Kickoff - 9.8.23
What you need to know

A small slate tomorrow

We’ve got four MLS games for you on Saturday, plus one on Sunday, to get you through the international break. You’re welcome. Check out the full schedule here.

Messi powers Argentina in World Cup qualifying

Just like when his Leagues Cup 2023 heroics fueled Inter Miami to their first-ever trophy, Lionel Messi guided the defending World Cup champions to a dramatic 1-0 home win over Ecuador on Thursday evening to start 2026 qualifying with a free-kick golazo.

Minnesota sign Clark from RB Leipzig

Minnesota United FC have acquired midfielder Caden Clark from German Bundesliga side Red Bull Leipzig. Clark, who will join the Loons at the start of the Primary Transfer Window in 2024, has signed a two-year contract, with two club options. He's currently on loan at Danish side Vendsyssel FF through December 2023.

Sign up for The Daily Kickoff in your inbox! The Daily Kickoff is more than an article – it can be delivered to your email account as well.

Five games, plenty of heat

It’s extremely kind of the folks in charge of these things to give us a few games over the international break as a treat. They even gave us games that will have an impact on the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs race in both conferences. Each of the five matches this weekend matter. Here’s why.

D.C. United vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Both teams enter this one right on the edge of the playoff line. D.C. United are ninth in the Eastern Conference and just three points out of 12th place. San Jose are eighth in the Western Conference and just four points ahead of 11th-place Sporting KC. A sense of urgency should be setting in for both teams.

In D.C.’s case, that urgency already manifested in a formation change last week. That formation change led, in part, to a 4-0 rout over Chicago. In the Earthquakes’ case, it… manifested in a 3-2 loss to the Galaxy and a 1-1 draw to Minnesota to make it one point over their last three games?

Ok, so, the urgency maybe hasn’t set in for San Jose yet. It’s been a strange year for them. They have a solid roster. On paper, there are quality pieces at nearly every position. But they haven’t improved during the season. They started the year as one of the better teams in the West and then stayed right there as other teams in the conference got better. Now, they’re going to be fighting for their playoff lives. Maybe they’re one of those teams that works better under a deadline?

Inter Miami CF vs. Sporting Kansas City

Every game is critical for Inter Miami from here on out. But this is the one that might make or break them. Here’s a sampling of folks missing for the Herons: Benjamin Cremaschi, Diego Gómez, Sergii Kryvtsov, Josef Martínez, Robert Taylor and… Lionel Messi. It’s sorta like going from driving Max Verstappen’s Red Bull car to driving…all the other Formula 1 cars.

At least in theory. There’s always a chance there’s been an organization-wide confidence boost, and they still have Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba available. Maybe this version of Inter Miami can expect their B-team to perform at a higher level. They need them to. The Herons don’t have that much time to close an eight-point gap in the Eastern Conference. That said, if they can pull off a win here without multiple cornerstone pieces, they’ll start to feel like a lock for the playoffs.

The odds aren’t great, though. Sporting KC are heating up at the right time. They’ve taken down San Jose and St. Louis in their last two games and are sitting just two points out of ninth place in the Western Conference. Alan Pulido just picked up a brace. Now, the universe has blessed them with international break Inter Miami. Everything's coming up SKC. For now, anyway.

Minnesota United FC vs. New England Revolution

The Loons are climbing up the Western Conference standings and can jump into sixth place with a win. They’ve had solid underlying numbers all year and now those underlying numbers are turning into results thanks, in large part, to Emanuel Reynoso. He’s been outstanding since his full-time return to the lineup, picking up six goals and two assists over nine starts. You can’t help but wonder where this team would be if he had been available all season. There are worse places to be than four points out of third place, though. Even second place in the West feels plausible for this team if they stay hot. All they have to do is figure out how to win at home. They, somehow, in MLS, have just three Allianz Field wins all season.

It won’t be easy for the Loons to keep a six-game unbeaten run going. The Revs, despite living life without Djordje Petrovic et al, have stayed upright since Leagues Cup. It hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve earned four points over the last three games. That’s been enough to keep them second in the East. But Columbus, Philadelphia and Orlando are right behind them. The fifth-place Crew trail New England by just two points.

Portland Timbers vs. LAFC

Is anyone else a tiny bit worried about LAFC? It’s not like they’re going to miss the playoffs or anything, but they haven’t looked like the juggernaut they expect to be for a while now. And you can’t point to schedule congestion as an excuse now. They’re in genuine danger of falling out of a top-four playoff spot if they aren’t careful. Sixth-place Vancouver are just two points behind them.

Meanwhile, the Timbers aren’t done and dusted just yet. It’s hard to envision them closing a four-point gap between 12th and ninth place in the West, but it wouldn’t be the first time a big result against Seattle sent Portland off and running.

LA Galaxy vs. St. Louis CITY SC

Speaking of lifelines, the Galaxy have a game in hand on ninth-place FC Dallas and trail them by just five points. It’s plausible they get back in the mix here, even if it isn’t all that probable. If they can take down the conference’s best team, that task becomes a little easier. LA don’t exactly match up well with St. Louis though, and CITY SC are on the verge of clinching the top spot in the West. Reminder: They’re an expansion team.

And Other Things

Red Bulls sign homegrown standout Hall: The New York Red Bulls have signed highly-touted academy product Julian Hall to a first-team contract. The 15-year-old forward becomes the second-youngest homegrown signing in RBNY history, inking a three-and-a-half-year deal through the 2026 season that includes a club option for 2027.

DC United loan Fletcher to Swansea City U-21s: D.C. United have loaned homegrown forward Kristian Fletcher to Swansea City AFC's Under-21 team through December 2023. Fletcher joined the Black-and-Red in the summer of 2022 on a contract through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026. Before becoming the club's 19th-ever homegrown signing, he played for Loudoun United FC in the USL Championship. The 18-year-old attacker has also received US youth national team caps at the U-15 and U-19 levels.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. If you can score in Harrison, you can score anywhere.