Top Things to Watch in MLS This Week
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is scorching the nets: With five goals, including a hat trick, after only the first two games of the 2021 season, Javier Hernández is not only Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, but he is now leading the race to the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi.
It’s Can’t-Miss Quarterfinals for Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League: For the first time in league history, all MLS clubs have advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinals, and this week, they are all hosting. Here’s the midweek schedule of games airing on FS1 and TUDN.
Tuesday, April 27
Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union (8 p.m. ET)
Toronto FC vs Cruz Azul (10 p.m. ET)
Wednesday, April 28
Columbus Crew SC vs. Monterrey (8:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers vs. Club America (10:30 p.m. ET)
Expansion year clash: Last year’s expansion darlings will meet head-to-head this week, when second-year clubs Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF face off this Sunday at Nissan Stadium (1 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes).
MLS touts Olympic-Quality PRO Officiating: MLS and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) continue set the global standard in officiating, with six individuals earning assignments to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Those top officials include Referee Ismail Elfath, Assistant Referees Corey Parker, Kyle Atkins, and Chantal Boudreau, and Video Assistant Referees (VARs) Edvin Jurisevic and Chris Penso.
MLS Teams Renew Chase For Continental Honors in Concacaf Champions League
The unprecedented five MLS teams still alive at the quarterfinal stage of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League renew their quest for the region’s biggest prize for clubs this week with the opening legs of each two-match, aggregate-goal series.
An MLS team is guaranteed to reach the semifinals, with Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union meeting in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (8 p.m. ET). It’s the fourth time since the formation of the Concacaf Champions League two MLS sides have met at this stage, last coming in the 2016/17 competition, when Vancouver Whitecaps FC eliminated the New York Red Bulls.
The remaining three MLS teams will all have home-field advantage for the first legs, all in MLS vs. Liga MX matchups. Also on Tuesday, Toronto FC will continue on their path for a second Champions League final appearance in four years when they face CDSC Cruz Azul at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (10 p.m. ET).
On Wednesday, Columbus Crew will meet CF Monterrey at Historic Crew Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET), then the Portland Timbers will play host to Club América at Providence Park (10:30 p.m. ET).
The return legs for all four quarterfinal series will be played May 4-5.
It’s Barco against Blake with CCL Semifinals on the Line
One thing is for certain in Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, a high-stakes, head-to-head quarterfinal between Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union will guarantee that an MLS club advances to the semifinals and moves one step closer to reaching the FIFA Club World Cup.
Atlanta United is riding the momentum of their first regular season win, captured in spectacular fashion in front of their faithful supporters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week. With superstar goalscorer Josef Martínez still easing back into the lineup, Atlanta United saw a sensational finish by 22-year-old Ezequiel Barco, who is returning to the early season form that saw him score two goals in the first two weeks of league play last year. If Barco keeps pace in consecutive home matches, Atlanta could gain a much-needed upper hand and some continued confidence in new head coach Gabriel Heinze.
The Union, however, should not be taken lightly. As reigning Supporters’ Shield champions, they boast the 2020 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS is Back Tournament Golden Glove recipient Andre Blake, who maintained a season-opening clean sheet against reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew SC. During the 2020 regular season, Philadelphia was defensively strong, allowing the fewest goals in league play (20 goals against). Plus, after falling to Inter Miami last week, Jim Curtin’s side will be well equipped for another attacking-minded opponent.
Leg 1 between Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union kicks off at Mercedes-Benz 8 p.m. ET on FS1 and TUDN.
Javier Hernandez or Raúl Ruidíaz FTW?
LA Galaxy is off to their best start in a decade with two victories in as many matches to start the season. It is the first time since 2010 that the LA Galaxy have won their first two matches to start a season, though the last time they did, they won four in a row and went undefeated in 10 of their first 12. Leading the way, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez has scored five goals in two matches, placing him in elite company joining MLS Great and Houston Dynamo legend Brian Ching as the only two players in Major League Soccer history to score five goals in the first two weeks of a season. The pair of performances also notched Hernandez back-to-back Player of the Week honors.
Meanwhile, Seattle Sounders FC are also undefeated heading into Week 3, earning a 4-0 victory against Minnesota United FC to open the season highlighted by a two-goal performance from Raul Ruidíaz followed by a 1-1 come-from-behind road result against LAFC. Ruidíaz is coming off a 2020 season that saw him contend for the Golden Boot with 12 goals, trailing only LAFC’s Diego Rossi (14).
