Voices: Andrew Wiebe

MLS arrives in Charlotte on FOX, Carlos Vela show & more: Your must-watch Week 2 games

Another weekend, 14 more matches. The rhythm of the MLS season is returning. Let the soccer wash over you.

All the Week 2 games, check them out here!

What will the Dynamo be when Hector Herrera arrives?
Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo FC

WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter (English audio)
BetMGM ODDS: Kansas City -110, Draw +250, Houston +290

What’s the over/under on Hector Herrera references during the Univision broadcast on Saturday afternoon? Whatever it is, I’ll smash the over.

It’s been a while since “Houston Dynamo” and “ambition” shared the same sentence, at least without “lack of” making an auspicious appearance. Thankfully, the old days are the old days. Majority owner Ted Segal and general manager Pat Onstad didn’t just talk a good game about a new era. They weren’t playing around about taking the Dynamo from mostly floundering to contending for cups.

Onstad went to Spain and got the Mexican international aligned with the club’s vision, then inked him to a contract that could take the soon-to-be 32-year-old midfielder through the 2025 season. I wouldn’t have believed that sentence was real eight months ago, and you wouldn’t have either. One second, the Dynamo were a club without a recognizable star. The next, they’re where Hector Herrera chose to prepare for the World Cup with El Tri, should Tata Martino’s team qualify for Qatar 2022 as is expected.

The Dynamo are no longer just a middle-to-bottom-of-the-pack team with a new owner, young and passionate first-year head coach (Paulo Nagamura) and club-record signing (24-year-old Paraguayan striker Sebastian Ferreira). They’re a player now, in the league and in the region. They’re a realistic landing spot for established and up-and-coming Liga MX and South American talent. They could go to Europe and land another big name. One signature can change perceptions, outside the club as well as inside it.

If the Fire can sign Jairo Torres, what can the Dynamo do with Herrera around to help recruit and legitimize the project? Who can Onstad, who also helped the Crew land Lucas Zelarayan, find to fill the two open U22 spots and DP spot that can be opened by buying down defender Teenage Hadebe? Whatever was believable before this week, triple it.

For Dynamo fans accustomed to a history of spending well below the MLS elite, all this has to feel cathartic. The best part is that this is just the beginning. Segal only arrived last June, and from minute one he has been busy investing to make Houston’s potential as a soccer city reality, both on the field and off. To be fair, it’s a big job.

“When we came in here, we realized there’s a lot of work to do, both on and off the pitch,” he told Glenn Davis at halftime of last Sunday’s scoreless draw.

Indeed. That work is still ongoing. Herrera alone won’t be enough to be a consistent cup contender in this MLS. Segal and Onstad are being patient, but their ambition is unmistakable. Herrera will arrive this summer, but a new era in Houston is already here.

Alright, back to the soccer…

I can’t blame those of you who have no lingering memories from last Sunday’s scoreless draw between the Dynamo and Real Salt Lake. You might not even know it happened. Regardless, I don’t recommend even watching the highlights. Each side put up 0.4 xG, and that might have been kind.

It’s early days for the Dynamo. Yes, they have ambition, but they’ve still got to be patient. Both with Paulo Nagamura, who is in the process of changing the culture and style of play to better fit his vision, and with Ferreira, who won two Golden Boots in Paraguay but didn't have a single shot over 90 minutes in his debut.

Going to Kansas City is not easy, just ask Nagamura. Going to Kansas City after Peter Vermes’ team got beat 3-1 on opening day vs. Atlanta United, even harder. If Coco Carrasquilla returns to the lineup and wingers Fafa Picault and Corey Baird can get behind the Sporting fullbacks, there could be some openings to exploit. Every minute is a chance to prepare for Herrera’s arrival in the summer.

As for Kansas City, it’s Felipe Hernandez time. Uri Rosell got hurt in Week 1, and Jose Mauri got put on the first flight out of town. Vermes doesn’t play around if he doesn’t think a player is committed. It reminds me a little bit of Stephane Auvray back in 2011. Once the relationship sours, there’s no coming back from that.

I’ll be watching Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell closely on Saturday. It’s not fair to expect Khiry Shelton to be Alan Pulido. He’s not that guy. The expectations and pressure are on Salloi and Russell to replicate what they did in 2021. Against Atlanta, they had their moments, but Sporting mostly looked a step or two off in the final third. Can a week of training and home cooking change that?

What will MLS look like in Charlotte?
Charlotte FC vs. LA Galaxy

WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 pm ET
BetMGM ODDS: Charlotte +200, Draw +240, LA +125

Prepare yourself for a soccer party, a big one.

If 75,000 fans sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. So many, in fact, that Charlotte FC are poised to break the all-time MLS attendance record in their very first game. The spectacle alone is reason to tune on Saturday night.

I’ve been a lot of firsts in MLS. First-ever games. First games at new stadiums. I remember some of the soccer, but mostly I remember the energy. We don’t yet know what kind of energy the Queen City is going to bring to soccer at this scale. Those supporters don’t know either, but they’re going to build it minute by minute through the day, culminating in a match under the lights against Chicharito and the LA Galaxy.

