Here are three games worth checking out:
BASTI GOES TO BMO. Yes, there’s pertinent questions about whether the Fire’s hot start is to be but a flicker or a long burn, but just as relevant is the tepid home form of TFC going into their meeting at BMO Field (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live).
After starting 2016 with an eight-game road slog as renovations of BMO Field were completed, TFC posted a home mark of 8-3-6. Twelve teams, including two that didn’t make the playoffs, equaled or exceeded those eight victories. So far this season, TFC has tied Sporting Kansas City (0-0) and Atlanta United (2-2) at BMO Field, where a match against Chicago and recent signing Bastian Schweinsteiger is the first of three straight at home.
“He’s given them a good boost in the last few games as well,” said midfielder and captain Michael Bradley. “Having said that, they’ve played a bunch of games at home, and we're excited to get a game on our field and our stadium, where we can crank up the tempo and pace and see if we can put them in a game they’ve not been in.”
The recent addition of Schweinsteiger, who has scored two goals and assisted on another in his three MLS appearances, further bolsters a Fire midfield that added Juninho and Dax McCarty during the offseason, and might feature David Accam bombing down the left wing. Chicago has also posted shutouts in its last two games.
Head coach Greg Vanney’s game plan is to harass and pressure the Fire midfielders as TFC tries to build up momentum and accrue points at home, and hope that Sebastian Giovinco, whose stats after five games are a meager one goal and no assists, gets back on the beam with tough travel soon to come.
The last of the three-game home stretch, against upstart Orlando City May 3, kicks off a grueling run of four games in 11 days that includes trips to Seattle and Columbus, where TFC lost last weekend, 2-1, after taking the lead in the 21st minute when Jozy Altidorescored.
BATTLE OF THE UNBEATENS. Fresh off a rare win at Providence Park, Sporting Kansas City rides its unblemished record (3-0-3) up against that of FC Dallas (3-0-2) at Toyota Stadium (Saturday, 8 p.m., MLS Live).
These are the stingiest teams in MLS, with SKC especially miserly (two goals conceded) and FCD with just a goal more conceded. Yet while Tim Melia has been excellent in the nets, FCD has used both Jesse Gonzalez and Chris Seitz as head coach Oscar Pareja juggled lineups between league games and Concacaf Champions’ League matches.
FCD is adjusting well, if not spectacularly, to the absence of midfielder Mauro Diaz, who this week resumed full-out sprinting for the first time since a ruptured Achilles’ tendon sidelined him in October. Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta are ably handing the central midfield duties, but the flank play of Roland Lamah and Michael Barrios has not been consistently effective, and thus much creative work has been asked of the center mids as well as forwards Max Urruti and Cristian Colman, who squandered a couple of excellent opportunities in a 1-1 tie at San Jose on Friday.
“Cristian is young ,” said Pareja of the Paraguayan signed in January as a Young Designated Player. He has taken just seven shots in his four games and not yet scored. “Understanding the pace of the league and understanding the pace of this team, also, isn’t easy. We always have a period of adaptation for the players that is complex, due to our methods and the pace that we have in the game. We’ve got to be patient and wait.”
EXPANSION MATES, YEAR THREE. There’s a lot more at play than the return of former New York City head coach Jason Kreis when he and Orlando City visit Yankee Stadium (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes), such as the whether the Lions can transform their dominance in their own den – four games, four wins – into points on the road.
They christened Orlando City Stadium by beating NYCFC, 1-0, on the first Sunday of the season and this weekend take on a team that in its last 11 regular-season home games has won nine, tied two, and lost none. Orlando City also prevailed in this venue by same score in March, 2016, prior to Kreis replacing Adrian Heath as head coach.
Brazilian wizard Kaka is still injured, but here will be plenty of notable names on the field: Cyle Larin, Will Johnson and Jonathan Spector for the Lions; David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Rodney Wallace for NYCFC. Big games for any of them could decide the outcome.
Without much fanfare, OCSC right back Scott Sutter has played a prominent role for the Lions, as has keeper Joe Bendik. Getting results on the road usually requires running a tight ship at the back and if the Lions can pull that off -- since NYCFC will not have left back Ronald Matarrita (ankle injury) -- a rejiggered back line could fall prey to the quick strikes of Larin and Co. In six games against NYCFC, Larin has scored seven goals, including the only tally when the teams met March 5.
Best of the Rest ...
After kicking off the Cascadia Cup last weekend by beating Seattle at home, Vancouver heads south to play perturbed Portland (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live).
With both of their head coaches feeling the heat, New England and D.C. United meet at Gillette Stadium (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MLS Live).
Atlanta plays the final game of a quartet of road trips at Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., MLS Live).
The weekend concludes with yet another showdown of the Galaxy and Sounders at StubHub Center (Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN).
MLS WEEK 8, SCHEDULE:
Friday, April 21
Toronto FC vs. Chicago 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 22
Houston vs. San Jose 4 pm UniMas
Portland vs. Vancouver 4 pm
New England vs. D.C. United 7:30 pm
NY Red Bulls vs. Columbus 7:30 pm
FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC 8 pm
Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta United 9:30 pm
Philadelphia vs. Montreal 10 pm
Sunday, April 23
New York City vs. Orlando City 1:30 pm FS1
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle 4 pm ESPN
Minn. United vs. Colorado 6 pm