But with young players like Charlotte's Brandon Cambridge and St. Louis' Miguel Perez performing with growing frequency, perhaps the question isn't if they'll step up, but who will take mantel in Wednesday's 12 matches.
Most of you know the drill by now. But in case you don't:
- Apple TV - Free = games are free to watch; you only need an Apple ID.
- Apple TV - MLS Season Pass = an MLS Season Pass subscription is required.
- Tune into the MLS 360 whip-around show for live look-ins and analysis of every match's key moments.
- MLS Countdown is your lead-in, and MLS Wrap-Up comes at night's end.
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free, FS1 | Wednesday, 7:00 pm ET
Giorgos, Giorgos, Giorgos. Atlanta United are undefeated (3W-0L-3D) when Giakoumakis – their major offseason Designated Player signing – starts. If he and Thiago Almada both get the green light on Wednesday, Atlanta can take another step in proving they're among the league's best when healthy.
For New England, the phrase "when healthy" may induce some wincing. Winless in three (0W-2L-1D), Bruce Arena's squad has officially hit a skid as injuries have beset a campaign that was off to a Supporters' Shield-contending start. One positive: Carles Gil made a successful 28-minute appearance (one assist) off the bench last week. Also: Gustavo Bou has reportedly traveled and could feature after an injury-related absence.
Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids
What's going on with the Crew? The early-season analyst's darlings have hit a rough patch (1W-4L-1D in their last six). Their defense (six goals allowed in their last two matches) has been a bit of an issue, and it looks like a center-back crisis may be brewing with Gustavo Vallecilla, Milos Degenek and Josh Williams all sidelined.
A home match against a Rapids side that's winless in five across all competitions may be what the doctor ordered.
D.C. United vs. CF Montréal
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free | Wednesday, 7:30 pm ET
The vibes were great in D.C. heading into Matchday 15... and then they lost to basement-dwellers Toronto FC in a match that had head coach Wayne Rooney lamenting he couldn't sub his entire team at halftime.
Montréal, on the other hand, secured a massive get-right win last Saturday against Inter Miami to stop a two-game skid. If Hernan Losada's side earns their second road victory of the season, it may be time to admit their early-season trade with Miami to acquire Bryce Duke and Ariel Lassiter in exchange for Kamal Miller and $1.3 million in GAM (which raised questions at the time) had some merit.
Inter Miami CF vs. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls suffered their first loss in Matchday 15 since new head coach Troy Lesesne took over in early May, while Inter Miami have slid to last in the Eastern Conference (three straight losses) since a mini-rebound provided a momentary surge.
Both teams will look to Matchday 16 as an opportunity to build more sustained momentum into the summer.
New York City FC vs. FC Cincinnati
Normally NYCFC's considerable home-field advantage is enough to break up any long runs of poor form, but Matchday 15's demoralizing loss to Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia Union at Citi Field bucked that trend and highlighted more serious issues for the Cityzens – namely their tactical limitations without a true striker. DP center back Thiago Martins is also an injury concern.
Even without Brenner (reportedly played his last game for FC Cincinnati before a transfer to Udinese) and Sergio Santos (questionable with a groin injury), striker is not an area of concern for the Supporters' Shield leaders. The Orange & Blue have enjoyed continued success up top, even with depth forward Dominique Badji playing heavy minutes. One concern, though? DP d-mid Obinna Nwobodo is out due to yellow card accumulation.
Philadelphia Union vs. Charlotte FC
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free | Wednesday, 7:30 pm ET
Jim Curtin's Philadelphia Union are looking like the world-beaters most pundits predicted they would be at the start of the year, but upstarts Charlotte FC are nearly just as hot. The well-balanced second-year MLS side have gotten key contributions throughout their lineup, with five different players accounting for their 10 goals scored over a 4W-1L-0D stretch.
Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire FC
Toronto FC enjoyed an emotional win amidst a season of turmoil both on and off the field last Saturday, crucially getting two assists from captain and mega-star Lorenzo Insigne. If fellow Italian star Federico Bernardeschi can be successfully reintegrated into the squad after not dressing for Matchday 15 in a "coach's decision" (Bob Bradley has confirmed he's available), then hope may still remain for the once-dominant MLS club's season.
Austin FC vs. Minnesota United FC
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free | Wednesday, 8:30 pm ET
Minnesota have officially become a "greater than the sum of their parts" team, firmly sitting above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line in sixth place while still awaiting the return of star playmaker Emanuel Reynoso.
Austin FC – coming off a heartbreaking derby loss to Copa Tejas rivals Houston Dynamo – may get Sebastián Driussi back in some capacity after he's missed several weeks with a groin injury. That'd be a massive boost since the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP runner-up is the Verde & Black's heartbeat.
Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas
- WATCH: Apple TV - MLS Season Pass | Wednesday, 8:30 pm ET
Sporting KC responded to a brutal 4-0 drubbing at the hands of new rivals St. Louis with an emphatic 4-1 win over the Timbers in Matchday 15 – a hugely positive sign for Peter Vermes' team as they continue to inch towards full health despite a long-term injury to striker Willy Agada. The problem is now they host one of the stingiest sides in MLS: FC Dallas.
FCD have held opponents to one goal or less in nine of their last 10 matches. Not coincidentally, they haven't lost in nine of their last 10 matches.
Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free | Wednesday, 9:30 pm ET
Do RSL have something good quietly brewing up in the Rockies? They've only lost once in their last seven, though they've only won twice over that same stretch. A home match against last-place LA Galaxy – who decidedly do not have something good brewing – could officially tip the scales of a teetering rebound effort. LA recently parted ways with club president Chris Klein as well, and star striker Chicharito is out for a red-card suspension.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
- WATCH: Apple TV - MLS Season Pass | Wednesday, 10:30 pm ET
Seattle and San Jose present two sides of a similar conundrum. The former sit atop the Western Conference table despite ugly losses to rivals and out-of-form sides alike, while the latter sit in fifth place despite being despite major highs, such as being the only team to beat LAFC and the stellar play of Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate Cristian Espinoza.
The difference? The Sounders' under-the-radar defense has allowed 13 goals in 15 matches compared to San Jose's 19 goals allowed in 14 matches.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Houston Dynamo FC
- WATCH: Apple TV - Free | Wednesday, 10:30 pm ET
A quick glance at the table implies a dead-even matchup between the Western Conference's seventh- and eighth-placed teams, but a slightly deeper dive reveals Vancouver (4W-1L-2D at home) may have the distinct edge over Houston (0W-4L-2D on the road) at BC Place.