Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Wiebe: Allianz Field is "Minnesota nice" and your MLS Week 7 lookahead

No more #CCLFever for MLS in 2019. But hey, at least we get the Clasico Regio between Tigres and Monterrey to decide the regional champions. Should be a good one.

Meanwhile, MLS Week 7 is upon us!

Could the Allianz Field opening get any more Minnesota?

Snow in April? You betcha.

Saturday figures to set a world record for doors held open and polite exchanges in the bathroom line. I’m only partially kidding. “Minnesota nice” is a real thing, and every single person who attends Minnesota United’s first-ever match at Allianz Field (5 pm ET | ESPN2, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) is going to be in a spectacular mood. As for the weather, 41-degree forecasts practically call for shorts up north.

This day has been a long time coming in the Twin Cities. Most figured it would never come. Two years ago, when I rolled through to report this story on Minnesota soccer’s past, present and future, the scars from the touch-and-go years were still fresh and Dr. Bill McGuire’s vision was just starting to take shape. Now? Professional soccer’s place is assured and a cathedral to the game stands in St. Paul.

That feels good for anyone who’s put their blood, sweat and tears into the sport in that neck of the woods. I can’t imagine what it will feel like for Alan Merrick, Buzz Lagos, Chris Lidholm, Bruce McGuire and so many others who’ve taken their turn pushing the boulder up the hill for the past four decades. For their stories, read this piece by the Pioneer Press’ Andy Greder.

You can follow coverage on the ground from myself and Susannah Collins on MLS Matchday Central on Saturday and Sunday. It will be a soccer bucket-list day for everyone in attendance. My one concrete goal is to shake Buzz Lagos’ hand, should I have the pleasure of running into one of this country’s underappreciated legends.

What’s the path for Kei Kamara to end his career as MLS goal king?

Kei Kamara’s legacy is interesting. He’s bounced around MLS (eight stops, seven teams) and missed out on a season and a half of MLS production in his prime (stints at Norwich and Middlesbrough). Slowly, though, Kamara climbed the league goal charts.

The now 34-year-old may have waited until his fifth season to score in double digits — Kamara still only has one season of more than 14 goals — but his tally last weekend against Orlando took him to 115 all-time, fifth in league history and 30 behind leader Landon Donovan.

We joked on Extratime that perhaps Kamara could make a run at Donovan’s record, which ought to pass hands to Chris Wondolowski sometime this season. The more I think about it, the less it seems funny and the more it seems somewhat realistic (if still a bit farfetched). For fun, here’s how and why it could happen…

The how is simple: keep your place and keep scoring goals for multiple seasons.

Let’s say Kamara holds onto his starting spot in Colorado for the rest of this season and through 2020. For the sake of argument, let’s also say Kamara scores 12 goals in each season. That seems fair given he’s dropped 22, 12, 12 and 14 in the past four years. Add 21 goals to his current total and we’re at 136 at the end of 2020.

OK, so he could get close, you might be saying, but his body will break down given his age. I’m not so sure about that. Kamara has played at least 28 league matches every year for the last decade. That’s a lot of miles on his legs, but it also says something about Kamara’s body. He may be turning 35 this year, but he doesn’t look it and he doesn’t play like it. Could he play until he’s 37 or 38? I’m not going to bet against him.

And if Kamara does that and he only needs nine goals (likely more, depending on Wondo) in a league with three more teams thanks to expansion, someone is going to sign him to be, at the very least, an Alan Gordon bench scorer. All of which is to say, it could happen. What a career capper that would be, assuming Bradley Wright-Phillips doesn’t beat Kamara to it first. Either way, it’s been fun to watch him grow up before our eyes.

Which players will I have my eye on?

  • Maxi Urruti (Montreal Impact) – Looks like another week without the injured Ignacio Piatti for Montreal. Those 90 minutes in Kansas City were demoralizing, but Remi Garde has to be extremely pleased with his club’s start: 2-2-2, all on the road. The Impact are back at Stade Saputo for the first time in 2019 on Saturday (1 pm ET | TVAS, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ IN US), but will be without their talisman against the Crew’s so-far stringent backline. They need goals. Can Urruti deliver?   
  • Carles Gil (New England Revolution) – More people seem to be talking about the DP the Revs haven’t quite got over the line rather than the one who is among the league’s top open-play chance creators (11, 2nd to Carlos Vela). Gil leads MLS in successful passes ending in the final third (146) and successful passes in the attacking half (240). He’s got quality, and the Revs need to show out at home with Atlanta in town Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).
  • Florian Jungwirth (San Jose Earthquakes) – One start for Jungwirth, one win for the Quakes. Could be something. Could be nothing. Either way, he barely put a foot wrong against Portland, playing the equivalent of center field in Matias Almeyda’s man-marking system. That worked out pretty well against the Timbers, but the Dynamo are a whole ‘nother beast entirely. Here come Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas Saturday (3 pm ET | Univision, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).

What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?

This week, assuming you’re a neutral, the answer is obvious: Seattle Sounders-Toronto FC on Saturday (4 pm ET | TSN2, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US)

The MLS Cup rematch (x2) angle is juicy enough, but it gets even better considering this is the lone matchup of 2019, neither team has lost in the season’s first month and the Sounders didn’t have to expend any energy midweek thanks to the snow in Colorado.

Assuming/hoping Raul Ruidiaz returns from the heel contusion that kept him out against Real Salt Lake, you’ve got arguably the two best No. 9-No. 10 attacking tandems in the league going head to head in Ruidiaz-Nico Lodeiro and Jozy Altidore-Alejandro Pozuelo. How’s that for entertainment value?

There’s the US men’s national team angle, too. Altidore and Michael Bradley vs. Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan. Then there’s Victor Rodriguez (settled), Jonathan Osorio (swaggy), the fullbacks (attack-minded and experienced on both sides) and a cadre of center backs you can count among the league’s best.

So yeah, this could be an MLS Cup preview. It could be a battle between Shield contenders. It will be a matchup of two of the best teams in the league. The only bummer is that you’ll have to figure out a way to double box when the Minnesota home opener hits the airwaves at 5 pm ET.

Which MLS academy players (some already pros) will stand out at GA Cup?

Like Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna, Paxton Pomykal, Efra Alvarez, Gianluca Busio and many others before them, a new generation of player will begin to make a name for themselves over the next week in Frisco.

Yes, most of my attention will be on MLS, but you better believe I’ll catch snippets and all the coverage from the GA Cup via Ben Baer, David Gass and Bobby Warshaw. The games will be streamed on Twitch. Dabble a bit. I don’t think you’ll regret it.