing drinkability, just as I hope that I enjoy this odd mid-Saturday match.
Window 2: 6:30pm
Free Window Winner: Charlotte FC at Atlanta United FC
Charlotte and Atlanta have all of the components for fun soccer. Charlotte showed last week that they can play not just successful but in some cases very attractive attacking soccer – The ground-passing that led to Enzo Copetti’s first goal was absolutely impeccable astroturf soccer – but they continue to struggle in defense. Atlanta, who was riding the highs of giving up many but scoring more for the early part of the season, has faltered in the past few weeks. I am staring at a pile of dry tinder, lint from the dryer, and various Dorito oils, and I could see it burning very brightly with the right spark, however I could also see it burning uncontrollably in the way that spreads out of control, catches a kid’s shirt on fire, and forces my scout leader to confiscate my Firem’n Chit.
I am hoping that the unique and volatile fusion here will produce intrigue and not nightmares, which is why this match is a Lagunitas Hi-Fi Hops THC-Infused Seltzer, something that I gather is a beverage containing both THC and alcohol, one of which they do not allow in my state, a beverage that I would have to think very long and hard and have contingency plans in the case of poor outcomes1 for if I were to imbibe one.
Window Winner: Nashville SC at DC United
The makings are in place for this to be a good game, but things have to fall into their right place in order for it to become as much. Nashville and DC have both wilted under the pressure of me calling them enjoyable teams at points this year, but I’m going to take the plunge and do it again. DC was choked out by the defensive spine of Cincinnati last week but still pulled back a late goal and had me rapt with attention. In the past two weeks, Nashville’s shown a diverse skillset in which they can win with three goals by Hany Mukhar and they can win with three goals by players other than Hany Mukhtar. If things align well, if DC can get past the Neverending Story Swamp of Sadness that a Gary Smith defense sets upon an opponent and if Nashville can get past the entropy inherent to a Gary Smith attack sets upon itself, this can be a very good game. If DC gets an early goal, gets the fans at Audi Field jumping, opens Nashville up, they trade goals, then Lewis O’Brien lifts a cross up on a counter-attack towards Benteke, who rises high above either of NSC’s defensive midfielders (in this situation they’re scrambling and we get either Dax or Sean Davis on Benteke rather than Zimmerman)... That’ll be a damn good match.
But the situation must present itself. It could just as well be like a 1-0 loss off of a Donovan Pines own goal. Because its quality is so dependent on situationality, this is Tiger, which is a beer I’ve only ever enjoyed in one situation (United flight from O’Hare to Kansas City jet-lagged after coming back from study abroad).
Artisan’s Choice: Toronto FC at CF Montreal
When you have a capo throwing a megaphone at one of his own players and drunken fans hitting one another with belts in the upper deck on a Tuesday night, what could be more fun than doing it all again four days later? There will be no documentaries made about this edition of the Canadian Classique, or if they are they won’t be for good reasons, but absent the orchestral swells of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, absent the unstoppability of the 2017 TFC or the dynamism of the 2022 CF Montreal, absent the artistry of Giovinco and Piatti, Altidore and Drogba, Pozuelo and Wanyama, Danny Dichio and Tony Donatelli, with at most a theoretical spot in the 8-9 game in the East on the line… It is here that we truly see what it means to be rivals. These teams have thrown punches at one another in the dark caverns of sparsely attended, unballyhooed matches many times before, they’re accustomed to playing for the pride of at least beating the other many times before, and with a palpable tinge of sadness and disappointment to both that was only intensified on Tuesday, Montreal and Toronto face off again.
Because we are getting too much of a thing, goodness or badness of the thing irrelevant, too quickly, this is Two 40 Ounce Bottles of Heineken Duct Taped to Your Hands at a freshman year frat party2 that a high school you only kind of knew dragged you out to. We may well enjoy this at points, may get some catharsis, but there will be some sadness as well.
Window 3: 8:30pm
Free Window Winner (By Default): Los Angeles FC at Real Salt Lake
A team that’s tasted its own blood for the first time in a season always brings some intrigue, but I have tried week in and week out to make Real Salt Lake seem interesting and they just will not humour me. I’m gonna have to use the Motorcycle Mamas protocol I’ve used on Minnesota for the past few weeks if they don’t quit with this 0-0 business. It will be the only match on from 8:30 to 9:30pm for free viewers, though.
It is there, it might not be your first choice, but it is a match of professional soccer and it’s better than nothing, and for that reason, this is a Newcastle Brown Ale.
Window Winner: Philadelphia Union at Colorado Rapids
What’s your favorite Rapids/Union match? Their first ever meeting, a 1-1 draw in Chester in which Danny Mwanga and Jeff Larentowicz scored? The 2013 home opener on a chilly, snow-bordered day in Commerce City in which James Smith scored a really impressive curler before Jack McInerney scored a winner and bowed to the sparse Rapids fans in the picnic table section? The firecracker 3-3 draw of 2014, in which the Union dropped a 3-1 lead after a Michael Lahoud red card put them down a man in the 76th? The May 2016 match in which both goals were scored after the 87th minute? The May 2017 match in which Caleb Calvert pulled off the rare hat trick of scoring a goal, then getting two yellow cards within the span of a minute, the first for some sort of dissent lost to history and the second for re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission? Dom Badji’s Hat Trick in 2018? Philadelphia’s 6-0 win from last year?
We don’t pause to consider Union/Rapids very often. They can, and do play from time to time, and this year it might be kind of interesting. Colorado’s coming off of a win on the road, riding some Cabral Revenge Magic to victory in Carson, and Philadelphia’s coming off of an odd win where they did win but nobody really feels all that great about it. This is a chance for Philadelphia to look like the damn Union again! This is a chance for Colorado to win three games in a row (counting the US Open Cup)!
Union/Rapids, the matchup of two simultaneously accidentally nearly-European-sounding and also American sounding names that we don’t think about very often, is an Amstel Light, a case of which sits in the foreign beer section of the fridge at your local liquor store right now and will continue to sit there every time you go there from here on out.
Window 4: 9:30pm
Game Of The Weekend: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Portland Timbers
This is a huge leap forward from where I’ve been in the past few weeks, in which I’ve called Portland my second-least favorite team to watch and Vancouver a 0-0 merchant, but the events of the past weekends have changed my heart. Last weekend, All-Watch Grid Watch List Striker Brian White finally progressed to the mean, scoring twice against Minnesota (who theoretically has a good defense!), Topeka’s own Simon Becher scored another, Yohei Takaoka kept them in the lead with a late clutch save in what turned out to be the high-scorin’ MLS-After-Dark BC Place game I’d been waiting for. I’ve been critical of Portland’s style of play, particularly because their big money signing Evander has yet to really justify the price they paid for him, but he got two assists last weekend in a very exciting (for reasons that Timbers fans don’t care for) late-night match against Austin. It’s the only match of this window, and it’s a bit of a risk even saying this, but I’m very excited for it. There will be interplay between Andres Cubas and Evander, Diego Chara and Ryan Gauld deep in the midfield, Vancouver’s going to fly down the wings as they like to do, Portland’s going to struggle to build through the middle as they like to do, both can score goals and both will give up goals, and there will be the anxious shame that hangs over the fans of both of the southern Cascadian fanbases, where they don’t relish beating Vancouver but find deep-seated senses of self in being better than Vancouver that can prove deleterious if unseated with a home loss, an anxiety which will rest heavily across Providence Park, from the Timbers Army all the way to the cavalcade of stationary cyclists in the windows of the Multnomah Athletic Club.
When we think of a rivalry week match in this region, we think of a different matchup, one far-better canonized. We think of Diego Valeri counting on his fingers to show to his teammates that they needed to go to penalties and Roger Levesque getting chopped down and Sammy the Sounder’s Casket. The league thrusts that in our face, and rightfully so, before it thrusts this one in our face, and perhaps rightfully so given that they’ve played only one playoff series (2015 WCSF) and some of their most fondly remembered moments happened pre-MLS (Their 5-4 aggregate Western Conference Final round in the 2009 USL playoffs? Ryan Pore getting a late winner down a man back in the 2010 USSF D-2 Pro League season?) But this week, I’m saying we should give Portland-Vancouver a shot. You may like the old reliable Heineken Rivalry Week Staple of Seattle/Portland, but I’m taking the role of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet: Fuck that shit, PABST BLUE RIBBON!
Window 5: Sunday 8:30pm
Window Winner (By Default): San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles Galaxy
And finally, we get to the Cali Clasico. It’s always been there for you, hasn’t it? Save for the two years in which it wasn’t? It reminds us of the good times of yore, the simpler times of Dwayne De Rosario and Carlos Ruiz and Alan Gordon, of Spartan Stadium and Buck Shaw and the Rose Bowl. Maybe it doesn’t jump out at you, it’s not your first choice, because the Galaxy have been so incompetent and San Jose’s real coronating statement win came last weekend, but it is here for you on a Sunday evening. Maybe seeing those two crests going at one another, the pleasant nostalgia of years past, the memories of David Beckham getting mad at the Earthquakes’ mascot, will be enough to get you there, much like the pleasant sensation of tapping a keg at a college party might get you to purchase a Heineken Mini Keg and wind down a lazy spring Sunday.
Who’s Off This Week:
Cincinnati! You’re off this week! Put on the Foxy Shazam, boil the spaghetti, pour the chili, feather out the cheddar cheese as well as all of the other ingredients I understand to be in a classic Goldstar or Skyline Chili, and kick back. Everybody else, enjoy the soccer!
For context, I am unable to vomit
For our Canadian subjects here, ‘Freshman year’ is like the first year at CEGEP for half of you and it’s year one at university for the other half, and I know you don’t have frats up there, but imagine a big house where many men live together.