While LA Galaxy holds the one-game advantage (10-9-11) in the league series between these two teams, it is the Sounders that have the edge, most recently maintaining an undefeated record in 2019 and 2020 combined (2-0-2). Tune in to the match on Sunday, May 2 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1 or FOX Deportes.
A Test of Two Tandems in Expansion Year Rivalry Match
Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF were the darling newcomers to MLS last season. Both punched inaugural season tickets to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in Year 1, and now they’re both coming into their own with newfound attacking duos in Year 2.
For Inter Miami, it’s an all-family affair that features the brothers Higuaín. With a goal apiece last week to lead a comeback effort against the Philadelphia Union, they proved that there may be something to be said about a little sibling camaraderie. With their familial familiarity, they could be teaming up to strike a major chord against Nashville SC in Music City this weekend.
Meanwhile, Nashville is in the midst of a tag team in the making with Randall Leal assisting Jhonder Cadiz in consecutive weeks for two Cadiz goals over the first two weeks of the season to already tie his season high from last year. Of the pair of Cadiz finishes from 2020, neither goal was assisted by Leal, and of Leal’s three goals last season, Cadiz had no part. As these two are finding a unique stride, this duo could be exactly what Nashville SC needs to break through for their first win of the season.
Nashville SC hosts Inter Miami CF at Nissan Stadium this Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes).
Audi, Bleacher Report and MLS Debut Season 2 of The ACADEMY Featuring New York Red Bulls MLS Academy
The second season of THE ACADEMY, the five-part, all-access documentary series made possible by Audi, will debut exclusively on Bleacher Report across its B/R Football channels Tuesday. With the future stars of the New York Red Bulls MLS Academy in the spotlight, the series provides in-depth, behind-the-scenes coverage of the next generation of soccer stars on and off the field as they compete to join the ranks of MLS professional athletes.
THE ACADEMY provides an all-access look at the commitments and raw talent of young athletes as they follow their dreams to become professional soccer players. Highlighting the youth talent development system used by every MLS youth academy in North America, the series gives fans a first-hand account of top players who join an MLS club as early as 12 years old, and with hard work and determination, rise through the ranks to play professionally in MLS and abroad. These unique stories demonstrate how Audi and MLS youth academies are working to ensure this next generation of athletes is ready to compete at an elite level.
In addition to THE ACADEMY, Audi also funds the Audi Goals Drive Progress program to help make MLS academies more accessible and inclusive to youth players of all backgrounds from anywhere in North America. This program’s goal is to help remove barriers that would otherwise impede reach and success, such as limited access to transportation and housing in MLS markets. These funds also support players’ educations to ensure their success off the field. As of April 2021, Audi has committed more than $2 million dollars to MLS academies across North America to create a better future though soccer, and the impact of this funding has been immediate – since March 2020, sixteen MLS academy players who benefited from the program have been signed to first team, Homegrown pro contracts.
Young Player to Watch – Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes)
The San Jose Earthquakes Academy has made significant headway over the past five seasons, producing seven Homegrown Players in that time. Five of the aforementioned players were 16 years of age or younger at the time of signing, including rising star Cade Cowell.
Cowell signed with San Jose at age 15 ahead of the 2019 season and began seeing MLS match minutes a year later. Cowell started the first two matches of the 2021 season for San Jose, most recently leading the Earthquakes to a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas, a match in which he notched an assist and tallied a goal for his side. Watch full match highlights here.
While Cowell is known for his goalscoring capability, after leading the nation in goals with 34 in 33 games at the U15 level, the vision and accuracy displayed on his game-winning assist last weekend has garnered additional praise. Watch here.
Cowell will be available via the San Jose Earthquakes Zoom press conference on Wednesday. Timing and login information will be available upon request. Please contact San Jose PR Director, Jake Pisani (email@example.com).
San Jose Earthquakes host D.C. United on Sunday, May 1 at 11 p.m. ET.
Game Notes: Week 3
Saturday, May 1
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire FC, 1 p.m.
· The Red Bulls suffered a second defeat in two matches to open the season, falling 3-2 to the LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday. Andrew Gutman scored the first goal of his MLS career (in his third season), while Cristian Casseres Jr. also scored his first of the year.
· Fire FC went on the road for the first time in 2021 and suffered a 3-1 reversal to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Luka Stojanović scored his second goal in as many games for the Fire marker, as Boris Sekulic picked up a second assist in as many games.
· The teams met once a season ago. Kyle Duncan scored for the Red Bulls, then Fire FC took the lead through goals from Robert Beric and Przemyslaw Frankowski, but Brian White hit for the leveler in stoppage time to leave the teams in a 2-2 draw Oct. 24 at Soldier Field.
