Voices: Sam Jones

Weekend cheat sheet: Your guide to the key Week 6 storylines

This is your Week 6 cheat sheet (SPECIAL GUEST EDITION).

Wiebe is out this week. I’m in. You may know me from the MLSsoccer.com newsletter or as “That guy I tweeted at to tell him to go run in traffic after last week’s Power Rankings.” Either way, you’re stuck with me.

Fortunately, you’re not stuck without your pick of excellent storylines to follow along with in Week 6 of the MLS calendar. We’re somewhere around 3/17ths or 7/34ths of the way done with the season and it feels we’re just getting through the heart of the early season narratives and moving into more well-informed, nuanced opinions. Or ya know, we’re all still blindly guessing at everything and won’t truly know anything until we do like a five years later retrospective somewhere down the line.

Should be fun all the same. Enjoy the weekend!

Another chance for the Galaxy to convince us

Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy — Sat., 3:30 pm ET

Be honest. How sure are you that the Galaxy are officially, unironically “back”? Like pretty sure right?

They have the second-most points and wins in the league, they’re one of two teams with four or more wins, they’ve taken down LAFC, Austin, Miami and the Red Bulls, and Chicharito is on pace for 47.6 goals. Sure that last one probably isn’t sustainable but I would consider it somewhat encouraging. Trust me when I say no one else is on pace for that many.

To add your confidence in LA, you can consider the fact that it’s not just players like Chicharito making an impact. Young players like Ethan Zubak, Julian Araujo, Efra Alvarez and Adam Saldana are all getting plaudits through the first five games. Actually, Greg Vanney has nearly everyone on the team thriving. He’s sailed past expectations in year one already and it’s to the point where, honestly, this team could probably be slightly above average the rest of the year and people would consider it a a major success.

But be honest. You’re still a little hesitant here right? I think even if you’re a Galaxy fan, you’re a little hesitant here. Right?

The last few years, by Galaxy standards, have been mostly miserable. You had some optimism when Vanney came on but even folks around the team figured it would take a bit of patience before they returned to being a legitimate contender for trophies. I mean, they technically aren’t still because all the trophies belong to Seattle this year, but let’s pretend.

Now success is coming so quick and so heavy it’s kind of hard to believe it’s genuine. Along with recent history, you’ve still got the fact that three of LA’s four wins came against two middle/lower-tier Eastern Conference teams and an expansion team playing their fifth-straight road game.

Personally, I think this is a clear playoff team. There’s no collapse incoming. They won’t keep a 12 points per five-game pace, but they’re not going to fall off the edge of the world either. That being said, my cynical 20-something world outlook isn’t letting me buy in entirely. Not yet. A result against the only non-Seattle team from the West to make MLS Cup in the last six years would go a long way toward truly convincing folks that this team is for real.

Atlanta gets an up-close and personal look at The Standard

Atlanta United vs. Seattle Sounders — Sun., 4:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: FOX, FOX Deportes in US; TSN in Canada

Atlanta will be coming into this one riding high after Marcelino Moreno’s 90+4’ winner against Montréal last weekend. For all the talks of their struggles in attack, they are technically tied for third in the Eastern Conference with eight points through five games. You keep that pace for the entire year and you’re at 54 points. That’s one point off the pace from Tata Martino’s first Atlanta United team and four points off the pace from Frank de Boer’s first Atlanta United team.

However, we’re all pretty aware at this point that the standard in Atlanta is higher than that. Atlanta doesn’t want to just accrue points they want to do it with the style that’s been missing since they won MLS Cup in 2018. Right now, that style is clearly missing. It’s why you have pieces being posted here on The Mothership entitled “Why isn’t Atlanta United creating chances?” that contain a lot of frightening statistics that indicate that the team doesn’t even seem to be trying to score. At least, you hope they aren’t trying because if so ... yikes. If you’re an Atlanta fan, you really want to believe that the lack of chances is down to a lack of confidence and not a lack of ability. The scary thing is that it might be both.

Then there’s Seattle. Holy. Smokes. I’m not sure I really need to lay out how good they’ve been this year. You get the point by now. So I’ll just quickly lay out how good they’ve been since their inaugural season in MLS. Guess how many times they’ve finished lower than fourth in their conference? Just guess. Did you guess zero? Because it’s zero.

Right now, the answer to that same question for Atlanta is once. Last year. That’s obviously not what they expected for themselves and now the worry is that it might be two years in a row if the attack doesn’t sort things out at some point along the way.

