Bogert: Five big questions heading into Week 24 of the MLS season

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Cristian Pavon - penalty conversion

With Andrew Wiebe en route to take in the Portland Timbers' huge match against Atlanta United at Providence Park on Sunday (10 pm ET | FS1, TSN), he's a bit too busy to ask his typical questions heading into Week 24. Portlanders, if you see him roaming your beautiful city or catch him at the Portland Thorns game on Saturday, tell him what's up.

To stay up to date on midweek action, check here. Anyway, in Wiebe's stead, here are my questions for the weekend:

Will the Galaxy truly realize their potential in 2019?

For all their talent, the Galaxy always leave something to be desired.

LA are third place in the Western Conference, by the way, a slot many would be content with on peak performance rather than something less than their best. Perhaps it's the weight of expectation — you see an attack with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Uriel Antuna and Favio Alvarez playing in front of a midfield of Jonathan dos Santos, Joe Corona and Sebastian Lletget and it's hard to understand why the Galaxy play disjointed at times. What gives? 

Even before the introduction of Cristian Pavon, the Galaxy simply should be playing better soccer. With Pavon? C'mon now.

It was more of the same in their loss to D.C. United and win against FC Dallas, though the latter brought a few beautiful moments of promise. This, for example, is a very good goal: 

How do they find that with consistent regularity? How, with that midfield, one of the generation's best strikers and now Pavon, are the club often looking stifled in the final third? Worst case scenario, they can continue to lump in cross after cross to that generational striker, find Pavon 1v1 as often as possible and — to borrow a Matt Doyle-ism here — brute force talent to points. But, there's much more in the tank. 

They have a huge game at home against the struggling Seattle Sounders on Saturday (10 pm ET | ESPN2, MLS LIVE on DAZN). Winner stays top four in the West, loser could fall as far as seventh (!) in the congested playoff race. 

How will the MLS Cup rematch play out Sunday?

A rematch of last year's MLS Cup as Atlanta travel to Portland with both teams in fine form? Sheesh, no wonder why Wiebe is on a plane heading there right now. 

Had this game happened in the beginning of April, we'd be a bit disappointed. That would've been impossible, since Providence Park's expansion hadn't been completed yet, but suspend disbelief for a second. Neither of last season's finalists had found a win yet by the beginning of April, neither were playing anything resembling their best soccer, and none of their stars looked themselves.

What a difference a few months makes, though. 

After switching back to a 3-5-2, Atlanta are back to looking like Atlanta United! for the first extended period since Frank de Boer took over. Julian Gressel is back to wingback, Josef Martinez isn't isolated up top and Miles Robinson has taken The Leap™. Putting the best players at their best positions-- it's working! 

Portland picked up enough points during their 12-match road trip to open the season to position themselves for a second-half surge once they returned to Providence Park on June 1 for their home opener. Adding Brian Fernandez didn't hurt, either. Neither does the fact that Diego Valeri and Diego Chara appear impervious to Father Time. 

They're awesome in transition, but have trouble when teams bunker. It was apparent again on Wednesday when, despite going a man-up with a 2-0 lead in the 30th minute at home against the Chicago Fire, they struggled to find a third once Chicago really closed up shop and boarded up the windows. It took a late counter attack to finally hit the net again in an unexpectedly difficult 3-2 win.

Atlanta have been playing on the front foot in recent weeks, leading to their resurgence. It's what the players want, it's what the fans want. But it might not be the best course of action at Providence Park on Sunday. That's a big ol' conundrum for de Boer. 

How much longer is BWP going to stay on the bench?

Bradley-Wright Phillips has been the pillar of consistency since joining MLS. In each of the last five seasons leading to 2019, BWP has no fewer than:

  • 32 appearances
  • 2,500 minutes
  • 17 goals

This year he has 16 appearances (6 starts), 674 minutes and two goals. 

