Wiebe is out again. I’m still in. Somehow.

This is like getting asked to housesit in a mansion for a few days and then repeatedly being asked if you can stay a few more nights while the owner acts on whatever ruthless capitalistic instincts got them the mansion in the first place for a little while longer. Why yes, I will continue to hang out in the indoor hot tub/PS5/pizza roll dispenser combo for a few more nights. But only because I have great respect for my position as a housesitter.

Anyway, we’re finally past all that pesky international break stuff and back to real soccer. And back in a big way. Every single game over the next three days has something to offer. Just sit back and enjoy.

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Atlanta United vs. Orlando City SC
Five years in and we’ve got some stakes

WHEN: Friday, 7 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: Atlanta +120, Draw +250, Orlando +195

This rivalry has always followed the rule that one team has to be excellent and the other has to be not so great. There’s never really been anything in between. What that’s meant is there’s never really been any larger meaning to these two teams meeting other than a chance for one side to say hurtful things on the internet to the other side with impunity for a few weeks until the next meeting. I’m not quite sure we’ve reached a point where this weekend’s matchup puts two good teams against each other, but we have reached a point where there are undeniable stakes for both teams involved.

For Atlanta, it’s a chance to get three points at home against one of the two teams they’ll face in the East’s top four through the rest of their schedule. Three points in your toughest game left will make the rest of what’s already the easiest schedule in the conference feel that much easier. And it could play a massive part down the stretch for a team that’s currently four points out of a playoff spot.

For Orlando, it’s a chance to have that not happen. That’s it really. I guess we could talk about seeding in the East, but for a team that’s comfortably in a playoff spot, the opportunity to pettily smite a rival and potentially keep them from the playoffs is an opportunity to feel the warmth of your enemy’s radiating failure. It’s a cozy and heartening warmth. A weighted blanket of schadenfreude. Especially when the other team spent the first few years of its existence dunking on you for never making the playoffs.

In that sense, we may have the most meaningful Atlanta-Orlando game since the first one. In a rivalry that’s been defined by one team having the upper hand, this might be as even of footing as we’ve seen. Which still isn’t that even. But it’s going to be interesting.

Plus...ya know...I’m not even sure I should say it...I’ll just do it. Plus, it might be important to note that Orlando are currently in second place in the East. Atlanta are fighting for the seventh spot. If both teams finished at second and seventh...well then this wouldn’t be the last time we see this matchup this year. Just saying.

Colorado Rapids vs. LA Galaxy
The Rapids can reach the mountaintop...for an hour or so

WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter
BetMGM ODDS: Colorado -115, Draw +270, LA +270

While we’re still waiting on Colorado to take down Seattle or Sporting KC, they firmly cemented themselves at the top of the West’s second tier with a win over the Galaxy just a couple of weeks ago. And what I’m going to say next makes the whole second-tier thing feel a bit off, but if they beat the Galaxy again, they’ll be in first place in the West. At least for an hour or so depending on what Seattle does against Minnesota.

Even still, they’ll have a game in hand on Seattle no matter what by the end of the day. A draw would put them even on points through 22 games. With Seattle. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people seem to think pretty highly of Seattle. Colorado are matching them step-for-step with a smaller budget and far less glamor.

However, there’s still a question of whether or not they can match them on the field like they have in the standings. They’ve yet to beat their best competition in the West – Seattle and SKC – in four tries this year. Although they’ll get another shot at Seattle and a bonus shot at the league-leading Revolution down the line. It’s maybe the one thing keeping people with inflated egos and self-worth due to their internet platform (see: Bloggers) like me from declaring them a true contender for MLS Cup. Essentially, only one or two teams have been better than Colorado at maintaining a high speed over the course of the year. Now, at some point, we have to find out whether or not the best version of this team can find a top speed high enough to hang with the league’s best.

We won’t necessarily find that out against LA. But a win would be another data point suggesting that they could produce the kind of result needed to take down a Seattle or New England in a winner-takes-all scenario.

In the end, those data points won’t matter. We’ll just have the final results when they do finally face those teams in those scenarios and that will be that. For now, though, we can use tests like this to color our view of the team that, right now, is the best story in MLS. And who doesn’t want a little more reason to believe they can pull off something truly special?

