ExtraTime Radio Podcast

Armchair Analyst: East-West contests dominate, but plenty at stake in Wk 27 -


LISTEN: The USMNT avoided calamity on Tuesday in San Pedro Sula, but all is not well. Andrew and Matt do their best to diagnose, then turn to MLS and Week 27, including ATLUTD's first home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Stick around for in-depth interviews with Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes, Ike Opara and Tim Melia. Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!


It's a weird-ish week for this late in the season, largely because so many of the games are inter-conference affairs. These contests can still crackle – who's not looking forward to NYCFC vs. Portland (Saturday, 5:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE), right? – but there's never as much on the line as during intra-conference affairs, games that are true six-pointers.


So with that in mind, I'm going to go through the whole list of games rather than just the usual "let's look at the three or four big ones." Onward, friends:


• Chicago vs. RBNY (Saturday, 4 pm ET; UniMas | Facebook.com): Ok so naturally after that lede we'll start with a big, intra-conference game that could/should/likely will go a long way toward determining seeding and home-field advantage come November, because both of these teams are going to make the postseason.


The big things to keep an eye on are how high Chicago's fullbacks push and whether RBNY can be as sharp with their passing as they were in the first 55 minutes vs. FC Dallas last weekend:



RBNY fell apart in the last 35 minutes, though – they were sloppy and disconnected. Turn the ball over like that against the Fire and it'll be old friend Dax McCarty and someone named Bastian Schweinsteiger playing runners through in the other direction.


Toronto FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 5 pm ET; TSN in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US): I like a lot about what Chris Leitch has done as manager in San Jose, but it feels like the Quakes should have no chance here. I loaded my fantasy team with Reds and captained Sebastian Giovinco.


This being MLS, I'm sure that means the Quakes will pull off a 1-0 road win.


• NYCFC vs. Portland: Two of the hottest teams in the league. NYCFC have won four-of-five, while Portland are 4-1-2 in their last seven. Also potentially the top two contenders in the MVP race, provided David Villa is healthy enough to take the field opposite Diego Valeri.


But don't forget the kids. Portland have had trouble defending at fullback all season long, and the Cityzens have a ton of wingers who are ready to exploit that, including rookie Jonathan Lewis:



D.C. United vs. Orlando City (Saturday, 7 pm ET; MLS LIVE): The "Prepping for 2018 Derby," and also maybe the "Let's See Who Gets a Better SuperDraft Pick" derby.


D.C. have been in infinitely better form than Orlando, and a win would put them even at the 10th spot in the East. Keep an eye on Russell Canouse, who's been impressive thus far.


New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET; TVAS in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US): New England have posted four straight home wins, the last three by shutout. Another would leave them a point back of the Impact (and maybe Atlanta, which we'll get to), and nominally in the playoff race... but not really. The Revs have only three home games left after this one and just three points on the road all season, so they're playing out the string.


The Impact have more to gain and need to gain it, coming off a pair of home losses as they are. With only three more Stade Saputo games left this year, picking up road points is a must if they're to climb up the standings.


I question how well-equipped Montreal's defense is for handling the recently robust and physical New England attack.


Minnesota United vs. Philadelphia (Saturday, 8 pm ET: MLS LIVE): Two of the Rookie of the Year front-runners, Abu Danladi and Jack Elliott, going head-to-head.


There's not much to say otherwise about this one, save perhaps for the returns of Christian Ramirez and Maurice Edu.


Houston Dynamo vs. Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE): This is a big, emotional game coming in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.


The Dynamo need the win here, and not just for emotional reasons (which should not be minimized – I lived in New York back in 2001, and there's a lot to be said for how sports can help rally the community to a degree). They need to protect their home field and hopefully climb back up the standings, guaranteeing themselves a knockout round game at BBVA Compass Stadium come November.


They should be able to do it by overloading the flanks:



Colorado have been gappy, dislocated and unable to track over the last month. If the Dynamo don't get all three it's a real warning sign that A) the good first 2/3s of the season was mostly a mirage, and B) they might be in a fight just to qualify for the postseason in the first place.


Vancouver Whitecaps vs. RSL (Saturday, 10 pm ET; TSN in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US): Vancouver are 5-2-2 in their last nine, and RSL are 6-3-3 in their last 12. Both of these teams have been much more good than bad, and the 'Caps – who have at least one game in hand on everybody in the Western Conference playoff race – have a real chance to climb the standings if they protect their home turf (five of their final nine games are at BC Place).


Vancouver win when they scrap. They've been scoring via turnovers, long-balls, set-pieces, penalties and own goals. There's not a lot of build-up play, and they're not particularly interested in build-up play.


RSL are at the other end of the spectrum. They've been hogging the ball lately, creating tons of chances and playing pretty soccer. In the last two weeks that led to eight combined goals, while in the five previous weeks it led to five goals, total. They're not yet good at scrapping for goals even as they've improved at scrapping for points.


If they get a win here they're, for real, back in the Western Conference postseason picture. But given everybody else has games in hand, it really is kind of difficult to imagine them staying above the playoff line.


In terms of "will they/won't they" postseason implications, this is almost certainly the biggest game of the weekend.


Columbus Crew SC vs. Sporting KC (Sunday, 1 pm ET; ESPN & ESPN Deportes in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada): Columbus have put together their best string of results over the past month, going 3-0-1 to climb up to fourth in the East. But that's at least a little bit deceiving, as they're still just sixth in the East on PPG and have only two home games left after this one. If they lose and Montreal win, suddenly it's a very, very tight final six weeks of the season in Ohio.


Crew SC have found success recently by playing a little bit deeper – they're not a front-foot, flowing possession team like their 2014, '15 and '16 versions. It's worked, but it also leaves them vulnerable to high pressure:



That should play nicely to Sporting's strengths, but SKC were straight-up bad at NYCFC on Wednesday, and haven't figured out how to get their offense unstuck as they've managed just 12 goals in their last 11 games, and are at just 31 goals on the season. That's tied for fourth-worst in the league.


They've been good at squeaking out draws on the road, though. They've got five so far (tied for the league lead), and one here would be welcome for KC no matter the score.


Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas (Sunday, 3:30 pm ET; FS1 in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada): Dallas really were, for the most part, wonderful last week in that 2-2 home draw against the Red Bulls. Mauro Diaz got on the ball a ton to control the game, and Michael Barrios was relentless up the flank, and Maxi Urruti kept his foot on the gas despite being in a one-goal-in-eight-games stretch. They were mostly able to absorb-and-counter, punishing RBNY for their turnovers and front-foot nature.


That's a good gameplan against the Five Stripes, who will send runners upfield from everywhere, all at once:



Nonetheless, Dallas are still in freefall. They're winless in seven, down to sixth in the conference on points and PPG, and are in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs.


A point for FCD here would be unexpected – Atlanta are legitimately good and mostly rested, and they'll be extra hyped for the opening of their new stadium – and if another loss is combined with a win from either RSL or San Jose, then it's all officially hit the fan in Frisco.


Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy (Sunday, 9 pm ET; FS1 in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada): Seattle are unbeaten in 11. LA have one win in 11, and the only team they've beaten since May is Colorado. It's hard to figure out how they'd manage to go up to CenturyLink Field and get a result here, even with all their internationals coming back and with Gyasi Zardes having broken his goalscoring drought. 


The big issue for LA (though it wasn't against the Rapids last weekend, to give them a little bit of credit) has been stopping the ball in Zone 14. Playmakers have feasted against them all year, and that's where Clint Dempsey has been doing work lately:



Deuce has 7g/2a in his last eight appearances for Seattle. He's found a groove, and driven the Sounders to the top of the Western Conference in the process.


LA have to figure out how to put the clamps on him, but at the same time can't afford to let Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro run wild as they did back in the spring. That version of the Galaxy focused so much on Dempsey that Morris had acres of space on the flank, and Seattle won 3-0 as a result.




One more thing to ponder:



(source video here)


Happy weekending, everybody.