Ouch. For practical purposes, the Concacaf Champions League campaign is over for MLS. It’s all about the league now. That is, until the U.S. Open Cup and Canadian Championship split our attention again.
Week 6, here we go.
Can Alejandro Pozuelo paint another masterpiece against the Fire?
Seven dribbles completed. Five chances created, four from open play. One assist, easy as you like to give Jozy Altidore a tap-in. Two goals, a cheeky panenka to open his account and an audacious chip to raise the bar even higher.
It was one of the best debuts in MLS history, and Alejandro Pozuelo could have had even more, if not for an offside flag or two. As Jonathan Osorio said after Toronto FC’s 4-0 whooping of NYCFC: “The guy is magic.”
What makes the Spaniard so magical is that he seems to be able to create chances from anywhere on the field. The 27-year-old didn’t just pop up in the final third. He wasn’t solely a deep-lying playmaker. Pozuelo was just as adept at setting tempo and slipping through balls into the channels as he was maneuvering at speed in and around the box or whipping in a dead ball.
Here’s his pass map from last Friday’s match:
That’s reminiscent of the Sounders’ Nicolas Lodeiro or former TFC man Victor Vazquez, to pinpoint a comparison closer to home. Those guys were the No. 10s on two of the last three MLS Cup champions. If Toronto pick up another attacker who can threaten in behind and get things settled in the back, Pozuelo could turn out to be a similar sort of talisman.
Other teams know that, of course, and every week is going to widen the sample size. How will the Fire address the matchup on Saturday (3 pm ET | TSN, ESPN+ in the US)? They weren’t afraid to sit back and mix it up with the Red Bulls on the road last weekend, and they almost certainly won’t open up and try to keep the ball the way NYCFC did.
Can Pozuelo find the key to unlock Chicago? That’ll be worth watching every week.
How will the Luciano Acosta contract situation affect D.C. United’s season?
Top-of-the-table clash on big FOX? Yes, please. During my kid’s nap time, too? That’s big for the brand.
Plenty has been written about the on-field happenings. You can get Bob Bradley’s take on LAFC in 2019, as well as our own Tom Bogert on why this could be a potential MLS Cup matchup. Meanwhile, off the field, there’s a question lurking in the background for D.C. United and Acosta. Will he stay or will he go?
The Argentine playmaker’s contract is up at the end of this season. He can begin negotiating with other clubs on July 1. D.C., for obvious reasons, would like to re-sign him to a new deal. It’s a story that’s not going away anytime soon.
The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer has the lowdown, as it currently stands.
Three options for Lucho Acosta as his contract with @dcunited winds down. @MLSist breaks them down on @Extratime.— Extratime ⚽🗣🎙💯 (@Extratime) April 5, 2019
1⃣ Re-sign w/ DC for big bucks
2⃣ Sign pre-contract in the summer
3⃣ Push through summer sale
FULL INTERVIEW: https://t.co/wWZzt6Trsi pic.twitter.com/79q91f7JvP
So far that failed move to PSG hasn’t seemed to distract Acosta from the job at hand: building on his MVP-caliber season from a year ago and leading D.C. United to just their second trophy since 2008. He’s handled the whole thing the right way so far, but the stakes are about to ramp up again.
Maurer says the club and Lucho’s representatives are scheduled to meet in two weeks. What if those meetings go poorly? What if his head gets turned in the summer by a pack of aggressive suitors? What if D.C. are forced to sell in the middle of a prime championship window?
There are a lot of “what-ifs” there, and the Eastern Conference leaders have a lot riding on the answers.
Which team without a win is most likely to get off the schneid?
Six teams are still without a victory: NYCFC and Atlanta in the East, and Colorado, Vancouver, Portland and San Jose out West. You can go ahead and scratch the defending MLS Cup champs off the list of potential winners this weekend. They’ve got a bye.
So that leaves five, with a head-to-head matchup to boot.
- VAN-LA (Fri., 10 pm ET | TSN, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US)
- NYC-MTL (Sat., 1 pm ET | TVAS, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US)
- ORL-COL (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
- SJ-POR (Sat., 8 pm ET | ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
From still winless to three points in the bag, here’s how they stack up in my mind:
“But it’s a home game!” you might protest. Well, they’ve lost three at Avaya Stadium by a cumulative scoreline of 10-1 so far. Portland may be winless, but they’ve got serious attacking weapons. So far, the Quakes just haven’t put up much of a fight.
Road record since the start of 2018: 2-13-4. There were too many midfield gaps for Alberth Elis and Co. to play through last weekend in Houston. Imagine, Sacha Kljestan pulling the strings Nani, Chris Mueller and Dom Dwyer running into the channels. But also, imagine if Orlando mark Kei Kamara on set pieces the same way they did Steven Birnbaum.
Looks like they’ll get Zlatan, but they stood toe-to-toe with Seattle last week, so Marc Dos Santos’ side ought not be intimidated by star power. The ‘Caps look more organized by the game, now they just need to finish their chances. This is their fifth straight game against a Western Conference opponent to start the year, and they need the points.
With Ignacio Piatti not playing at Yankee Stadium, the odds get even better for Dome Torrent. Last week might have tough to watch, but it was their first loss. Still, something is missing, and not just David Villa.
See above. San Jose are a good matchup for just about everyone these days.
Which players will I have an eye on?
Whoever plays FWD (FC Cincinnati) – With Fanendo Adi suspended, Two of Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks and Emmanuel Ledesma figure to start up top for Alan Koch. Can they take advantage of Sporting KC’s tired legs (as well as a potentially second-choice lineup) on the Nippert Stadium turf?
Brad Smith (Seattle Sounders) – He might be the fastest player in the league. Lodeiro likes to drift into the left channel. Seattle are at home. Aaron Herrera has had an up-and-down start to the year at right back RSL. This could be a game for him to break out into the league-wide conversation about the best outside backs in MLS.
What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?
Give me Toronto-Chicago double-boxing on the laptop while I watch DC-LAFC on TV. Pozuelo alone makes Toronto must-watch MLS right now.
As a standalone? I’ll take Philadelphia Union vs. FC Dallas (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). I think the video below is better than any rationale I could possibly give. Luchi Gonzalez has his boys believing in what they’re doing.