Armchair Analyst: Your guide to Heineken Rivalry Week – Part II

Part I, which ran on Wednesday ahead of the first three games of Heineken Rivalry Week, is HERE.

My colleague Bobby Warshaw and I had a discussion in the wake of the 1-1 draw in the New York Derby HERE.

And then we talked about Columbus's 1-1 draw at Chicago, and, um, another 1-1 draw in the Texas Derby HERE.

I prefer open, high-scoring soccer, but I have to admit it'd be kind of dope if every game this week ended in a 1-1 draw. It'd be the soccer equivalent of flipping a nickel and having it land on its edge.

Let's dive in:

Saturday Slate

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

Philadelphia have won three of four and four of six, and are into the U.S. Open Cup final. And it feels like, over the last two weeks with a 3-2 win at these same Revs, followed by a dominant, 2-0 win over a very good NYCFC team last weekend, a corner has been turned.

LOOK AT THIS!!!!!!

The Revs have lost five of six, have just one win in their last 10, and four in their last four months. They have dropped to seventh in the playoff race, and have conceded multiple goals in each of their last six games and eight of their last nine. They are on the road, where they haven't won since March.

Given all of the above, it seems like the Union should be favored (and I'm sure the oddsmakers have it that way). But given all of the above, it would be VERY MLS for Philly to drop points here.

Last week was a huge test for the Union – a chance to see if they could dismantle one of the league's best teams. They passed it with flying colors.

This is a big test as well, because it's a chance to see if you can go out and dominate a team you should dominate. That's how Atlanta, for example, have earned their title as favorites. That's what great teams have done, historically speaking, in this league and every other.

It's a different mindset and a different test, but just as important.

Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact
8 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

This is it for Toronto: Their season is over if they don't win this one. A loss would mean they're 12 points out with nine to go, and even if they suddenly start playing as well as they did last year, that's just too much of an ask.

The question is how they'll line up. Greg Vanney's had to tinker all season long, thanks to injuries and suspensions, and he'll have to do so again here thanks to Jozy Altidore's extra game, as well as fitness concerns for Chris Mavinga and Victor Vazquez

Montreal will play a low-block 4-3-3 and try to counter. If Mavinga's out, they might throw a wrinkle in it and use Ignacio Piatti as the outlet, pinging long diagonals from left to right. If Mavinga's in, they'll just do their usual thing of trying to release Piatti into space, or into 1v1s, by pinging right-to-left diagonals.

No mysteries here beyond "Which version of the Reds will show up?"

Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United
8:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Sporting KC came off a five-game winless skid in July and turned into a woodchipper come August: They've won all three of their games by shutout, and the last two – 2-0 at LAFC, 3-0 over Portland – came against two of the other very good teams in the Western Conference.

One of the sparks has been forward Diego Rubio, who has six goals in 448 MLS minutes this year. That's an unsustainably great strike rate, and the underlying numbers show it:

This is probably true, and we've seen Rubio go on scoring jags before (it happened near the end of last season). But it's also worth pointing out that he's not out there scoring 24-yard bangers through a thicket of defenders. He's had one of those, but three of his goals have been 1v1 against the 'keeper after some nice combo play, and another came when he was relatively undefended at the penalty spot. His goal against Minnesota two months back came from a tight angle after a nice turn.

He's been a creature of the 18-yard-box, and it's suited him well. More to the point: As SKC have inched closer to full health, and the ability to use the ball to combine and break teams down, those chances in and around the 18 are becoming more frequent.

Don't load up on Rubio stock, but don't divest yourself entirely.

As for MNUFC, they're winless in four and have conceded 10 goals in that time. It's a safe bet they won't play out of the 4-3-3 again after last week's effort, but I'm not sure it'll matter.

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake
9 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Something to consider: Real Salt Lake's Brooks Lennon is fourth among MLS defenders in chances created.

Something else to consider: Colorado's Edgar Castillo is second.

Lennon is RSL's right back and Castillo is Colorado's left back, which means that these guys will be in each other's neighborhood all night. If they're not – if one of them gets pinned back – then that's big trouble for that particular team, as both sides get a ton of their attacking width from the fullback slot.

I'll admit I thought, a couple weeks back, that RSL were going to fade away. But they haven't, and are up to fourth place in the West on total points. If they take three more here, ahead of two very winnable home games, they'd have put themselves into a very, very good spot while putting some pressure on the folks behind them.

As for the Rapids, it's about continuing to build toward 2019, and continuing to keep the diamond. I like some of what I've seen of Dillon Serna so far as the No. 10, and hope that Niki Jackson gets a start as the No. 9.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

The Quakes have become much tidier in central midfield since Luis Felipe won the No. 6 spot a month back. He has moments where he doesn't close down attackers fast enough, and other moments where he eschews the chance to hit the killer pass, but he doesn't give the ball away and he doesn't leave the zone in front of the backline. Between him and new center back Guram Kashia – who's been a steady presence in the middle of the defense – San Jose are playing something close to actually decent soccer.

Being clean on the ball in midfield is the key against a Vancouver side that still just want to win a 50/50, counter and kill. Vancouver are unbeaten in four and have done it on the break or on set pieces, and that's where this game will be won or lost.

Sunday Pair

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United
7 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

D.C. United are pressing more than they had been, though that might be a function of having had so many home games recently. No manager embraces home/road tactical dimorphism quite like Ben Olsen does.

Which obviously makes this game a bit of a wild card. It comes during a good run of both form and results for United, though that's almost uniformly come at Audi Field. At the same time, it come after a lackluster Red Bulls midweek performance – though that's at least partially mitigated by the fact that New York were playing on short rest after a cross-country flight at the end of a three-game road trip.

All these things matter.

What also matters is that Tyler Adams has been on one:

He's shown a lot of very, very good stuff on the ball over the past month, including the ability to handle a press. If D.C. really do throw numbers up, keep an eye on if they keep an eye on Adams.

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders
9:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info

Since the 2000 season – which marked the end of the old shootout era used through the first four years of MLS – only one team has had a winning streak longer than six games (Sporting KC, who had a 9-game streak from 2011 to 2012, including the first seven of the 2012 season).  

Seattle are on a six-game streak, and are predictably playing really well. There are a lot of variables here, including: getting Ozzie Alonso and Kelvin Leerdam back and healthy; getting Raul Ruidiaz into the lineup; the blossoming of Harry Shipp as a reliable secondary creative option out of midfield; a rock-solid defense and goalkeeper.

The thing that's mattered most, though, is the symbiosis between Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan on the "3" line of the 4-2-3-1. Lodeiro is Lodeiro, one of the very best No. 10s in the league. Roldan has been a steady sidekick, able to puncture holes in packed-in backlines with clever and quick movement off the ball. Lots of good things had to happen for the Sounders to go from bottom of the league to nine-game unbeaten streak, but those two guys are at the heart of it.

For Portland, they're on a three-game losing streak now, and in large part it's because they've tried to do something different. It's probably a safe bet that they'll go back to the tried-and-true approach that got them a 15-game unbeaten run, including a six-game winning streak of their own earlier this season.

That means defending in a very deep block of seven and letting a few attackers do the heavy lifting when opportunity presents:

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of this. And against a Seattle team that you know will want to have 55 or 60% of the ball, it's probably the right approach.

One More Thing To Ponder

Happy weekending, everyone.

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