Yeah, that’s historic stuff, but it’s in the future. Meanwhile, Audi MLS Cup Playoff lives are at stake, and we have our first “X” on the standings page. Congratulations to the New England Revolution, your 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners, and Carles Gil, the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player.
Let’s dig into the present and Week 27.
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Free on Twitter
BetMGM ODDS: Philadelphia +100, Draw +260, Atlanta +230
Last week, I asked if the Union could avoid a Concacaf Champions League hangover. I wondered if the following quote from Alejandro Bedoya was post-Club America posturing, a captain trying to galvanize his teammates in a moment of adversity and manifest a late-season run, or truly a reflection of Philly’s future. Turns out it was probably both.
“I think if we play like this in the league, there's no doubt that we should be in the playoffs and beating most teams,” Bedoya had said.
Those words seemed bold given the Union had just been shut out over two legs in CCL and their league form at the time (three wins in 13 games) was far from last season’s Shield standard. Bold is good. Bold works. Bold apparently cures hangovers.
After that Club America loss, Jim Curtin’s boys turned right around and pounded a couple glasses of water, took some ibuprofen and then brushed Orlando City (a fellow playoff team) aside and addressed some of their lingering “Hmmmmm, where will the goals come from, though?” concerns. It’s just one game, but it was a snapshot of what most expected from the Union in 2021.
Philadelphia weren’t necessarily rampant, but they made Orlando uncomfortable in key moments. The first goal came off a busted set-piece re-press – I still think it should have been ruled out for offside, but it very much felt like a 2020 Union goal – plus a double from Kacper Przybylko, who hadn’t scored in two months, via some crafty work off a short throw from Jamiro Monteiro and from the penalty spot after Sergio Santos hit the afterburners on Antonio Carlos.
It was a good and necessary home win which, combined with D.C. United’s loss in Atlanta, vaulted Philly to seventh in the Eastern Conference. For the time being they’re in the playoffs, as Bedoya said was the expectation, and their position rests on, in his words, “beating most teams.”
Well, Gonzalo Pineda’s Atlanta United sit a point above the Union and have won seven of eight. This is absolutely a litmus test for Philadelphia (and a likely Josef Martinez-less ATLUTD as well, more on that in a second), and Curtin clearly has a ton of respect for this weekend’s visitors.
Release the platitudes!
For Pineda, things got a little more complicated this week when it became clear that Martinez’s knee discomfort was going to make him a big question mark for Saturday’s trip to Chester.
I don’t think there’s any chance Pineda plays or even travels Martinez this weekend. Why risk it? Better for Martinez to be available in a month than it is now. With Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araujo in form, Atlanta don’t absolutely need their talisman to pick up all three points. That’s a welcome development for a club that last contended solely via the willpower and goalscoring ability of Josef Martinez.
Did I mention you can watch this six-pointer (drink!) for free on Twitter or live on Univision/TUDN? Well, you can, and it might just be the game of the weekend. Here’s the remaining schedule for both sides, just in case you’re like me and enjoy plotting the rest of the regular season against the available playoffs spots.
PHI (7th, 35 pts, 24 GP): @RBNY, CLB, @CIN, @MTL, @MIN, NSH, @TOR, CIN, @NYC
ATL (6th, 36 pts, 25 GP): MIA, @MTL, @TOR, NYC, MIA, TOR, @RBNY, @CIN
WHEN: Sunday, 7 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: Sporting -115, Draw +260, Seattle +280
MLS ebbs and flows, but every season of the past decade started with one near certainty in the Western Conference: The Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC will be among the top teams in the West (and the league overall).
The two clubs are pictures of consistency – the Sounders averaged a West-best 2.6th in the standings from 2011-20 while Sporting KC were second at 3.8 (skewed upward by an uncharacteristic 11th in 2019) – and combined they finished five of 10 seasons atop the standings.
Here we are again. Sporting KC sit in first, what would be their fifth conference (West and East) top finish in 11 years – and the Sounders are chasing with only a point to make up and a game in hand.
Conveniently, they play twice before the end of the regular season to help work things out head-to-head. The pair will almost certainly finish first, second or third, with only the Rapids (a point back of the Sounders and two back of Kansas City, with a game in hand on Sporting) in a position to sow chaos and potentially pip playoff home-field advantage until MLS Cup.
So yeah, if this isn’t the best game of the weekend, it’s No. 2. There are real consequences here. First, playoff positioning and home-field advantage. Second, a Concacaf Champions League spot for 2022. Third, bragging rights between two fanbases that have seen a lot of each other since 2009.
The Sounders, of course, are headed to Kansas City after some midweek #freespace in the Leagues Cup Final. Sporting haven’t played in more than a week and are in position to put to bed the question marks around Peter Vermes’ decision to prioritize the league and his first-choice players’ legs over Leagues Cup.
Win and that capitulation to Club Leon is a mulligan. Vermes could and should point to home-field advantage and a CCL berth as loftier goals, for which KC would be in pole position. Lose and the Sounders will be atop the Western Conference standings having collected more league points than Sporting (15 to 12 in one fewer game) since the Leagues Cup quarterfinals while also giving their fans a thrilling final run in the process.
Time to see which one it is!
WHEN: Sunday, 9:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: Austin +130, Draw +260, LA +170
Alright, I’ve got the records of five teams since Aug. 17 below. It’s a blind panel. You’ve got to match FC Cincinnati, Austin FC, Toronto FC, Chicago Fire FC and the LA Galaxy (!!!) with their respective dreadful form.
- 1 – L L W L L L L
- 2 – L W L L L L L
- 3 – D L L L W L L
- 4 – L L D D D L
- 5 – L L L L L W
I will give you a hint … the Galaxy are the only team of the five without a win in the last month-plus. Yikes! That they’re still fourth in the Western Conference and 7th overall tells you something about their early-season form.
- 1 – CHI
- 2 – ATX
- 3 – CIN
- 4 – LA
- 5 – TOR
There are goals to be scored in Austin this year. Maybe this is the game that gets Chicharito going again and marks the return of #goodvibes to Greg Vanney’s team. If not, this late summer fade is going to get existential from a playoff perspective. Right now, LA’s only five points above the line.