· The Red Bulls have won four of the last five meetings in Harrison, the Fire win in that span coming April 21, 2018 in a 2-1 win, their first victory overall vs. the Red Bulls since Aug. 26, 2015. The Fire win in the final meeting in Bridgeview, a 1-0 win March 30, 2019, was their first in the series at home since 2015.
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City, 2 p.m.
· Real Salt Lake opened their 2021 season with a 2-1 win against Minnesota United FC at Allianz Field on Saturday evening. Anderson Julio scored both RSL goals on his club and MLS debut – the first two-goal game by an RSL player since Corey Baird did it Aug. 10, 2019.
· Sporting KC gained a second result from two games on the season, reaching a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC in their home opener at Children’s Mercy Park on Friday evening. Gianluca Busio scored his first goal of the season for the SKC tally.
· The teams met twice a season ago, and Sporting won both by 2-0 scorelines. Johnny Russell scored in the first minute and Gerso Fernandes in the 86th, as Sporting took the win on July 22 during the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, then Khiry Shelton and Erik Hurtado scored on either side of halftime as Sporting took the victory on Decision Day (Nov. 8) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
· Real Salt Lake had won both meetings in 2019, once at each ground, a 2-0 win June 29 in Sandy, and a 2-1 win Aug. 10 at Children’s Mercy Park.
· The teams of course also met in MLS Cup 2013, Sporting winning in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes. They faced each other in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2018, SKC winning the series 5-3 on aggregate.
CF Montreal vs. Columbus Crew SC, 3 p.m. (TVA Sports; TSN / CTV)
· CF Montréal remained undefeated on the young campaign, playing to a 2-2 draw with Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Mason Toye scored his second goal in as many games, while Zachary Brault-Guillard netted his first professional goal in his third season with the club.
· Crew SC return to league play after a weekend off, after opening the season with a scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union on April 18 at Historic Crew Stadium. Eloy Room was credited with five saves in recording the shutout – his third in three competitive matches in 2021 (two in the Concacaf Champions League).
· The teams met once a season ago. Lassi Lappalainen scored in the first half and Bojan Krkic in the second as Montréal took a 2-1 win Oct. 7 in Columbus.
· The Montréal win last season ended a two-game home winning streak in the series for Crew SC, who have won eight of the 12 meetings all-time in Columbus, with two draws. The lone Impact win there came in 2015. The Impact have won the past two meetings in the series in Montréal.
Houston Dynamo FC vs. Los Angeles Football Club, 3:30 p.m. (Univision / TUDN)
· Dynamo FC went on the road for a first time this season and fell 2-1 to the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday evening.
· LAFC remained undefeated on the season, gaining a 1-1 draw with Seattle Sounders FC at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Eduard Atuesta netted the LAFC’s goal directly from a free kick in the second minute, a second season in a row LAFC scored a goal straight from a free kick in the season’s second week (Carlos Vela, March 8, 2020, vs. Philadelphia).
· The teams met twice a season ago. Diego Rossi and Eddie Segura netted goals in the opening 21 minutes and LAFC took a 2-1 win Oct. 28 at Banc of California Stadium. The teams also played to a breathless 3-3 draw during the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament on July 13.
· LAFC has never lost to the Dynamo in six meetings all-time, winning three in a row before last year’s draw. LAFC won the last meeting in Houston, a 3-1 win July 12, 2019; they reached a 2-2 draw in their first meeting ever, July 3, 2018 at BBVA Stadium.
New England Revolution vs. Atlanta United, 7 p.m.
· The Revolution remained undefeated on the season with their first victory of the year in their home opener at Gillette Stadium, defeating D.C. United by the game’s only goal on Saturday evening, the lone tally coming from an own goal.
· Atlanta United stayed undefeated with their first victory of the season, defeating Chicago Fire FC 3-1 in their home opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday evening. Ezequiel Barco scored his first goal of the season through a deflected free kick, and Emerson Hyndman also netted a goal.
· The teams did not meet in the 2020 season. In 2019, ATLUTD won both matchups; Ezequiel Barco scored goals on either side of halftime, leading Atlanta United to a 2-0 win on April 13 at Gillette Stadium, then Darlington Nagbe, Josef Martínez and Julian Gressel sent ATLUTD on their way to a 3-1 win on Decision Day (Oct. 6) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
· Atlanta United have never lost to the Revolution in their history, with four victories and two draws all-time.
