We're almost to the first international pause of the 2021 MLS season (no games May 31 to June 11), and when everyone returns to action we'll be approaching the dog days of summer.
That means any teams struggling for form and points will be in danger of having their seasons die-cast before autumn rolls around. As such, there's a rather large group of clubs that should be placing DEFCON 3 level importance on their last match before MLS takes a brief breather.
So, which teams most need a "W" this coming weekend? It wasn't easy trimming down the list, but we managed to get it down to a six-pack desperate to get their seasons on the proper course. In one direction, more storm clouds. In the other, perhaps the light at the end of a tunnel.
In the interest of fairness (or is it a rude face-splash warning?), let's give a quick nod to a long list of "honorable" mentions whose boats have also nervously taken on water: Austin FC, Chicago Fire FC, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, FC Cincinnati, LAFC, New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Let me start by sharing that I haven’t been as down on the Five Stripes' start as some of my colleagues. Yes, they’re still looking for the right attack formula to create chances and Josef Martinez is still finding his way back from injury to finish them. However, Atlanta have rediscovered how to be stingy at the back, with d-mid Santiago Sosa and center back Miles Robinson leading that charge.
That being said, the offense has to come alive for Atlanta’s wishes to regain contender status. The sooner the better, because new regional rival Nashville SC (super stingy) visit on Saturday (3:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), and then they'll have to tackle Philadelphia (super stingy), NYCFC (also stingy) and those darn Red Bulls (usually stingy against Atlanta) on the other side of the international break.
Welcome to the curious case of CF Montréal. They opened the season by grabbing a couple of strong results thanks to fine individual actions, even though their overall team play maybe wasn’t at full gear. Now they're on a 1W-3L-1D slide despite the fact that they're greatly limiting chances in their end while creating loads of their own upfield. They've gone from looking like a surprise package to looking like an indecipherable package, which isn’t nearly as cool.
Wilfried Nancy has done some good work thus far, so it would be nice if they started finishing plays to match the point haul their raised performance level warrants. There's no time like the present, and their upcoming Saturday trip to Chicago (1 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) is tantalizing as both Eastern Conference sides seek brighter days.
Like Montréal, FC Dallas are coping with some finishing issues. Despite owning a positive xG differential through six games, they sit bottom of the Western Conference with just a single victory. It makes sense that they're still trying to get on the same page, as three field starters arrived this winter, two more came over just last summer and key cog Paxton Pomykal is "almost like a new signing" after missing nearly all of 2020 with an injury.
FC Dallas would do very well to grab a rare win in Colorado this Saturday (9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) , because the schedule ramps up several levels after the pause. June will see games against a seemingly-resurgent Minnesota United, away to explosive LAFC and home to East leaders New England. Not to be a Chicken Little here, but it may be now or never for FC Dallas to set a rhythm for 2021.
You may start detecting a theme at this point: The Herons are another club searching for form/results, though are yet to encounter the roughest part of their schedule. Obviously, that's rarely a good sign. Only two of Inter Miami's seven opponents thus far finished top seven in the East last year, and it must be frustrating to have only banked two wins.
The pressure to turn things around only mounts when you get blanked in losses to Montréal and Chicago. The potentially good news is Inter Miami host the opener of a home-and-away set against fellow early scufflers D.C. United on Saturday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). The capital crew have been laid bare by injuries to start the Hernan Losada era, so there will be no excuses if Phil Neville's potent-on-paper side comes up empty against a weaker opponent yet again.
The Earthquakes opened with a disappointing loss at Houston, and then reeled off three wins by a combined 9-3 count. Now, they’ve lost three straight at PayPal Park while scoring just one goal (outscored 6-1). I've said it before, but there's really never any telling what you're going to get when San Jose line up.
So, what's the great urgency for a California Clásico win? After visiting rivals LA Galaxy on Saturday (7 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, Twitter), they spend just two of eight games throughout June and July at home. Going into that stretch on a four-game losing streak, with everything that entails, could really set them behind the eight ball.
Let's put it this way: Toronto have won just one of six thus far, and their next six games out of the break feature two with Orlando City, one at New England and one in Nashville. The heat is on Chris Armas and his charges to start turning things around – fast.
Ringleader and reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo may be back to make his season bow when Toronto FC invade Columbus this weekend (3 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), he may not. Either way, the East is a snarling beast and falling far beyond its seventh and final playoff slot before June arrives would spell trouble.