This is your Week 5 cheat sheet.
Be forewarned, I feel like most of what we know about MLS right is smoke and mirrors. Whether it be pandemic conditions, injuries, Concacaf Champions League hangovers, new managers or simply the small data set, we’re still figuring out who’s actually good, who’s trending in the wrong direction and what/who occupies the space in between.
The only way to learn more is to watch, and so we do! Enjoy the weekend!
Yes, things can get even better for the Galaxy (and life is pretty darn good for Austin FC)
LA Galaxy vs. Austin FC — Sat., 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter (English audio)
I write about the Galaxy every week. I write about Chicharito every week. What Greg Vanney and his group are doing is the biggest story in MLS, no matter what Sounders fans and Cade Cowell/Wondo stans might think ;)
You’re going to hate me for typing this, but this league is better/more fun when the Galaxy are good. The lights feel a little brighter, and right now they’re all trained on Javier Hernandez. I won’t bore you with a story – six goals in four games, personal and professional redemption, maybe even resurrection, and a team revitalized – that you already know by heart.
Instead, I’d say look ahead to the next story in Carson, and the next step for a group that I think has much more to give. Will the signings on the wings and in central defense hit immediately, take time or tank altogether? In the transfer market, anything is possible and the answer to that question changes what it is Vanney can build in Carson this year and beyond.
Will Kevin Cabral change games? The 21-year-old winger is a big investment and will occupy the space inhabited by a Best XI selection in 2020. How much of Samuel Grandsir have we already seen and how much more can he give once truly settled? Perhaps most importantly, what’s the partnership in the back? Sega Coulibaly is on his way from Ligue 2, and Derrick Williams played his first 90 minutes in El Trafico and bagged himself an iconic rivalry moment.
All eyes on Chicharito, but I’m going to be watching Grandsir and Williams (and whichever kids start/play) until the Ligue 2 pair arrive.
As for Austin FC, this road trip is all about accumulating as many points as possible before opening Q2 Stadium and trying to create the sort of home-field advantage that can propel them into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
A draw without Alex Ring would be just fine, but it seems like there’s an opportunity for Josh Wolff’s team to take three points, even without their captain. Every bit of ground they gain now could decide their playoff fate in the fall, and the Galaxy would seem susceptible to an El Trafico letdown as well as multiple runners wearing Verde pulling their backline apart at the seams.
Welcome Home, FC Cincinnati … Now, can you make TQL Stadium a fortress?
FC Cincinnati vs. Inter Miami — Sun., 4 pm ET
WATCH ON: FOX, FOX Deportes, TSN 1 in Canada
I started covering this league at an independent league baseball ballpark, where the pitching mound was part of the game and we did post-game interviews next to a urinal. Opening new soccer stadiums in the United States and Canada will never get old to me. I want the people of Cincinnati to know that it kills me to miss your march, merriment and match on Sunday.
Drink a stein or two for me, if you’re of age. Take some photos with you in them. Trust me, you’ll want that memory down the road.
From all accounts and appearances, TQL Stadium, FC Cincinnati’s new $250 million, 26,000-seat home in the West End to go along with the brand new the Mercy Health Training Center is a veritable cathedral to the game, a place where generations of the city will have communion with the beautiful game and 3,170 fans will pack the Bailey, the second-largest supporters’ section in the league.
Tears will be shed as thousands of soccer fans in Ohio see and experience their home for the first time. I just hope those are happy tears, and the team’s results don’t keep stepping on their heart. I would guide you through the grisly numbers, as Matt Doyle did earlier this week, but that seems cruel and unnecessary. The truth hurts.
Until they prove otherwise, FC Cincinnati are a bad MLS team.
That’s not for lack of investment. Of course, in the facilities, but also the squad, fifth in MLS in total 2021 salary according to the MLS Players Union data released this week. Investment comes with expectations. Here’s what owner Carl Linder III told The Enquirer a few weeks ago:
"I would like to have a winning record at a minimum and then if the team gels well together, make the playoffs. Those are reasonable goals as we’re continuing to construct a team that we’re proud of long-term. Again, it takes time to do that."
