Armchair Analyst: Your complete guide to the Week 24 MLS slate

Just a bit of housecleaning before we dive in: I'll be on vacation next week, so talk to Wiebe and Warshaw about Week 25. On a scale of Nigel De Jong to Mauro Diaz, how much will you miss me?

Let's take a look at what's coming up in Week 24:

Saturday Slate

Columbus Crew SC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Everything you need to know about Justin Meram's return is available in this set of maps:

There are a couple of other X-factors kicking around, one being the lack of a healthy No. 10 for Crew SC, and the other being Houston's weary legs after a long and successful Wednesday night of U.S. Open Cup action. The first might mean that Meram plays centrally as a 10, and the other should mean three points for Columbus regardless.

New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union
7:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

As with Houston, we should all expect the Union to come into this game with weary legs after serious midweek action. Philly did have a bit of a stroll – it was a 3-0 USOC win over a Fire team that was inferior for the full 90 – but those minutes add up, especially when heading out on the road for a game that is, frankly, ginormous.

Philly need to bottle what it was they had against Chicago and somehow take it with them to Foxborough. They utterly dominated central midfield on Wednesday night, knocking the ball around a ton and generating chance after chance both into and out of Zone 14.

Obviously that's harder to do against a Revs team whose whole gameplan is build upon disruption. Rule No. 1 under Brad Friedel thus far has been "get pressure to the ball," and his team has bought in.

The problem is that when they're not able to get pressure to the ball, they're not able to keep it out of their own net. I'm not sure how close Michael Mancienne is to full fitness, and I'm sure they signed him for a lot of reasons, but here's the big one: They have to defend better in the 18. If he can help with that, he'll play.

If he can't help with that, and the Revs don't get three points here, it's very, very difficult to figure out their path to the playoffs. I'm not going to call this "do or die time," but rather "don't and probably die."

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls
8:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Chicago lost on Wednesday, and then on Thursday outright waived two rotation players: right back Kevin Ellis (who's started 19 games), and center mid Tony Tchani (who was mostly disappointing after a solid 2017 season in Vancouver). They sit in 10th place in the East, have won once in the last two months, and it seems safe to say that things are broken for them.

To put it gently: There's not a single thing they seem to do particularly well. This team was so dynamic building through the middle, so lethal up top last year, but age, injury and attrition caught up to them and smothered them. Philly was able to do that on Wednesday:

And that's what the Red Bulls will attempt to do on Saturday. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Chris Armas experiment, at least a little bit, with a two-striker look since Chicago have so much trouble tracking runners in their defensive third. 

Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes
9 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Did anyone look at this game coming up and think it would feature two teams attempting to build a winning streak? The Rapids and Quakes have both been, let's say, "not good" for a long while, but both were "quite good" last weekend.

There's nothing much I can add to my colleague Bobby Warshaw's take on how Kellyn Acosta and the 4-4-2 diamond have transformed Colorado over the last couple of weeks. I will just say that 1) watch out for El Homie on the overlap – if you take that away, I think the Rapids won't be able to invent any sort of creative thrust no matter what formation they play, and 2) I still want to see Acosta get on the ball more. My biggest complaint about his game is that for a player so gifted, he spends far too much time as a passenger.

I'm still solidly in "continue to wait, continue to see" mode about the Quakes. The defense definitely does seem better organized since Guram Kashia arrived, and after a month of nothing the attack finally took advantage of some gifts in Frisco. That was all very nice, and something to build upon, but I'm not rushing out to buy stock just yet.

Real Salt Lake vs. Montreal Impact
10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

I'm kind of wracking my brain trying to come up with what, exactly, to say about this one that I haven't said before a million times. There are obvious things that need to go right for RSL: the central midfield has to stay together defensively, and Corey Baird has to drag the opposing center backs all over to create unexpected angles for the wingers, and the fullbacks have to push into the attack and add a bit of variation to things.

When all that happens, and they play at home, they win. It's straightforward at this point.

The same is mostly true for Montreal, who've sunk back to earth over the last five weeks (1-2-2 record) after a very nice June. They're still defending deep, absorbing pressure and hitting on the break. Push too high and let Saphir Taider hit one of his heat-seeking outlets, and they will get out and get after you.

At the same time, you've got to force them to really, really defend in their own 18 because they're not particularly good at it. They especially struggle tracking outside-in runs from opposing wingers, which should play to RSL's strengths.

LAFC vs. Sporting KC
10:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

One of the big questions all year for LAFC has been "can they do it without a true defensive midfielder?" Mark-Anthony Kaye was the closest they had – he was more of a pure central midfielder, though one with more defensive responsibilities than the other guys in Black-and-Gold – but now that he's done for the year it's the likes of Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen and Eduard Atuesta trying to keep things tight through the middle.

None of those guys is a ball-winner, and that matters. First, because it means they have to defend by having the ball. Second, because it means they are starting to look more and more vulnerable when they don't:

Those are Houston's key passes (yellow arrows) and assists (blue) from Wednesday night's 3-3 USOC semifinal thriller (which the Dynamo won in penalties). And that's a ton of chances to give up out of Zone 14.

SKC haven't been great lately, but they just brought Krisztian Nemeth back, Johnny Russell's expected to play this weekend, and Gianluca Busio is clearly an upgrade over Yohan Croizet at attacking midfield. They are built to punish the type of loose defensive play LAFC showed on Wednesday in Texas.

LA Galaxy vs. Minnesota United
10:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. the Minnesota United backline. Darwin Quintero against the LA Galaxy backline.

No real need to overthink this one. Just make sure you adjust your fantasy teams accordingly.

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
11 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Portland's approach under Gio Savarese so far: First do no harm.

Portland never, ever beat themselves by giving you extra possesssions, and they still usually have plenty going forward they can use to beat you. That now includes Jorge Villafaña, who should provide an attacking dimension from left back that Zarek Valentin has mostly lacked, and Lucas Melano, a pure speed option in the attack.

The 'Caps are weary and wounded after a heartbreaking draw-that-felt-like-a-loss against TFC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday. They also have, by the numbers, one of the very worst defenses in the league.

They are also a potentially tricky matchup for the Timbers, who are 21st in MLS in possession and generally have not wanted to have a ton of the ball. Vancouver are 22nd in MLS in possession and seems to want absolutely, positively nothing to do with having the ball or carrying play. There is every chance they will park the bus to the best of their abilities, hope that holds, and then try to get into space on the counter.

Sunday Tripleheader

Toronto FC  vs. NYCFC
4 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

TFC should be happy enough with Wednesday's result, but they didn't look great – sluggish all over the field, still a little unbalanced in midfield, and generally just looser defensively than you'd want to see from a team that desperately needs to keep picking up wins if they're going to make the playoffs.

For as much as the narrative has shifted over the past three weeks, the Chicago Fire are the only MLS team Toronto have beaten in the last two months. Last weekend's result at Atlanta was great, and the last 10 minutes were legitimately impressive, but they're not there yet. And now they have to fly back across the country on short rest to prove, against another of the league's very best teams, that I'm being needlessly skeptical.

We shall see.

And the way we shall see is via what happens in central midfield. Yes, David Villa's likely back for this one (I doubt he starts), but that's almost an afterthought compared to what's happening in the middle of the park for NYCFC. Ebenezer Ofori didn't even make the 18 last week, and Domé Torrent's tactical switch (detailed HERE) paid no dividends.

To be clear: Give the Reds that much time, space and running room, and NYCFC will lose 4-3.

D.C. United vs. Orlando City
8 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

D.C. should press as high and hard and viciously as possible. The Orlando City defense is a mess – they're on track to break Minnesota United's mark for worst single-season defense in league history – in just about every facet of the game. If I'm Ben Olsen, I'm taking the risk of letting them run in behind because the payoff (multiple chances against a scrambling, disjointed backline) is worth it.

Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas
10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Lest anyone missed, it, here's how Seattle have flipped the game the past couple of weeks:

I'd expect them to once again selectively use the 4-4-2 this weekend. And I expect Dallas to try to absorb and counter for the entire 90 minutes here.

One thing to keep an eye on: How aggressive will Jesse Gonzalez be in coming off his line? He got burned twice last week as he tries to evolve into a more modern goalkeeper, and games like that can damage anyone's confidence.

It may not be that big a deal since, as I said, I suspect the Dallas backline will be defending in his lap. But it's worth thinking about at least a little bit.

One More Thing to Ponder

Look at this young fella out there snatching souls.

Happy weekending, everybody.

Series: 
Topics: 

Stay connected: The all-new, completely redesigned, FREE official MLS app is your best mobile source for scores, news, analysis and highlights. Download:  App Store  |  Google Play