· ATLUTD have won all three meetings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a 2-1 win in 2018, and 7-0 victory on Sept. 13, 2017, in a match that equaled the all-time MLS margin of victory, the most goals ever scored in a single game by an expansion team. The win at Gillette Stadium was the first after two draws.
Orlando City SC vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
· Orlando City SC played to their second draw of the season, playing to a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park on Friday evening. Nani scored the OCSC goal, the club’s first of the season.
· FC Cincinnati fell to their first loss of the season, falling 5-0 to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
· The teams did not meet in the 2020 season. They met twice in FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season in 2019. Nani and Tesho Akindele each scored two goals as Orlando City SC cruised to a 5-1 win on May 19 at Exploria Stadium, the first meeting ever between the clubs; the teams reached a 1-1 draw Sept. 29 at Nippert Stadium.
Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
· The Union went down to their first loss of the season, falling 2-1 to Inter Miami CF at Subaru Park on Saturday evening. Andre Blake saw his shutout streak come to an end after 342 minutes of competitive play this season (two league games, two Concacaf Champions League games).
· NYCFC recorded the biggest victory in the club’s history, equaled their record for goals in a game in a 5-0 win against FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium. It was the second consecutive game at Yankee Stadium where NYCFC netted five goals (last in a 5-2 win vs. New York Red Bulls on Nov. 1, 2020).
· Valentin Castellanos netted his second goal of the season, after scoring in the season opener, and also added his first assist of the year. Gudmundur Thorarinsson scored directly from a free kick, the first by an NYCFC player since Jesús Medina did it last Sept. 26 – vs. FC Cincinnati.
· The teams met once a season ago. Alejandro Bedoya netted the game’s only goal in the 63rd minute, as the Union took the victory in the opening group game at the MLS is Back Tournament at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex.
· NYCFC have won eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams, including the last four league meetings in the Bronx, and a matchup in the Knockout Round in 2018, a 3-1 victory at Yankee Stadium. The Union win last year ended a three-game NYCFC winning streak in the league series.
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers, 8 p.m.
· FC Dallas fell to their first loss of the new season, dropping a 3-1 decision to the San Jose Earthquakes at PayPal Park on Saturday evening. Ricardo Pepi scored his first goal of the season, the third of his MLS league career.
· The Timbers claimed a 2-1 victory against Houston Dynamo FC in their 2021 home opener at Providence Park on Saturday evening. Dairon Asprilla and Cristian Paredes netted the Timbers goals, their first of the season.
· The teams last met in league play during the 2019 season, each winning at home. Jesús Ferreira and Reto Ziegler netted goals as FC Dallas took a 2-1 win on April 13 at Toyota Stadium, then Brian Fernández scored the game’s only goal for a Timbers win June 30 at Providence Park.
· The teams also met in an epic match in the MLS Cup Playoffs last year in Round One at Providence Park. Ricardo Pepi the equalizer for FC Dallas in second half stoppage time to leave the teams at 1-1, then FC Dallas won the penalty shootout 8-7, the 15 penalties converted (all in the first 15 attempts) the most in a penalty shootout in MLS history.
· The Timbers have won once in 12 league visits all-time to Toyota Stadium, in 2014. When FC Dallas won 3-1 at Portland on April 13, 2016, it was their first victory ever at Providence Park; the Timbers had won four of the first six league meetings there with two draws.
Minnesota United FC vs. Austin FC, 8 p.m.
· MNUFC suffered a second loss in two games to start their 2021 campaign, falling 2-1 to Real Salt Lake in their home opener at Allianz Field on Saturday evening. Robin Lod scored the Minnesota United goal, the club’s first of the season.
· Austin FC won for the first time in the club’s history, coming back for a 3-1 win against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday evening. Diego Fagundez scored the first goal in the club’s history in the 59th minute to pull ATX level, then Cecilio Domínguez netted a pair of goals four minutes apart to lead to the historic win.
· The teams are meeting for the first time in their histories. They are scheduled to play again May 1 at Allianz Field, then Oct. 16 at Q2 Stadium in Austin.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. D.C. United, 11 p.m.
· The Quakes rebounded for their first victory of the season in their home opener at PayPal Park, defeating FC Dallas 3-1 on Saturday evening. Cade Cowell scored a goal and added an assist – both the second of his MLS career – while Oswaldo Alanis (penalty kick) and Cristian Espinoza also scored.
· D.C. United went on the road for the first time and suffered their first defeat, falling by the game’s only goal to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Saturday evening.
· The teams did not meet in the 2020 season. They reached a 1-1 draw in their last meeting, June 1, 2019 at Audi Field, D.C. United extending their undefeated streak in the series to three games.
