Voices: Bradley Wright-Phillips

What is Portland's identity? Can Thiago Almada deliver? Matchday 9 questions


We’re changing things up slightly! Let’s look at some of the biggest games this weekend, particularly one big question teams can answer.

It’s time for a spin around MLS Matchday 9, offering a mini watch guide for your MLS Season Pass viewing.

Portland Timbers vs. LAFC

  • WATCH: Apple TV - Free; FOX, FOX Deportes; TSN 2
  • WHEN: Saturday, 4:45 pm ET

What is Portland's identity?

Portland had a good start under Phil Neville, but when I watch them lately, I don’t see a team with a complete identity. I see a team that can be dangerous in attack, but there's never a 90-minute performance, a commitment to defending as well as attacking.

I was on an LAFC team that was incredibly dangerous around goal, but sometimes we defended naively. Portland remind me of that dynamic. They’ve got a lot of technical, gifted footballers, but they can focus too much on the final third sometimes. It's ironic because Phil Neville, as an English coach with his playing background in the Premier League, you'd expect them to have a lot more grit and fight at the back. Fourteen goals conceded with no shutouts, winless in four – it’s not been good enough.

I think we could also see a big game from Evander – there’s an ease about his game; he's so technically gifted. It's almost frustrating to watch because the difficulty level, he makes it look so easy. So it leaves me thinking, 'Why don't you do this more? Why don't you take over the match?' Jonathan Rodríguez is a great addition in the 9 spot, Santiago Moreno on the right, Antony has had a good start. But Evander is the key to that side, dictating the game. He's a brilliant player and of MVP quality.

Can LAFC build off El Tráfico?

LAFC should have gained a lot of confidence from beating a high-flying LA Galaxy team last weekend. It's easy to get up for a derby match against your fiercest rival, after all. But can you do that now against Portland?

We’ll see, because there's almost no point in putting in a good performance in El Tráfico – and they could have had more goals than the 2-1 final – and then not using that as a boost. You need to start turning a corner, to show more consistency in results.

A team like LAFC has so much talent that it’s easy to get frustrated about them. What I mean is if you ask me who will win on the weekend, often my instinct is to say LAFC. But I just don't know if they're at their full potential yet. That’s system, that’s roster change, that’s knowing big moves are coming in the summer.

For now, who steps up? We all know guys like Denis Bouanga, Eduard Atuesta and Hugo Lloris bring it… but it can’t just be them.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Inter Miami CF

Is there an Arrowhead lift?

Over 70,000 fans are expected this weekend at Arrowhead Stadium, a potential record-setting crowd as Sporting Kansas City briefly shift their home address away from Children’s Mercy Park.

A good chunk of those fans are coming to watch Lionel Messi and Inter Miami. Even they’d acknowledge that. But SKC must use the crowd as a positive. They’ve had home games slip away after being in their control, dropping too many points. And when that happens, you start to get nervous and worry about making mistakes.

Now, can Sporting KC use Arrowhead as almost a one-off game that feels like a cup final? I expect them to be enthusiastic, full of energy, play without pressure. I know it sounds weird because they're playing in front of a lot more people, but it’s different surroundings. Forget everything, forget how the season's gone, forget that you've been blowing leads. Just go out and enjoy that crowd, enjoy that atmosphere and playing against Inter Miami.

How do Inter Miami respond?

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Inter Miami came up short midweek in Concacaf Champions Cup, exiting in the quarterfinals to CF Monterrey. Getting Lionel Messi back in the starting lineup was big, but the defensive errors stacked up and you get a 5-2 aggregate score against one of Mexico’s biggest clubs. That really, really stings for all this team’s supposed to be.

Now, even with some tired legs, Inter Miami need to respond. They’re five games winless (three losses, two draws) across all competitions and need to go for it, to say enough’s enough. You can guarantee Messi, Luis Suárez, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets aren’t satisfied with this run of form – not in the slightest.

However much the Big Four plays, and whatever lineup Tata Martino goes with, I think it’ll lead to lots of goals. This is not a team that's built to grind out wins. Not a lot of teams can play like this and wouldn't choose to play like that. But I think when you have Messi, it's possible that in eight out of 10 games you can go blow for blow. More often than not he's going to come up with a magic moment, Suárez will come up with a magic moment. While it's not a foolproof plan, banking all their cards on outscoring the opposition, they're more than capable of it.

Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union

  • WATCH: Apple TV - Free; FOX, FOX Deportes; TSN 2
  • WHEN: Sunday, 2:30 pm ET

Does Thiago Almada deliver?

Thiago Almada is such a gifted footballer, one of those players you pay to watch – absolutely brilliant and can supply magic. But for me, and granted it's from a distance, I see him trying to solve problems by himself. If Atlanta can find a way to use him where it's not just about dribbling or getting the highlight, if he can really work together with Giorgos Giakoumakis, they can be unstoppable.

He has to understand in certain games it's not going to go your way, but how else can you affect the game? While your tricks and flicks are nice and your end product is often good, the game doesn't often go like that.

Almada’s a World Cup winner. You don't get in a squad like Argentina's if you're not a top, top player. He’s likely captaining Argentina at the Olympics this summer, too. He’s an unbelievable talent, but why are we not seeing the numbers? Why are we not seeing the performances week in and week out right now? That's either him or the coach not using him properly, maybe it’s related to all the transfer buzz. What we know is Atlanta and Almada need a solution if they’re to realize their potential in 2024.

A blessing in disguise for Philly?

A month ago, Philadelphia went down to Mexico and got spanked by Pachuca in the Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16. That 6-0 second-leg loss was ugly.

But the Union might have needed a beating like that. Sometimes it can whip a team into shape where it's embarrassing, you leave a stadium with your head down and your tail between your legs. Since then, they're four unbeaten and have three wins on the bounce.

This is a veteran, proven team where they're going to compete every game and have willing runners. Every player knows their job. In Andre Blake, they have one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Then the front three of Mikael Uhre, Dániel Gazdag and Julián Carranza, they're dangerous and get goals. Homegrowns like Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan are really coming of age.

There's a recipe for success and it's no coincidence they've been contending over the last few years. They're always in the top five, in and around the Supporters’ Shield race, tough to play against. We’re starting to see that version of Philly again.