What you need to know

Soccer Saturday

Concacaf Champions League Final concludes tomorrow

LAFC host Club León needing to overcome a 2-1 deficit. Kickoff is set for 9 pm. ET on FS1 and TUDN.

MLS All-Star Skills Challenge details announced

The MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G will return as the best in MLS take on Arsenal FC in the annual skills competition. Here’s what you need to know. And while you’re thinking about the All-Star Game, take a look at the week’s event schedule as well.

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A full slate of MLS as an appetizer before the CCL Final tomorrow. How’d we get so lucky? 

You ponder on that and I’ll go ahead and let you know what to keep an eye on this weekend.

Are Seattle actually up for it?

The Sounders have lost four straight to Portland. Portland now lead the MLS edition of the rivalry in wins, 19-17. The last game saw Seattle go up 1-0 then capitulate after Dairon Asprilla’s bicycle kick in the 71st minute set Portland rolling to a 4-1 win. This rivalry has been all Timbers since Aug. 2021 and some folks are officially fed up with it.

“It doesn't feel like a rivalry. After the game, some of our staff members, there's everybody talking, laughing. It's like another loss. It's not another loss. It's against the Timbers. We have to get back this – all of us have to get back to understanding that this is a rivalry,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. 

“At 1-0, we have to have that killer instinct against a team that's beat us three games in a row, that's had our number at their place,” Schmetzer said. “Stick the knife in, kill the game. I don't give a s---t if it was the second goal or extended possession.”

Schmetzer’s involvement in this rivalry goes all the way back to 1980. Back when both teams played in NASL and a teenaged Schmetzer joined the Sounders for the first time. It’s an especially big deal for him. And it’s easy to imagine a week of preparation that’s been downright terrifying for Seattle players. He probably didn’t make them run wind sprints every time they smiled or anything, but it’s easy to imagine he did. The looming threat of awakening the most advanced evolution of Angry Schmetzer and turning him into Ultra War Metal Angry Schmetzer had to have put Seattle players on edge this week. But are they going to show up?

That hasn’t been a given at all as of late. Seattle have lost four of their last six and have started to set off some alarm bells for folks who were concerned that last year’s post-CCL struggles might not have been a flash in the pan. It’s not “miss the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs a second straight year” bad or anything. They’re still technically at the top of the conference. But it’s clear Seattle aren’t living up to their potential right now. Does today send them spiraling even further? Do they finally get it together against a Timbers team off to one of their worst starts ever and get back on track? Or do the Timbers use Seattle as a springboard again and make this rivalry even more one-sided?

Checking in on post-manager vibes

Add another manager to the pile. Inter Miami are the latest team to try and get the new manager bounce. Phil Neville is out and a brand new era of… something begins. It’s frankly going to have to be a heckuva new manager bounce to make up for the roster in place. Even more so with Jean Mota and Gregore still out long-term. Like, truly special. I don’t know who can come in and fix this right now. Inter Miami’s chief soccer officer and sporting director, Chris Henderson, seems to think that someone can come in though and make the team… better at… finishing… or something?

“We've had some injuries that have affected results, but we have a competitive team, we have a team good enough to be winning these games. There's top players up top that need to be finishing goals,” Henderson said.

“ … The staff, the front office, the players, the coaches and players have to give a little bit more and be a little more clinical. If you look at our results, many 1-0 losses. I would say all but two, so we're in these games. But when we get chances we have to finish.”

That’s an answer that, to be very frank again, only makes sense if you have a manager lined up that you really, really want in and you needed an excuse to move on from the current guy. No MLS manager is overcoming your two best midfielders and two of your best players by a significant amount going down long term. They’re just not.

Anyway, I’ll digress a bit and say today is a day for checking in on all the “new manager bounces.” Inter Miami take on a good D.C. United team. New York host Orlando. And Chicago go to, of all places, FC Cincinnati. There are some big, big asks for the interims today. We’ll be a few games in from Chicago and New York’s coaching changes and should be at a point where we can start to assess what, if anything has actually changed. Inter Miami get to begin that journey today. And other teams may be looking to begin that journey soon if results continue the way they’ve been. Nick Cushing at NYCFC, Robin Fraser at Colorado and Bob Bradley at Toronto all have a little extra to play for today. Should be fun?

Bebelo’s return?

It seems like there’s a chance Bebelo Reynoso plays today for Minnesota. I won’t dwell on it too much because we’ve been talking about it a lot lately. I’ll just say again it’s extremely fascinating to see what changes in Minnesota. Does he actually make them better? Does he pull them too far away from a style that’s had them getting quality results? Are they able to stick with that style but integrate him in and suddenly become one of the best teams in the West? It all feels possible. His possible return plus the drama with Toronto right now makes Minnesota-Toronto one of the most intriguing games of the day.

Quick notes on the CCL Final to come

Just a few quick thoughts. There’s only so much you can say at this point about LAFC-Club León other than “If I were LAFC, I’d play better.”

First, remember away goals do not count in the Final. That’s a reminder for both you and me. LAFC’s 2-1 deficit is a little harder to overcome entirely because of that. A one-goal win sends things to extra time.

Second, LAFC have to be sharper on set pieces. Seems pretty obvious, but just a gentle reminder.

Third, being at home can genuinely make all the difference, right? Dénis Bouanga’s late goal in the first leg was so, so critical because of that. If LAFC can come out on the front foot and take control of the game, they’ll probably be able to flip this entire thing on its head in a way that didn’t really seem possible for about 94 minutes of soccer in León.

Fourth, if I were LAFC, I’d play better. It’s just worth repeating.

Other Things

Nashville SC midfielder Mukhtar named MLS Player of the Month: Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar is the MLS Player of the Month for May 2023. Mukhtar, the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Golden Boot presented by Audi winner, led the league with six goals and two assists in May. His red-hot form guided the Coyotes to a 4W-0L-1D record in that span, good for second place in the Eastern Conference and the overall Supporters' Shield standings.

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Good luck out there. If given the choice, choose the position that lets you eat donuts.