An injury cost him some time at the beginning of the season, and Brian White's emergence gave The New York Red Bulls every reason to play it cautious with Wright-Phillips' return and he has made nine consecutive substitute appearances in a row. He hasn't started a game since April 20.

White has been very good for this Red Bulls team. He offers everything the role calls for: Pressing, energy, hold-up play and becoming a piranha in the fishbowl that is the 18-yard box. I am a founding member of the Brian White Hype Train (choo-choo!) but with nine goals in 15 games, there's no room to find one BWP start here or there?

RBNY host New England on Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada). Is this the time to test out a two striker formation? 

What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?

Bogert: Five big questions heading into Week 24 of the MLS season -

Latif Blessing and Damir Kreilach exchanging pleasantries | USA Today Sports

This is easy. Real Salt Lake vs. LAFC (Saturday, 10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada). 

With the all-time points record in their sights, with Carlos Vela in the midst of a historically dominant campaign individually, and Diego Rossi potentially worth an awful lot of money to eventual European suitors, LAFC are must-watch soccer at all times. They must be appreciated. Simple as that. 

Beyond that? Real Salt Lake are legit. Real Salt Lake are fun. Real Salt Lake don't like LAFC and LAFC don't like Real Salt Lake. 

RSL eliminated LAFC from the playoffs last year, Latif Blessing talked about payback time in the clubs' first meeting of 2019 and RSL haven't been shy about the hack-a-Carlos gameplan.

They believe they can step to the league-leaders, too, which (hopefully) lends a pyrotechnic 90 minutes. 

"We're playing well, they're coming in, they've been fantastic all year, so it's good for us to catch them on a rhythm like this that we're in," RSL assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said. "We're going to rise up to that standard as well and then we'll see what happens when the ball rolls out."

With the form Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Corey Baird are in, why not? 

Who are the players to watch this weekend?

Christian Ramirez/Mauro Manotas (Houston Dynamo) – In Wilmer Cabrera's last game in charge of the Dynamo, he opted for a two striker formation with Ramirez and Manotas. It's quite intriguing. Houston's deal for Ramirez was fantastic value and he's too good to not be a regular starter. Given the Dynamo almost always play with one striker, conventional wisdom may have suggested Ramirez was a replacement for Manotas, a player garnering interest abroad. 

But nope. They played together and it's an interesting set-up. Alberth Elis was on the bench, but don't expect that too often. What will interim boss Davy Arnaud do in his first game in the big chair? A 4-2-2-2 with Matias Vera and Juan David Cabezas holding down the fort might be the way to go.  

Angelo Rodriguez (Minnesota United) – I rate Rodriguez. I think he does a lot of good things that go unnoticed or underappreciated. 

Admittedly, though, I have a peculiar appreciation for target strikers. It's me oddly romanticizing a day gone by that probably looks better only because of nostalgia, the #ProperFootball PUT IT IN THE MIXER! stuff. I've been lured by Peter Crouch, Andy Carroll, Alan Gordon and even Lacina Traore (6'8" and an absolute legend in FIFA — google him.)

It's a long-winded way of saying: Minnesota really missed Mason Toye on Wednesday. Darwin Quintero doesn't often run in behind these days. Robin Lod is a No. 10 playing on the wing. Kevin Molino was getting on the ball more often than stretching defenders. The field was cramped for the Loons all too frequently. Rodriguez is certainly not that player and his position in the starting XI may come under scrutiny if the problems persist and Toye returns from suspension. 

Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew) – At this stage of 2019 for the Crew, it's about building for the future. The club recognized that this summer, making a number of key moves, including adding young DP Luis Diaz. An under-the-radar transaction made was the transfer of Gaston Sauro, which benefits Homegrown defender Aboubacar Keita.

Keita was the starting CB partner of Bayern Munich's Chris Richards at the U-20 World Cup, then came back and made his MLS debut. In the club's last eight matches, he's made five starts and played 65 minutes off the bench in another. He's a ball-playing center back and minutes are key to further development. 

The Crew should find out if they have something in Keita by giving him minutes down the stretch.