Wiebe: Six MLS narratives to root for during the weekend's rivalry action

This is basically me every MLS weekend.

There is a lot to be serious about when it comes to soccer, but ultimately the professional game is sports entertainment. Give me quality – we’ve all got our own definitions, that’s another column entirely – and something to talk about, and I’m good.

So yes, I am most definitely rooting for narratives when I post up on my couch to watch Saturday and Sunday night’s Heineken Rivalry Week action. We’ve already got Red Bulls Disappointment™ and Josef Martinez’s dink-and-stare for No. 28 in Orlando, Zlatan being Zlatan (complete with Video Review and bad body language) in El Trafico.

We’ve been spoiled, and there’s still the Canadian Classique and Rocky Mountain Cup to look forward to Saturday and the Atlantic Cup and Timbers-Sounders queued up for Sunday on FS1 (Full TV and streaming info). That’s to say nothing of a six-pointer in Philly and Sporting KC going for four straight wins, neither of which gets the HRW treatment, but is worth your time.

When you root for narratives, every single game has something to offer. Here are six MLS narratives I’m rooting for this weekend, strictly for entertainment value:

Hey, maybe the Union are good!

Bobby Warshaw is driving the bandwagon, but I think I’ve earned the right to ride shotgun.

So what if David Accam and CJ Sapong have combined to score four goals following a season in which they combined for 30? So what if Earnie Stewart had one foot out the door during the summer window? So what if they don’t necessarily look like a playoff team on paper?

The Union never felt sorry for themselves, and they’re making a real go of it with a couple teenage central defenders (and Jack Elliott), a midfield that’s quietly been among the best in MLS, Ilsinho putting defenders on posters every couple games and MLS first-timer Cory Burke leading the team in goals.

Thing was, until last weekend’s statement win against NYCFC, the Union hadn’t beaten an elite team. Now they have, we’ll see if it’s a red herring character revealing. The Revs aren’t elite, but this is a six-pointer in every sense of the cliché, and a win could push Jim Curtin’s men as many as seven points clear of the playoff line.

That would be a blow to the playoff race narrative, but the Union underdog narrative (and the possibility of a Accam/Sapong resurgence story) makes up for it.

Tell me again why Toronto FC can’t make the playoffs…

If one playoff spot is up for grabs – for narrative’s sake, let’s hope it’s two come Decision Day – why not have four clubs fight for it?

For that to seem plausible, Toronto FC must win the Canadian Classique (all Canadian, half French and hopefully preventing Impact fans from tweeting me 401 facts!). They must do it without Jozy Altidore, another juicy narrative entirely!

I am still holding out hope that Toronto can show us more than a hint of the dominance that will forever define 2017 in the MLS record books. Altidore’s suspension extension for this match didn’t help.

  Games Wins Losses Draws Win %  
With both Altidore and Giovinco 72 38 21 13 52.8
Without Altidore 43 12 19 12 27.9
Without Giovinco 19 8 6 5 42.1
Without both 10 3 6 1 30.0

That’s from MLSsoccer.com’s own Tom Bogert, and he correctly points out that Sebastian Giovinco’s got it tougher given Altidore’s missed more games. But still.

If the Reds are six points out with nine games remaining, why can’t they make a run? I’d rather this particular narrative stay alive as long as possible.

Diego Rubio, the next closest thing to Josef?

There was a time this season when Diego Rubio was so far buried on the Sporting KC bench that the prevailing narrative was that he was in Peter Vermes’ doghouse and, once KC landed their much-ballyhooed striker import, would be on the way out.

There was also a time, as recently as last week, that Rubio had four goals on four total shots. Turns out, when he plays, he scores or helps others score. If you’re talking G/A per 90, an even two (6 G, 4 A) is an MLS-best mark, for guys who’ve played at least 448 minutes. Martinez is on another planet from the rest of the league and he’s averaging 1.31 G/A per 90.

With Minnesota United, the Western Conference’s worst statistical defense and winners of one game in 12 on the road, coming to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night (8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) and Sporting KC on a three-game winning streak in which Rubio’s scored three times, I’m going to go ahead and assume he’ll get another or two this weekend to keep us talking, even if Matt Doyle sorta poured cold water on that one in his weekend preview. Narrative over numbers.

That’s fun because it keeps the “Do SKC need a striker? And is it Krizstian Nemeth?” narrative rolling and tightens the race at the top of the Western Conference.

It’s not gaslighting, the Rapids are worth watching

Speaking of striker narratives…

The nice thing is I can root for the Homegrown, domestic No. 9 narrative AND the Rapids being somewhat fun to watch. They aren’t exclusive! And the Rapids are somewhat fun to watch, which is not what they’ve been for long stretches for a long time. Teams that play pretty soccer don’t generally have to write newspaper editorials promising to improve.

Know how there are those players, usually Homegrown, that come up with a little or a lot of hype then see injuries, coaching decisions or remove them from the radar? Dillon Serna has been one of those guys. Keep playing him, Anthony Hudson. You’ve got nothing to lose.

#SeñorWayne and D.C. United are playoff bound!

It’s hard to resist this one right now. Five-game unbeaten streak, loaded home schedule at brand-spanking new Audi Field and Wayne Rooney making Lucho Acosta look like Diego Valeri circa 2017.

Black-and-Red, baby! You can’t hold them back, c’mon!

I’m a big fan of what the Red Bulls do as an organization, but since they can recover from an Atlantic Cup draw and there’s not really a strong Supporters’ Shield narrative given Atlanta’s lead and form, give me a viral Rooney moment, Bill Hamid hallway histrionics, three points for D.C. and a razor-thin race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Added narrative benefit: the blue and red sides of New York in a tighter battle to avoid the Knockout Round and, per usual, Red Bulls Disappointment™.

Sounders win 8th straight, push Timbers below the line

No, I don’t have anything against you, Timbers fans.

It’s just that winning eight straight and jumping your archrival in the standings while pushing them out of the playoff field really does it for me from a narrative perspective.

What a Heineken Rivalry Week finale this promises to be. Enjoy your weekend everybody. I’m on vacation through Labor Day. Be well.

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