What you need to know

Vancouver transfer Córdova to Turkey's Süper Lig

Vancouver Whitecaps FC have transferred striker Sergio Córdova to Turkish Süper Lig side Alanyaspor. The move opens a Designated Player slot for Vancouver to use in the 2024 MLS season. Club captain Ryan Gauld and defensive midfielder Andrés Cubas are their other DPs.

Portland Timbers captain Diego Chara out after surgery

The Portland Timbers may be without captain Diego Chara for most of their remaining Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs push after it was announced Thursday he's sidelined for 1-3 weeks following a successful appendectomy surgery. The news comes with Portland sitting 11th in the Western Conference table, one point back of the ninth-and-final postseason place with six games to go.

US Soccer building headquarters & first-ever National Training Center in Atlanta

U.S. Soccer is building headquarters in Atlanta, the federation announced Friday as part of an ambitious relocation highlighted by the construction of a first-ever designated National Training Center. Atlanta United owner and The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank will contribute $50 million to the facility, which will serve as the hub of U.S. Soccer's operations, including all 27 affiliated national teams. The Federation is currently reviewing potential sites for the National Training Center, with an official location set to be announced in January 2024.

It’s Saturday

You should know what that means by now. Here’s the full schedule.

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Your Saturday Storylines

There’s almost too much to get to today. It might be the best regular-season weekend of the year. Every game feels meaningful and a few games feel critical. We won’t be able to cover everything, but there are a few storylines in particular to keep an eye on.

A (strange) reunion in Atlanta

Welp. Late-breaking news last night has indicated Lionel Messi won’t play today in Atlanta. Messi’s Instagram has indicated he spent last night buying tomatoes laid on top of bread from a Miami pizza place. The original A-plot turned B-plot is back to being the A-plot. The good news is that the A-plot is still very much worth your attention.

Josef Martínez and Tata Martino will face Atlanta United today for the first time since leaving the team. It’s Martino’s first MLS game in Atlanta since winning MLS Cup there in 2018. It’s Josef’s first game since departing the club this offseason. It’s going to be weird.

At least for a moment. Once everyone gets over the shock of seeing Martínez and Martino in the wrong colors it will settle into an environment worthy of a match that would be one of the biggest games of the day without the extra injection of pure, uncut narrative. Inter Miami have a little more room for error at this point, but margins are still thin. A draw today would leave them anywhere from five to eight points below the playoff line with seven games to play. That’s manageable, but not ideal.

The good news for the Herons is they handled their first Messi-less test just fine. They were relatively comfortable winners over Sporting KC last weekend. Atlanta are going to provide a different level of challenge, though. At least in theory.

The Five Stripes have looked like one of the most capable teams in the league since the summer transfer window. They’ve come out of Leagues Cup with wins over Seattle and Nashville, 70 minutes of excellent soccer against Cincinnati and a draw against FC Dallas. Today should be the first time we see them with all of their newest pieces plugged into the starting lineup. That means standout midfielder Tristan Muyumba, winger Xande Silva and DP winger Saba Lobjanidze taking on this revitalized Miami side. Even without Messi, we’re talking about two of the league’s best teams.

Who wants to feel at home?

I don’t think we can overstate how important it is for an Eastern Conference team to earn as many home playoff games as possible. The East is stacked to the point where we might be looking at the single-best playoff bracket in MLS history. If Inter Miami win the Wild Card matchup we’re looking at eight teams who would likely be favored against whoever comes out of the West. Maybe LAFC get the nod over a few of them, but that’s very much in the air as of late. 

Today’s Columbus-Orlando matchup and Cincy-Philly matchup could be huge when all is said and done. Not to mention New England trying to recover from one of the oddest weeks for a team in recent memory as they try to avoid face-planting against Colorado. The second-place Revs are just three points ahead of fifth-place Columbus. Today could be the day we look back on a few weeks from now as a deciding factor in who wins it all this season. 

Plus, ya know, they’ll also be highly entertaining soccer games. Columbus and Orlando should have plenty of goals in it while Cincinnati and the Union should feel like an old-school Big 10 game. It’s like we’ve been blessed with a mini-playoff before the real thing.

A few Western Conference teams have to get points today

Who that will be is entirely unclear. But someone does have to get a point or three today. Not everyone can lose. I double-checked.

I don’t know how, but it feels like the entire conference is slumping. The only two teams that feel like they really have it together right now are St. Louis and Houston, and they play each other today. All of that has resulted in a conference where second-place Seattle and 13th-place LA are separated by 11 points with LA owning two games in hand. The only thing that’s clear in the West is who’s going to finish at the top and bottom of the conference. You could sort teams two through 13 by assigning them a spot via random number generator and have as good a guess as anyone else as to how this wraps up.

Because of that, every Western Conference game feels significant in some way this weekend. Some carry a little more weight than others though. El Tráfico could be a killing blow for the Galaxy’s chances or a continuation of LAFC’s nosedive out of a home playoff spot. Minnesota-SKC could be the end of the road for Alan Pulido and Co. or another reminder the Loons can’t get it done at home. And San Jose-RSL could go a long way to helping us sort out who’s going to finish in the top four… or just make everything even more cluttered.

It’s a mess. A delightful mess. But still a mess. Maybe today will provide some clarity.

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Good luck out there. This section is just an excuse for dog posts.