That uncertainty isn’t something Seattle are facing. The Sounders are the measuring stick for where Atlanta want to be and that means this one could go one of two ways for the Five Stripes. They either build on the confidence boost of a late winner against Montréal and pull out a shocking result as they move toward finally meeting their own standards once again. OR, they get thumped. Like really thumped. Either way, it’s going to be an up-close and personal look at the level of talent and chemistry needed to return to where Atlanta and Atlanta’s fans expect themselves to be sometime soon.

Austin look to right the ship against their expansion idol

Nashville SC vs. Austin FC — Sun., 9:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN in Canada

I know some of you might be turning your head to the side at Nashville being a model expansion team with the success that Atlanta and LAFC have had recently in their first two seasons. But Austin were never going to be either of those teams. Neither were Nashville. The markets weren't the same and the budgets not quite there.

However, Nashville made smart signings that set themselves up to succeed, hired a coach able to implement a system that works for teams that aren’t going to overwhelm anyone with attacking talent and played solid soccer on their way to peaking at the right time, earning a playoff spot, and knocking off Miami and Toronto. Austin would take that kind of run in heartbeat, wouldn’t they?

They’ve hit a wall in their last couple of games against two solid teams in Sporting KC and the Galaxy. There were always going to be multiple walls throughout this season. Especially in an opening stretch spent entirely on the road. But as good as Nashville have been (by xG at least, maybe not actual Gs) they’re still probably a tier below SKC and the Galaxy. This is a chance for Austin to steady themselves a bit as they continue through what might be the single toughest stretch of games in MLS this season.

After Nashville, Seattle, SKC, San Jose, Minnesota, Columbus, Portland, LAFC and Seattle await. Austin is going to have to take their lumps here until they get a whole handful of home games against lesser competition. Any points they can swipe along the way during this stretch the should feel like a bonus.

Chicago and Gonzalo Higuain are on fire and only of those is a good thing

Chicago Fire FC vs. Inter Miami — Sat., 6:00 pm ET
UniMas, TUDN, Twitter (English audio)

The Fire are off to the worst start in club history and it feels like they’ve earned every bit of it. They started the year by scoring what still might be the best team goal of the season, scored again almost immediately after and then let everything go downhill and downhill quickly. New England scored and then scored an equalizer almost immediately after that, Chicago left with their only point of the season, and now we’re here and talking about just how many goals off throw-ins they’re going to give up. It’s wholly disappointing for a team that felt like it could jump forward and push for a playoff spot this season. 

Oh, did I mention they’ve only scored one more goal since those first two goals against New England? It came against an Atlanta backline that looked like someone had put down the Xbox controller for a few seconds. It’s the fewest goals through five matches in team history.

Meanwhile, Inter Miami seem to be working toward taking the step forward Chicago might have been able to take if they hadn’t exploded on the launch pad. They have eight points through six games and it seems like Gonzalo Higuain is finally finding himself in MLS. He has four goals through his first five games and is putting up the shot totals you’d expect from a striker of his quality.  He’s not just getting lucky here.

If both trends continue, it could be a long day for the Fire.

#PlayYourKids 22 Under 22 Game of the Week

D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union  — Sun., 7:00 pm ET

Could I interest you in a 2003 Moses Nyeman? A 2003 Kevin Paredes? Maybe if we’re lucky, a 2002 Griffin Yow will show up for D.C.? We may get a 2003 Jack McGlynn from Philadelphia. Maybe a 2001 Leon Flach. Perhaps even a 2003 Paxten Aaronson? A 2001 Anthony Fontana? They’re all going to be here and there’s a good chance we see most of them take the field.

MLS LIVE on ESPN+ Game of the Weekend

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Sporting Kansas City  — Sat., 10:00 pm ET

It used to feel like cheating to pick San Jose in this spot. A real free space. However, the Qaos Quakes have been a lot like your friend in undergrad who went all gas no brakes for most of their early-20s, found a significant other to rein them in, and is spending their free time studying for the GACE now after they’ve discovered a love of teaching from that time they took a substitute gig to make the rent they hadn’t been paying. 

They keep playing games that end 2-1, or 1-0, or 2-0 and I just want the real, lose 5-4 Quakes back. They slipped for a bit a couple of weekends ago when Chris Wondolowski brought them back from 1-0 late in their game with RSL, but then went pretty static again against Seattle and Portland. You can’t blame them too much for that, but I demand the euphoria of Quakes-based insanity. 

Fortunately, SKC are just the team to bring it out of them. They’re your other friend who brought out the worst of your Quakes friends’ decisions. They still put up more shots each game than just about anyone and have no problem playing a wide-open game. And if SKC are the bad influence needed to bring the Quakes back out of their shell, an MLS After Dark start time is the drink of choice they have far too much of readily available 

This is a near-perfect ESPN+ game.