· United have taken points on four of their last five visits to northern California, including wins on two of the last three. They won the last meeting between the teams at Buck Shaw Stadium, a 2-1 win in 2014; United’s win there in 2011 was their first on the road against San Jose since 1998.
· The last meeting was the first at Audi Field in the series. In the last encounter at RFK Stadium, United took an historic 4-0 win as Patrick Mullins scored four goals over a 31-minute span in the second half – the fastest four goals scored by a player in MLS history, and the first player in 5,031 MLS league matches to score four goals in a half.
Sunday, May 2
Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF, 1 p.m. (ESPN / ESPN Deportes)
· Nashville SC reached a second successive 2-2 draw in a second consecutive game at Nissan Stadium to start the season, this time with CF Montréal on Saturday afternoon. Jhonder Cadíz scored his second goal in as many games, assisted by Randall Leal for the second time; Hany Muhktar also scored his first of the year.
· Inter Miami CF came back for a dramatic first win of the season, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 at Subaru Park on Saturday evening.
· Gonzalo and Federico Higuaín netted the game-tying and game-winning goals 10 minutes late in the second half – become the first set of brothers to score goals in the same game in MLS history. Federico had assisted on Gonzalo’s goal in the 73rd minute, marking the eighth time in league history two brothers combined on a goal.
· The expansion class of 2020 met in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs, the first time since 1998 two expansion teams reached the same postseason, and Nashville SC took a 3-0 win Nov. 20 at Nissan Stadium behind goals from Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar and Dax McCarty.
· The teams met twice during the regular season, a home-and-home series over a week, their first-ever meetings in league play. Anibal Godoy scored the game’s only goal as Nashville SC took the victory Aug. 30 at Nissan Stadium; the teams then reached a goalless draw Sept. 6 in Fort Lauderdale.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy, 9 p.m. (FS1 / FOX Deportes)
· Sounders FC remained undefeated on the campaign in their first away match of the year, reaching a 1-1 draw with Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Brad Smith scored the Seattle goal – the first of his MLS career (in his fourth season).
· Javier Hernández scored the first hat trick of his MLS career, leading the Galaxy to their second win in as many games in a 3-2 win against the New York Red Bulls at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday afternoon.
· Hernández has five goals in the opening two games of the season, the second player in MLS history to achieve that, joining Brian Ching, who did it April 2 (4 goals) and April 8 (1 goal) in 2006 for the Houston Dynamo.
· The teams met twice a season ago. Cristian Roldan scored a pair of goals and Jordan Morris had a goal and an assist as Sounders FC cruised to a 3-1 win Sept. 27 at Dignity Health Sports Park; Javier Hernández and Raúl Ruidíaz each netted second-half goals, Ruidíaz in stoppage time for the Sounders, as the teams reached a 1-1 draw Nov. 4 in Carson.
· Sounders FC have scored nine goals in the last two home meetings with the Galaxy. Sounders FC claimed a 5-0 victory Aug. 18, 2018 at CenturyLink Field, equaling the club’s record for margin of victory over its 10 MLS seasons, and the Galaxy equaling the biggest margin of defeat in their history (set twice previously). It was their first against the Galaxy at home in league play since 2014 (though Sounders FC did win twice at home in the MLS Cup Playoffs over that timeframe).
· Sounders FC have come away with points on six of their last seven trips to Carson, with three wins and three draws. The Seattle win in 2016 ended an 11-game winless streak there in league and MLS Cup play.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids, 10 p.m. (TSN)
· Whitecaps FC remained undefeated on the season, gaining a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday afternoon. Cristian Dajome scored his first goal of the season for Vancouver, and Andy Rose netted one, his first for the club since 2019.
· The Rapids suffered a reversal in their home opener at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, falling 3-1 to expansion side Austin FC on Saturday evening. Andre Shinyashiki scored the club’s first goal of the season for the Rapids tally.
· The teams did not meet in the 2020 season. In 2019, Andy Rose netted the game-winner three minutes from full time to lead Whitecaps FC to a 3-2 win on May 3 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park; the teams reached a 2-2 draw June 22 at BC Place.
· The Rapids won the previous meeting at BC Place, a 1-0 victory there July 1, 2018. It was their first win over their past six trips to Vancouver, their previous win there coming on April 5, 2014.
· Whitecaps FC have come away with points on each of their last four trips to Commerce City, Colo., winning twice (in both 2017 and 2018) – just their second and third wins ever at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The only other Whitecaps FC win in Commerce City came in 2012.