Also: Looks like Chicharito is going to be back! Exciting stuff.

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United
Can little brother get a second punch in?

WHEN: Saturday, 5 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
BetMGM ODDS: Seattle -125, Draw +270, Minnesota +290

The last and first time Minnesota United beat Seattle had to feel good. It ended Seattle’s 13-game unbeaten streak to start the season and gave the Loons a much-needed psychological refresh against a team that had stolen Minnesota’s chance at MLS Cup to end last season, and pummeled them on national TV to begin this one. The Sounders had wholly and completely owned Minnesota up until that point.
The Loons got the job done, though.

And after that opening weekend pummeling that sent them on a four-loss spiral to start the year, Minnesota have recovered as well as any team possibly could. They’ve lost twice since then and look relatively comfortable in a playoff spot with a game in hand or two on the teams above and below them. They’re entering this one having gone unbeaten in their last four road trips, while Seattle haven’t won at home in their last four. There’s a chance Minnesota can get another punch in here on the big brother that tormented them for their first few years in the league.

The biggest difference between this meeting and the last is that Seattle are relatively healthy this time. A shockingly long injury list has been dwindled down to essentially just Stefan Frei, while Jordan Morris continues to recover inhumanly fast from an ACL tear. A road game against a fully loaded Sounders team is a far taller task than winning at home against a team working overtime just to field a full bench.

It may not feel quite as good as the first time. But if the Loons can continue their revenge tour against Seattle, they should maybe consider being a little more proud of this win than the first one. If not, well, the real revenge was always going to come in the playoffs. At least now they can feel pretty good about getting a chance to enact it.

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New England vs. NYCFC
Still waiting in this booth for NYCFC to arrive...

WHEN: Saturday, 7 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
BetMGM ODDS: New England +105, Draw +260, NYCFC +220

I’ve just been sitting here. By myself. In this booth at this Chili’s. Waiting for NYCFC to get here. So we can celebrate. I’ve got the “Best Team in MLS” hats ready to go. There’s a 2 for $20 meal that’s getting colder by the second. Margaritas in those yard-long glasses that ensure you’re in for a good time. I don’t know what’s taking so long and I’m starting to think I’ve been stood up.

For a while there, it really seemed like NYCFC had finally figured it out. They’ve looked like an elite machine through the eye test this year. And the underlying numbers love them even more. Their expected goals numbers and goals added numbers have routinely had them at or just below the top of the league. Their place in the standings hasn’t reflected that. And I just don’t think it will at this point

Which is fine. It’s MLS. Everyone knows at this point that you don’t have to be at the top at the end of the season. You just have to give yourself a chance to be at the top at the end of the playoffs. But I’m growing increasingly concerned at their ability to end up there. At some point, the results aren’t coming for a reason. LAFC have proven that. I’m just not sure what to make of NYCFC right now. But what they do against New England may end up telling us a lot. Is this the team that has looked like they can and will take that step to the top tier of the league? Or is it the team that’s looked like they can but never will have whatever it is their missing to be the league’s best.

If they win against the team that has put it all together so far – and maybe a few more times after that – well, there’s always a booth and some cool hats waiting for them. They can still get here. I just know it

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United

WHEN: Saturday, 7 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
BetMGM ODDS: RBNY +125, Draw +240, D.C. +195

I wasn’t asked to write about this game but I had to. Because I laugh every single time I think about it. The league’s most famously pressing-est, vertical-est team against the team that’s wholly outperforming them in pressing and verticality this year. What a beautiful disaster of a collision this will be. Two teams playing chicken with no intention of turning the steamrollers creeping toward each other. There is no room for grace and pleasantries. This, and I mean this with reverence, is the MLS’ most Big Ten game.

As Joe Lowery pointed out the other day, MLS teams are completing an average of about 920 total passes per game. The last time these two teams played each other, they completed 648 with an average completion percentage of 67.5%.

Both of these teams are the kid across the map of a first-person shooter indiscriminately firing rocket launchers. Most of the time they aren’t going to hit anything, but when they do finally hit their mark, it’s going to hurt a whole lot. It’s going to be a total mess and I don’t know how anyone could possibly look away from it.

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