MLS Watch Grid for May 5th-6th, 2023
The Grid Has Had A Formatting Change Forced Upon It
Hello friends. I apologize, but I had to fuck with the formula a little bit this week. For some reason, only two games (Charlotte/NYCFC and SKC/Seattle) are listed as free on Apple TV this weekend. Were I to follow the standard, established format of the Watch Grid up to this point, I’d have a very lopsided piece of work that would probably stretch off of the primary piece of legal pad paper and on to a second, which I imagine would be annoying for you and I am certain would be annoying for me. It seems like MLS’s plan is to begin listing free games only a week in advance from now on, but I don’t know how many matches per week will be made free to viewers under that model as of right now. Two, I feel, is too few, and I hope that they go back to nearly half of the games being available for free viewers (granted I’m Ludditic in this sense, I’d go back to every team showing their matches on free over-the-air channels if I could, even taking the payroll and quality of play restrictions that era brought fully into consideration), but I’ll still keep plugging along at this even if the whole deal goes behind the paywall.
I’ve altered this week’s grid to have three tiers based on the quality of the match, and I’ll mark other stuff, like whether the match is free or not, in purple as I have been.
Tier 1 is the Window Winners, the best games of each window, on which I will write somewhat extensively
Tier 2 will be the games that elicit a measured, reasonable “I’m Interested In This”, which I hear in the voice of Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I will offer a shorter bit on each of these
Tier 3 is a flat statement that They Will Play The Games. You may watch it if you’d like, but I have nothing extensive to say about it. To the grid!
Window 1: 6:30pm
Game of the Week: Los Angeles FC at San Jose Earthquakes
This is not the combined matchup of the two best teams that we have this week – that will take place in Frisco – but this is the match I’m most interested in watching this Saturday. We have the two attacking players on the hottest runs of form in the league squaring off in Denis Bouanga and Player of the Month for the Month of April Cristian Espinoza (and he plays for the Earthquakes, which means he had to be like three times as good as the average player for the league to recognize him). We have a San Jose team that can potentially get a big win off of a fatigued LAFC team whose first-choice lineup had to play an important match in the middle of last week. We have the last undefeated team in MLS…
Most important to me? It’s the venue. Levi’s Stadium. The Denim Menace. The Palace of Pants. The 501 Forum. Santa Clara’s tall, narrow, weird, claustrophobic corridor of football, that of Friday night Pac-12 Championship Games and the odd WWE Pay-Per-View returns to Major League Soccer, with the Earthquakes hosting their first regular season match in the House of Strauss since 2015! It’s one of those odd stadiums that I want to see before I die because I’ve heard it’s got a weird aura, similar to Tropicana Field or Stade Olympique or the Oakland Coliseum or Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium, and I think that it fits the Earthquakes perfectly. The Quakes are undefeated at the Field of Jeans, with a win and a draw in MLS and a 0-0 draw against Manchester United in a 2018 mid-summer friendly. They’re always worth watching when they go a-barnstorming (a-barnquaking?) around the bay, be it here, Stanford Stadium, Spartan Stadium, it doesn’t matter. I’d actually like to see them make a point to play at every feasible stadium in the region – San Francisco State’s Cox Stadium, Kezar Stadium, some field up in Sausalito, I don’t care. NYCFC gets the jokes about being nomadic transients, but the Quakes do it by choice, and those games tend to be dramatic, as I hope this one will be just as well..
I’m Interested In This:
DC United at FC Cincinnati –
Outside of both of these teams being competent so far, this one borders on “must-watch” given how good both Lewis O’Brien and Brenner are and how ironclad of a fact it is that they’ll both be out of MLS within a few months, so we have to appreciate them while we still have them.
Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls –
Welcome back to Earth, Philadelphia. You are not completely limited to MLS success – You could go all-in on the Leagues Cup in July and win that, and you could go for the US Open Cup, I guess – but the CCL dreams are over and you’ve been bested by Los Angeles again, which must weigh on the psyches out in Chester. It is time to return to the quotidian existence of playing and beating other MLS teams. The Union can get back on track, and rejoin the rest of us hoi polloi as parts of the league against a mediocre Red Bulls team, or they could potentially lose and send everybody into a panic.
New England Revolution at Toronto FC –
We have Bruce versus Bob, a rare former-USMNT manager versus former-USMNT manager matchup at BMO Field (not the only one in MLS history, we did have two matches between Bob Gansler’s KC Wizards and Bora Milutinovic’s Metrostars in 1999). May is the month in which the league’s hierarchies tend to set-in. Teams decide whether or not we’re supposed to care about them or not in May. Toronto currently sits at 9th in the East, they’ve not lost many yet this season, but they lack signature victories, and beating the league leaders at home can be that.
Window 2: 7:30pm
Window Winner: St. Louis at FC Dallas –
This match is the week’s lowest combined table-standing matchup (4th vs 8th), and I want to believe in the watchability of FC Dallas, but they piss me off because they have all those attackers, like Alan Velasco, Jesus Ferreira, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Paxton Pomykal, and they’ve been good at gutting out all of these gritty defensive wins. This bodes well for them as a team whose job is to win games, but it does not draw me to the TV the way that I expected to be drawn to the TV, and honestly the fact that they’ve underperformed my expectations evokes a feeling of betrayal that I don’t feel for other uninspiring attacks, which I will admit I’m taking out on them in this paragraph. It is better to gut out close wins and draws than to lose, and their talent puts them in an enviable position compared to other teams dealing with goal-scoring woes (i.e. it’s easier to see the team with Velasco and Ferreira getting back to consistently scoring than the ones without them), so perhaps they’re in that ‘watch in case this is the game when it starts to click’ bucket that I’ve kept Orlando in for so many weeks. .
