Voices: Sam Jones

Weekend Cheat Sheet: Your guide to Week 22, Heineken Rivalry Week edition

Andrew Wiebe is out for the Cheat Sheet this weekend, so the powers that be decided to rotate their lineup and sub me on. That way, if everything goes right, they can look like tactical geniuses by building up a stellar group of reserves. If everything goes wrong, they can just blame it on having to rest players due to the All-Star Game.

For you… Oh, wow, look at this incredible slate of games! Let’s talk about them.

Editor's note: This story originally ran in The Daily Kickoff.

Atlanta United vs. Nashville SC
Gonzalo Pineda gets thrown in the deep end

WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter

BetMGM odds: Atlanta (+115), Draw (+230), Nashville (+220)

I feel like I’m saying it every week now. “There’s a renewed sense of optimism in Atlanta.” But it’s not my fault that the renewed sense of optimism keeps getting renewed each week.

Rob Valentino’s phenomenal shift as interim manager came to a close last weekend with the best win of his tenure, a 2-1 road victory over a good D.C. United team. But we’re still not entirely sure how much of Atlanta’s turnaround has been smoke and mirrors.

That’s not to discredit all of or even most of it. Expected goals are up in Atlanta and expected goals allowed are down. Plus, simply watching the team for 10 seconds and comparing it to Gabriel Heinze’s tenure will tell you that things have clearly changed for the better. It’s just that Atlanta’s four straight wins have come against a broken Columbus team, a broken LAFC team, a broken Toronto team and a good-but-injured D.C. United team.

If you’re looking for a real barometer of the depth of this turnaround, you’ll get it tomorrow. Nashville are a far greater test than any of the last four games. And new manager Gonzalo Pineda will immediately get a genuine challenge in his first game in charge of Atlanta … and in his first game in charge of any team ever for that matter.

The good news in that case for Atlanta fans is that Pineda seems to understand the position the team is in. And not just on the field. He’s already working on developing positive relationships with the media and with team staff throughout the entire organization, holding meetings with every group at the club just to introduce himself. He even recorded a message in both Spanish and English for ticket holders to receive over the phone. Everyone from the top down needed a refresh in Atlanta and it seems like Pineda is intent on giving it.

On the field, things will stay largely the same. He’s already indicated a desire to continue with the back three Valentino implemented over this recent stretch and has said he doesn’t want to tweak too much. Why would you when things seem to be working so well?

On Saturday we’ll find out just how well they’re working. And even if Pineda’s first two games against Nashville and Orlando don’t work out as well as hoped, there’s still plenty of reason for optimism in Atlanta. Remember how I said Inter Miami had the second-easiest remaining schedule by points per game? Well, Atlanta have the first. And eight of the last 13 come at home.

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy
What do we even make of these LA rivals right now?

WHEN: Saturday, 7 pm ET
WATCH: FOX, FOX Deportes

BetMGM odds: LAFC (-175), Draw (+333), LA (+375)

It’s El Trafico. You’re going to watch. I’m going to watch. We’re all going to watch. But man, this game hurts my brain.

LAFC come into this one second in the league in expected goal differential. The Galaxy come in at 15th. LAFC come into this one 18th in the league in points and the Galaxy come in at 5th. No team is underperforming their expected points total like LAFC and only the best teams are overperforming their expected points total more than the Galaxy. Neither team has a positive goal differential.

It’s all just kind of weird. Not totally unexplainable. Just weird.

On top of everything else about these teams so far this year, it looks like this one may be missing both Carlos Vela and Chicharito. So what even is this version of El Trafico? My only guess is that we’re about to get something wholly strange and equally captivating.

One team should be way better. One team should be a little worse. Both are likely missing their best player. And yet we’re still going to get El Trafico. Same as ever. Which means that you can take the strangeness of both these teams’ seasons and amplify it by about 100. I have no idea what’s going to happen here and I refuse to look away.

Austin FC vs. FC Dallas
Ricardo Pepi watch

WHEN: Sunday, 8 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes

BetMGM odds: Austin (+115), Draw (+230), Dallas (+220)

Another round of the Texican Standoff. All three teams in the standoff are in the bottom three spots in the West. But Dallas and Austin aren’t in the absolute bottom spot. So…

Look, do you want to watch Ricardo Pepi or not? Of course you do. We all want to watch Ricardo Pepi. And we all want to watch Ricardo Pepi play in front of one of the best atmospheres in the league. Ricardo Pepi is playing in this game and don’t you forget it.

Ricardo Pepi.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
Self-care is important

WHEN: Sunday, 10:30 pm ET

BetMGM odds: Seattle (-150), Draw (+280), Portland (+360)

The last time these teams met, things ended 6-2 for Seattle. I would say it can’t get any worse for Portland but … I’m just not sure I believe that. Take care of yourself Portland. I know you have the worst goal differential in the conference and just got boat-raced for the second time this season by Austin, but it’s still important to take time and appreciate the positives in your life. Have you tried circular breathing? Or not giving up the most goals in the league except for Toronto? That could help. I’m just trying to help.

The good news for Portland is that nothing seems to matter in these games and anything can happen. I can at least guarantee that you, the viewer, will be entertained in some way. It might be from schadenfreude in some cases, but you’ll still be entertained. And isn’t that the true meaning of Heineken Rivalry Week.