MLS Weekend: Three Games to Watch

Week 13 isn’t being billed as a Rivalry Week, perhaps because the Red Bulls and NYCFC do not play each other and MLS, though a national league, has a definite New York-centric persona.

Yet there’s a good slate of traditional tussles on tap, including in-state clashes of the California and Texas teams and another installment of Northwest hostilities, which Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer stoked this week by questioning whether Timber Joey was a “real lumberman.” (Schmetzer supplemented his income for many years working in construction, so he, too, knows a life of wood and saws.)

All in good fun, of course, and of course Portland fans fired back their ripostes. In an interview with MLSSoccer.com, Joey Webber verified that his experience with slabs of wood extends far beyond those he saws off after every Timbers’ goal at Providence Park, and took his own jab by saying he had to Google “Brian Schmetzer” to find out who he is. Great stuff.

The Cascadia Cup clash is one of our three games to watch. (Note: All games are available on MLS Live.)
 
POINTS AND PRIDE ARE ON THE LINE. Posturing and regional politics aside, it’s a vital game for both teams; Seattle is trying to recapture the mojo it rode to the title last year, and Portland has fizzled out from its hot start of four wins in the first six games.

Since this meeting is at CenturyLink Field (Saturday, Fox, Fox Deportes, 3 p.m. ET), the Sounders coach will be present and Timber Joey will not. A 1-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake last weekend ended a run of three straight losses at the Clink but did little to assuage concerns about outbreaks of ineptitude quite unbecoming of a defending champion. Yes, Clint Dempsey has scored four goals and Nico Lodeiro has notched three along with four assists, but the 3-5-4 record is the telling statistic.

Leaky defenses have plagued both teams and given their high-scoring history this could be a real shootout at high noon (Pacific time). The last five meetings have averaged more than four goals per game and so far in 2017 they rank among the leaders in goals allowed; in 12 games Portland has conceded 20 and Seattle 19.

What often happens in such circumstances is both teams start out in a defensive shell but the Sounders regard this game as a great opportunity to get Jordan Morris out of his funk -- the 2016 Rookie of the Year has scored just two goals and none in the last five games –--and the Timbers, paced by six-goal men Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri, have been scoring on just about everybody.

Portland collapsed last week (4-1 loss to Montreal) after midfielder Diego Chara was sent off for slapping an opponent in the face, and his suspension gives the Sounders that much more incentive to attack. Yet they must be wary of the counter, and with both Valeri and shuttler supreme Darlington Nagbe back healthy, Seattle’s central mids Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan cannot be caught upfield when Portland breaks out. Ditto left back Joevin Jones, who will be a key figure on the flank in both halves of the field.
 
CALIFORNIA RIVALS ON THE RISE. Neither team has burned it up this season yet both San Jose and the Galaxy come into their first California Clasico (Saturday, Univision, 10 p.m.) in good form and up for the challenge.

The Quakes registered an impressive 1-0 victory at FC Dallas last weekend thanks to a spectacular goal by Jahmir Hyka; equally deserving of praise is the deft dink from Marco Urena that set it up, as well a staunch defensive effort that held FCD without a shot on goal until the 75th minute. In its last five games, San Jose has amassed 10 points and shut out Portland (3-0) as well as FCD.

Bundesliga veteran Florian Jungwirth and rookie right back Nick Lima have upgraded the back line, which is in for a stiff test. Unbeaten in its last four games, the Galaxy is showing signs of stability after losing five of its first seven, including three at StubHub Center.

Romain Alessandrini is laying waste to opposing defenses just about every week; he scored twice within a minute during a 3-1 romp at Red Bull Arena May 14 and last weekend created a great goal for Giovani dos Santos with a precise chip and also served the cross that wound up in Minnesota United’s net for the winner.

Alesssandrini usually lines up on the right, which would match him against Hyka and Lima, who was shifted to left back to face FCD and did his share as the defenders racked up interceptions, tackles and clearances. The Quakes played tight defense and relied on counterattacks last week; at home against their fiercest foe they are more likely to push the game, but keep a close watch on dos Santos, Alessandrini and Gyasi Zardes.

The Galaxy’s list of significant injuries increased last week when midfielder Baggio Husidic suffered a broken leg. A fast start swept the Quakes past Portland a few weeks ago and against a banged-up rival that seems the obvious game plan.
 
TEXAS TUSSLE. Houston is a miserable 0-5-0 on the road and plays at FCD (Sunday, FS1, Fox Deportes, 8 p.m.), which after rolling through its first nine games unbeaten is suddenly mired in a two-game losing streak after falling in Chicago, 2-1, Thursday night.

Mindful of the quick turnaround, FCD head coach Oscar Pareja rested Max Urruti, Kellyn Acosta, Walker Zimmerman and keeper Jesse Gonzalez. Winger Michael Barrios played only the last 16 minutes, long after all three goals were scored. FCD fell behind in the third minute, equalized through Roland Lamah in the sixth, and conceded again in the ninth.

FCD seemed a bit surprised last weekend by the aggressive and cohesive Quakes and with several starters coming back into the lineup will be determined to restore its home momentum against the Dynamo, which has been outscored, 14-3, in its five road defeats.

Houston has too much experience -- DaMarcus Beasley, A.J. DeLaGarza, Ricardo Clark, Andrew Wenger -- for the road woes to continue indefinitely, but containing a fired-up foe anxious to atone at home is a big ask.
1 comment about "MLS Weekend: Three Games to Watch".
  1. Quarterback TD, May 26, 2017 at 9:58 a.m.

    It's Memorial weekend these folks could not line up better rivalries? No choice but to skip these games..

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