What to watch for in Week 17: Total of 20 teams in action across a busy weekend

PORvSJ action

There are three Week 17 matches in the books after Saturday night with another seven coming on Sunday. Here ere are the results so far and a lookahead to the matches coming up later today:

NYCFC vs. New England Revolution

Sun., 4:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+, MLS LIVE on DAZN

Even without their three best talents (Maxi Moralez, Heber and now Alexandru Mitrita), New York City FC are on a roll, winning 7 of their last 10 games. They’ll go into their Week 17 match at home knowing that another win against the New England Revolution would put them in a strong position to bypass the play-in round. With road matches against the likes of Toronto (No. 1 in MLS), Columbus (No. 3) and Orlando (No. 4) looming, a bit more of a cushion in the standings would definitely be welcome.

It’s a very different scenario for the Revolution, who are in the postseason mix, but they are still seeking some semblance of consistency in light of the up-and-down results since the restart of the regular season in August (4W-3L-4D). The visit to Yankee Stadium is one of five road trips in their final seven to close out the season. Goals are the glaring issue for Bruce Arena’s men, who have scored just 9 times in their last 9 games. With forward Adam Buksa struggling to find the net and playmaker Carles Gil out, they need Lee Nguyen and Gustavo Bou to play lights out over the final month.

LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders

Sun., 7:00 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, MLS LIVE on DAZN

It’s always entertaining when these two Western Conference powers meet and this promises to be another dramatic affair with the Sounders aiming to protect their place atop the conference and LAFC battling for their playoff lives.

Seattle famously knocked out LAFC in last year’s playoffs, but this year the Sounders have inflicted pain on Bob Bradley & Co. during the regular season, winning the last two meetings 3-0 and 3-1. With Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro in MVP form, the defending MLS Cup champs have rattled off five wins in their last six games and don’t look to be slowing down.

Both teams will be missing players to injury or international duty, but the Sounders have already shown they have the depth to withstand the absences, bolstered by the recent acquisitions of Brad Smith and Roman Torres. Meanwhile, LAFC have yet to show they can match the Sounders in that department during a topsy-turvy season. And for this game they face the task of replacing three of their most talented stars in Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez and Carlos Vela. The evergreen Bradley Wright-Phillips will be LAFC’s focal point in attack and influential midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta will play a key role in keeping the group composed as they are sure to be put to the test by the Sounders.

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United

Sun., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; on DAZN in Canada (Local TV)

Sunday will represent the first game in a new era for D.C. United, after the club confirmed Thursday evening that Ben Olsen has departed as head coach after 10 years at the helm. While Olsen is set to remain at the club in a different capacity, it will be a strange sight for fans to longer see Olsen, who has been associated with the club as player and coach for more than 20 years, on the sidelines. Instead, assistant coach Chad Ashton will assume charge as interim manager. The move comes after the Black and Red’s season suffered its latest setback on Wednesday when conceding four goals for the second game running in a 4-1 loss to NYCFC. It’s now just one win in 14 games for D.C.

The Chicago Fire will be eager to take full advantage of the situation after missing a chance to jump above the playoff line in the East when their first multi-game win streak of 2020 was snapped by Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. Still, even without the influential midfielder Gaston Gimenez, now on international duty with Paraguay, there is reason to believe the Fire are building momentum as the regular season heads toward its final stretch. Had Robert Beric not missed a second-minute penalty, which snapped his own run of scoring in five games in a row, things may have been very different in KC.

FC Cincinnati vs. Toronto FC

Sun., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN2 in Canada (Local TV)

Is there any stopping Toronto FC right now? In their last four games, the 2019 MLS Cup runners-up have knocked off four of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference. The latest victory, 1-0 at New England Revolution on Wednesday, took them to the top of the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield standings.

Worryingly for the rest of the East, Greg Vanney’s side is likely to only get stronger in the coming weeks with defender Auro making his return from injury on Wednesday and Michael Bradley likely to do the same in the near future. 

It’s quite the challenge then for FC Cincinnati. While scoring troubles have been prevalent throughout the year, worryingly for Cincinnati the defensive solidity that had been a hallmark of their play since Jaap Stam took charge in the summer has also deserted them of late. It’s now nine goals conceded in their last three games, a trend that will need to be immediately reversed if they are to revive their hopes of a first-ever playoff berth. 

Sporting KC vs. Nashville SC

Sun., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; on DAZN in Canada (Local TV)

Could we see Nashville’s new DP striker Jhonder Cadiz? It’s been hinted that he could be ready to go for this game and it’s not a moment too soon as NSC have scored just two goals in their last five. Despite that, they have collected six points thanks to their sterling defense.

Gary Smith’s team could see the strong defensive performances continue with Sporting having to play without Alan Pulido, who is away on international duty. A Sporting win would be three in a row and could see them move all the way up to No. 2 in West.

Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact

Sun., 7:30 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+ in US; TVAS in Canada (Local TV) 

After knocking off Columbus, Montreal now travel to another of the East’s big hitters looking to further cement themselves in the playoff places. A 2-1 win at the Crew on Wednesday featured a season-best performance from Bojan, who scored one goal and played a crucial role in another. Excitingly for Thierry Henry’s side, they still have recent arrival Mason Toye to integrate into the attack.

Attacking riches are certainly not in short supply in Philadelphia. So much so that the continued presence, and brilliance, of Ilsinho has almost gone under the radar this season. But the Brazilian attacker reaffirmed his title as MLS’s true supersub on Wednesday. Entering a scoreless game in the 53rd minute, Ilsinho took just six minutes to break the deadlock and light the spark for a 3-0 win. After which, head coach Jim Curtin lauded him with high, but fully understandable praise, calling Ilsinho the best attacking player he’s ever worked with.

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Sun., 10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; on DAZN in Canada (Local TV)

If familiarity breeds contempt, we could see a lot of the latter on Sunday night. These two teams played each other twice in one week just last month, as they drew 1-1 in the first meeting before Portland steamrolled the Quakes 6-1 the second time. That was during a stretch in which San Jose were conceding goals seemingly every five minutes. Now they have won three in a row and sit above the playoff line, while the Timbers will get to take on San Jose at home – where they’ve only played once since Sept. 2.