St. Louis developed a knack for drawing goals out of otherwise goal-shy teams (Minnesota, Portland, Colorado) in April, so perhaps this will repeat itself in Frisco on Saturday night. St. Louis is getting far more interesting to me now that they’re starting to hit snags, give up goals, and lose to this version of the fucking Timbers. The shine of March has definitely worn off, they’re still able to score, but they haven’t shut anyone out in five matches, which has me believing that there could indeed be a significant pinch of goalsiness and watchability to this game.
Artisan’s Choice: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo FC –
This year, I find myself needing to develop new philosophies and approaches to watching this sport. Case in point here is the Houston Dynamo, who have, since I finished high school in the early 2010s, been safely ignorable from a neutral perspective. Whatever synaptic pathways there were that connected the Houston Dynamo name and logo with success and fun and Brian Ching and Brad Davis dried up around the middle of the 2010s, saw one brief re-opening during that playoff round against Portland in 2017, and have rested fundamentally dormant ever since. They have firmly entrenched themselves in pragmatic not-all-that-exciting Ben Olsen-style soccer, which does not gin up a ton of excitement to the neutral viewer, but they are winning, they’re bringing fans out, and Hector Herrera’s been one of the best players in MLS so far this season in the defensive midfield. They welcome an old Western Conference foe in Real Salt Lake, who you cannot deny is trying very hard. You’ll have to make the decision. The Dynamo won’t jump out right into your arms and cling to you that way – But if you’re so inclined, if you want to support an upstart legacy franchise redeveloping inroads in a big city… Consider the Dynamo.
I’m Interested In This: Chicago Fire FC at Nashville SC –
This really could be an entertaining match, but every time that I gaze at either of these teams, they forget how to attack, so I’m going to lay the sprezzatura on a little thick in the next sentence and see how the teams respond: lmao imagine watching nashville and chicago expecting for goals and excitement out last year’s mvp and the league’s second all-time leading scorer, cringe
This is not for The Soccer Capitals of America titles, for the record – Nashville did not win that off of Atlanta last weekend, it actually belongs to Memphis 901 after they beat Atlanta in the USOC a week and a half ago. They defended it against Louisville and go up to Hartford today. It is very unlikely that any MLS team holds The Soccer Capitals of America titles again this year
Window 3: 9:30pm
Window Winner: Austin FC at Portland Timbers
I know what I said last weekend about both of these teams being in my six least favorite to watch teams in MLS, but they’re counter-programmed by a match between the 27th and 28th-place teams (and I cannot even find an artisanal angle to recommending that one) and a match between this league’s finest 0-0 merchants in Minnesota and Vancouver. Portland and Austin, for all of my complaining, were both able to score goals last weekend. Austin finally saw life from Emiliano Rigoni at home against San Jose, Portland finally saw any sort of life at all from themselves on the road in St. Louis, so maybe we’ll catch two teams on hot goal-scoring streaks. Neither of these teams can defend particularly well, either, so if we get any classic MLS After Dark action tonight, it’ll be here. I am believing in both of you forsakenly green teams, do not fuck this up for me.
Window 4: Sunday 3:30 PM
Window Winner (By Default): Sporting KC at Seattle Sounders FC
It was July 2016. I was on a pseudo-study abroad French language immersion program in Quebec City, living in a cramped, air un-conditioned dorm room on the fifth floor of the Universite Laval student dormitories during an awful heat wave. I followed Sporting Kansas City from there, watching matches on my little Macbook wearing no shirt and a towel, a little fan I bought from a store from of their three malls in a row in my open window blowing cool air at me. Sporting dropped two matches that July, 1-0 on the road in Chicago and Colorado, but they came back home to face the hated Seattle Sounders, a team that routinely killed us with clutch post-85th minute goals in MLS play. They were abnormally poor that summer, but you could never count Sigi Schmid’s Sounders out back then..
They came out horribly flat. Dom Dwyer scored quickly, Jacob Peterson had one of his five or six per season rationed moments of goal-scoring capability at the end of the first, and they fell to absolutely nothing. If I remember right, Seattle didn’t take a single shot on goal in 90 minutes, one of two games in 2016 in which they did that, the second of which turned out completely differently from what you’d expect. If this hadn’t been during the Connor Hallisey era of Sporting Kansas City, it might’ve been 5 or 6 nil. In the 79th minute, a Sounder right back who I can’t make out dropped this lazy little roller in the general direction of Brad Evans. It was intercepted easily by Dom Dwyer, who slotted it past Stefan Frei to make it 3-0. Schmid, a legend in MLS coaching, was let go by the Sounders in the middle of the next week, replaced by Brian Schmetzer.
We will see if history repeats itself at Lumen Field on Sunday afternoon.
Who’s Off This Week:
Columbus! You’re off this week. I loved your city when I visited a few years ago for a writing tutors conference, I’ll be back there for a brief stint later this summer, but unfortunately I don’t know what you do there to entertain yourselves during early May. Unless you’re a student at THE Ohio State University, in which case I hope you do well on your finals. Everybody else, enjoy the soccer!