That’s the beauty of Saturday night. We’re going to find out what the present and future of MLS in Charlotte looks and feels like together. I am beyond jealous of David Gass, who booked a flight on his own dime to be there. Buy him a beer if you see him.

The big news on the field for the new boys is that Karol Świderski is back and prepared to make his debut. Charlotte put together some slick spells of possession and created chances against D.C. United in Week 1, but they had a massive hole up top.

Charlotte FC Week 1 passing network

I don’t blame Titi Ortiz (No. 10), who was played out of position by necessity up top, not that you can tell by the passing network. Ortiz was brought in to create opportunities for Świderski, and he’ll be back in a more natural position on Saturday.

Oh, and what a goal would mean to that record crowd! It really is the only must-have from the match for Charlotte. Yes, a win would be the storybook ending, but at bare minimum the club must give the multitudes that moment of emotional release. I hope they get it.

And I hope Chicharito keeps scoring. The league is more fun when he’s having fun!

Can Austin keep the party going at Q2?
Austin FC vs. Inter Miami CF

WHEN: Sunday, 4:00 pm ET
BetMGM ODDS: Austin -145, Draw +275, Miami +375

Hail the schedule makers, who gave Austin two of the Eastern Conference’s biggest “projects” at home to start the 2022 season! What a blessing, assuming they can take advantage of it before heading to Portland and hosting Seattle.

Josh Wolff’s team landed the first blow against FC Cincinnati just two minutes into opening day and they never let up. By the end of the day, it was 5-0 and Austin were both Week 1’s biggest winners but also biggest overreaction. Don’t go expecting that every week, Verde and Black.

In fact, forget the goals. With Sebastian Driussi, Cecilio Dominguez, Alex Ring and Diego Fagundez on the field, there are going to be chances. That wasn’t the problem that needed to be solved from Austin’s so-so expansion season. What they really ought to be targeting for Sunday as a barometer of present and future success is another shutout.

The eye test and underlying numbers tell us Austin were fortunate to keep FC Cincinnati (1.4 xG) off the board. The scoreline looked lopsided, but there were periods in which Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez put the home team under real pressure but lacked a finishing touch or a bit of luck.

Inter Miami may have torn their roster down to rebuild it all again, but they aren’t without attacking talent. Gonzalo Higuain looked right at home as a play-making second forward, though he can’t be all pass and no shots for this team to succeed. DeAndre Yedlin’s marauding runs from right back nearly created a couple goals. Now, Phil Neville needs one of Leonardo Campana (0.86 xG on four shots) or Ariel Lassiter to be more clinical.

If they aren’t, Austin might be partying yet again, off to a six-point start that sets the tone for a resurgent second season.

OK, Carlos … You have our attention!
LAFC vs. Portland Timbers

WHEN: Sunday, 10:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter (English audio)
BetMGM ODDS: LAFC -175, Draw +310, Portland +400

When Carlos Vela is fit and motivated, you cannot stop him. You can only hope to contain him.

Carlos Vela is fit and motivated, and his contract ends in June. He scored a hat-trick on opening day playing slightly out of position. It feels like 2019 is a million years ago, but we might just be seeing history repeat itself, both for Vela and LAFC. The crazy thing is LAFC only had 0.36 xA on the day. Yes, Vela scored a penalty, but it also shows you just how dominant he can be all on his own. Beware that left foot.

They looked rampant against the Rapids, but there were also extenuating circumstances, mostly that Colorado still looked heartbroken from their painful Concacaf Champions League exit. The Timbers don’t have any extenuating circumstances, if anything they’re coming off an encouraging, if incomplete, home draw against New England.

For my East Coasters trying to decide whether or not to stay up for this game, I’m just going to list the attacking talent you’ll be missing out on if you pass out early…

  1. Carlos Vela
  2. Sebastian Blanco
  3. Brian Rodriguez
  4. Yimmi Chara
  5. Chicho Arango
  6. Dairon Asprilla
  7. Jose Cifuentes
  8. Jaroslaw Niezgoda
  9. Kwadwo Opoku
  10. Santiago Moreno

That’s a pretty jaw-dropping list. Don’t read into the fact that Moreno is 10th on this list. He’s a massive talent, and just as much a reason to watch this match as, say, Vela. Stay up. You’ll thank me later.

ESPN+ Game of the Week in the Windy City
Chicago Fire FC vs. Orlando City SC

WHEN: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
BetMGM ODDS: Chicago -140, Draw +280, Orlando +350

Let’s be honest, we’ll all be watching for Xherdan Shaqiri’s home debut. The Fire No. 10 piled up five key passes and damn near scored a pile-driver in his first game for the club – yet somehow it sorta felt like a disappointment.

I want to see the showman put on a show at Soldier Field. As a bonus, you get Gaga Slonina (go listen to the Extratime interview we did with him on Thursday) in front of his friends and family, with Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara in town for Orlando City. It’s a good one to fit in before Charlotte-LA on FOX!