To reach those goals, FC Cincinnati don’t have any time to waste. They must win their home games, and they must start against an Inter Miami team that’s scuffling and played midweek. How do they do that? That’s Jaap Stam’s job, but, as Doyle argued, being hard to play against is a good start.
Can LAFC win without Carlos Vela?
Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC — Sun., 3 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN 1 in Canada
I’m not going to waste my time trying to sell you on this game. It sells itself.
Better than Bob. Two straight playoff exits for LAFC at the hands of the Sounders. Raul Ruidiaz chasing a Golden Boot, facing off against Diego Rossi, who won it in 2020. The Roldan brothers. Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye. Nouhou. Latif Blessing. Joao Paulo. Jesus Murillo and Eddie Segura. Yeimar Gomez and Xavier Arreaga. Brad Smith. Diego Palacios. Corey Baird. Will Bruin.
This game is full of quality, and we don’t even know if Nico Lodeiro and Carlos Vela will play a part. I don’t care what the table currently says about LAFC. They are one of the best teams in this league. We already know that/have been proven wrong by the Sounders.
Good players, good managers and good teams. That’s basically what I am looking for every time I watch this game of ours. That’s what you’ll get Sunday night.
#PlayYourKids 22 under 22 Game of the Week
Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls — Sat., 7:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
Regardless of how you feel about #PlayYourKids, I hope we can all agree that #StopAsianHate is something to get behind. I encourage you to listen to this interview from Extratime with Sean Davis, the Red Bulls captain and an Asian American whose perspective ought to help you understand what the AAPI community is going through right now and how you can help.
MLS LIVE on ESPN+ Game of the Weekend
New York City FC vs. Toronto FC — Sat., 1 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+, CTV, TSN 4/5 in Canada
Ronny Deila didn’t even wait for his team to play a game in 2021 before declaring he needed more players. That seemed like a sure sign that NYCFC were going to drop a few rungs in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
And yet, with a win this weekend against Toronto, they’d sit first in the Eastern Conference with Taty Castellanos locked in for five more years, Heber on the mend and sporting director David Lee making it clear that the summer will bring the players Deila needs to elevate the squad even further.
Decent place to be, and I’d argue proof that focusing on building then maintaining a defensive unit that, at best, wins you games and, at worst, never loses them for you is a good place to start if you want to be a consistent contender. In Sean Johnson, Alex Callens, Maxime Chanot, James Sands and Anton Tinnerholm, the blue side of New York has an unshakable foundation that’s gamely weathered the departures of Alex Ring and Ronald Matarrita and gives them a chance to be in every game, no matter who is starting or on form up top.
Oh, and they’re not struggling to create chances, either. NYCFC are fourth in total Expected Goals, per Second Spectrum, despite playing a game fewer than the Sounders and Earthquakes, who are first and second. No, not all of those came against Cincinnati (1.856) in that home drubbing by set piece. They put up 2.491 against Philly, too.
Toronto FC are as tough a test as they’ve faced so far, doubly so coming off a big midweek win against the Crew. The Reds are starting to get healthy – it was nice to see Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola on the field midweek, even if Alejandro Pozuelo is still working his way back – and they’re flexing hard in the transfer market, too.
Yeferson Soteldo wants to be like Josef Martinez, which he is absolutely capable of in his own way, and Kemar Lawrence is Kemar Lawrence, one of the best defenders in the league and an incredible security blanket for the Toronto central defenders thanks his defensive instincts, familiarity with Chris Armas’ style of play and straight-up recovery speed.
On Thursday’s Extratime, David Gass called this Reds team, once fully assembled, the best soccer team in the league. As in, they’ve got the pieces to play the game in a way and at a level that no other team can in MLS. I am not sure I agree, but I am damn sure ready to test that hypothesis in Week 5’s opening weekend game.