Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Weekend Cheat Sheet: Your guide to what to watch for in Week 19

Your weekend is packed. I get it.

I’m here to simplify the “Geez, what should I do/watch/prioritize?” decision-making process while you laze about on your phone in bed, watch European soccer and scroll Twitter, or whatever it is you do on a weekend morning.

Tom Bogert already ran down big storylines from several key MLS LIVE on ESPN+ games this weekend. I’m going to help you decide which (or all three) national TV games to watch this weekend. Here are six thoughts bouncing around in my head.

Minnesota United vs. LA Galaxy

WHEN: Saturday, 6 pm ET

1. The Loons have been flying under the radar. The big headline this year was the four-game losing streak. That was more than three months ago. Ancient MLS history. In those three months, Minnesota United are 7-1-5 and now just eight points behind Sporting Kansas City with a game in hand. So why the lack of hype? Well, Minnesota are solid … but kinda unspectacular.

Emanuel Reynoso might just be the best pure chance creator in the league outside of Carles Gil (and a healthy Alejandro Pozuelo), but his numbers (2g, 6a) aren’t MVP level. There’s a reason for that. Unlike Gil, Reynoso doesn’t have Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa in front of him. That’s not a slight on the Minnesota attack. It’s just facts.

He might have a Tajon Buchanan. Robin Lod is the club’s leading scorer at six goals, followed by half a dozen at two, and has been that good. Great for Lod. Not so great for the guys who were supposed to elevate the Loons from solid to Western Conference leader. Franco Fragapane’s been fine so far (2g, 3a in 499 minutes). I’m talking about Ramon Abila (gone to D.C. United) and Adrien Hunou.

Can Hunou do DP striker things? It’s asking a lot for immediate production at a league-best level – so far, two goals in nine starts are far below that – but league average, at minimum, is what Minnesota need to challenge the West's top teams for playoff position and supremacy. The goal-by-committee approach only gets you so far.

2. Hassani Dotson is one of the best midfielders in the league, and Wil Trapp is an ideal complement for him. Minnesota’s success is based on three things:

  1. Reynoso is a genius (and Lod is underrated, still)
  2. Two of Bakaye Dibassy, Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman have mostly been good to very good
  3. Dotson and Trapp

Here are the numbers via Second Spectrum, which simply bear out what you see when you watch Minnesota United play:

  • Dotson is fourth in pressures, while Trapp is fifth
  • Trapp is fourth in interceptions (Dotson is sixth)
  • They're both are among the league's top tacklers in midfield.

That’s the platform on which Reynoso does his thing and the shield that gives the backline the opportunity to shine A.I. (after Ike).

What’s the saying about piano players and piano carriers again?

3. You know I'm on Chicharito watch. It seems very likely that we’ll see new U22 Initiative signing Dejan Joveljic in the Galaxy team this weekend, perhaps even starting. It seems certain that we won’t see Chicharito.

“Javier is in his return to play, so we’ll see as he continues to progress, how that progression works and his timeline will be dependent on that,” Galaxy head Greg Vanney said this week. “Coming off of a muscle injury, we wouldn't want him on a plane flying there and flying back. If he's not able to help us on the field he’ll stay and continue his progression.”

So yeah, we wait.

Waiting is tolerable because the Galaxy keep finding a way, and Joveljic could be a like-for-like replacement. I’m not reading too far into his 20 goals in Austria, but I’m not not reading into it. Could the Serbian forward start and move Kevin Cabral back to his more natural wide position? I, for one, would love to see it.

Atlanta United vs. LAFC

WHEN: Sunday, 4 pm ET

4. Congratulations to Gonzalo Pineda. The opportunity to lead Atlanta United is deserved, but it doesn’t come without a price. That price is expectations and an ever-changing group that has struggled to live up to them under two previous managers.

While we wait for the former Seattle Sounders assistant to take to the sideline, I’m glad Rob Valentino gets two more games as interim manager. LAFC are suspect defensively and Valentino’s taken the reins off his players, put them in positions to be successful and allowed them to be direct. That suits Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno and, returning from suspension, Josef Martinez. On paper, it fits deadline day signing Luiz Araujo as well.

If Valentino can help get those guys rolling, why can’t the Five Stripes be a playoff team?

5. Here are LAFC’s wins this year: vs. Austin, vs. Colorado, vs. FC Dallas, at Real Salt Lake, at Austin, vs. Real Salt Lake. One of those teams (Colorado) is above the playoff line.

Here are LAFC’s losses this year: at Galaxy, at Sounders, vs. NYCFC, at Sporting KC, at Portland Timbers, vs. Sporting KC, at San Jose. All but one of those teams (San Jose) are playoff teams.

What does that tell you? That it makes perfect sense that LAFC are on the playoff bubble. They aren’t a good team. They aren’t a bad team. They’re suspended in mediocrity right now.

"There’s no doubt that we are frustrated as a group," Bob Bradley said after losing, 2-1, to the Quakes last weekend. "Too many results where we do not find a way to not come out on top.”

This is a team with Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and a cadre of young South American talent … but big questions (mostly thanks to injuries) persist along the backline.

Can LAFC find a way to come out on top more often? How will their defense fare without Eddie Segura? Will they regret the Mark-Anthony Kaye trade?

They're huge questions that Bradley must solve. Forget MLS Cup aspirations for now. Their season depends on simply getting results (and snapping their five-game winless streak).

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders

WHEN: Sunday, 10 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes

6. Joao Paulo is the best defensive midfielder in MLS. Period. Exclamation point. Gavel slam.

He controls games. With his passing vision and execution, yes, but also with his physicality. I was thinking about the 30-year-old Brazilian a lot this week in the wake of his performance against Tigres UANL in Leagues Cup. Mostly, I was thinking about how Joao Paulo uses his body and contact to dictate play.

My cross-sport comparison is Charles Barkley. For both, it’s strategic bumps and subtle (or not so subtle) movements to find leverage, followed by bursts of more traditional athleticism. Barkley didn’t just out-jump people to gather rebounds. He made sure they couldn’t jump with him before he went up. Joao Paulo doesn’t just battle for 50-50s. No, he pins opponents in place with a shoulder, a little push, or a box-out in order to free himself to turn and find the right pass.

Also: Is Nico Lodeiro back? I'll let you watch this goal against Tigres and decided for yourself: