Wiebe: Supporters' Shield showdown, Decision Day ghosts and more Week 8 Qs

Hit play on Thursday’s Extratime with the Sounders’ Cristian Roldan and an MLSsoccer.com farewell to Sam Stejskal, who is taking his talents to The Athletic. Let’s dig into MLS Week 8.

Will LAFC-Seattle live up to its billing?

No. 1 vs. No. 2, not just in the Western Conference but the Supporters’ Shield. It’s early days, yes, but both results and performances tell us these two teams are top of the heap a month and a half into 2019.

Roldan, a self-proclaimed MLS junkie, said he expects an open game between two teams who want to play. Here’s hoping that’s true. His keys to winning? Defend well on the counter … and?

“Avoid the ball getting to Carlos Vela,” Roldan said. “He’s on fire.”

Yep, sounds about right. You can watch the game on Sunday at 7 pm ET on FS1 (or MLS LIVE on DAZN if you're in Canada). At 10 pm ET, MLS Matchday Central will wrap up the action with all the must-see highlights, on-field analysis and headline quotes from Week 8.

You probably noticed that LAFC lost for the first time on Wednesday in Vancouver. Bob Bradley rotated the squad a bit, Vela spurned a chance or two of the type he’s been burying regularly these days and Peter-Lee Vassell found himself on the end of some cutting moves but couldn’t find the right finish. Long story short, it was a classic trap game — midweek, on the road, against a desperate, winless team — not cause for real concern.

There’s no looking past Seattle. They’ve won 20 of their last 25 regular-season matches, alternating between grinding it out and putting opponents away with a potent attack. They’re a mature team with no real question marks up and down the roster.

Of all the head-to-head matchups — Raul Ruidiaz vs. Walker Zimmerman (if healthy)/Eddie Segura, Adama Diomande or Christian Ramirez vs. Chad Marshall/Kim Kee-Hee, Brad Smith vs. Vela, Jordan Morris’ pace vs. whoever is unlucky enough to get in a footrace with him — the midfield is where it’s all going down.

The Sounders might have the league’s best unit in Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro and Gustav Svensson. I’d explain how the unit changed with the departure of Ozzie Alonso, but Roldan does it better.

“Gustav is a true No. 6, an old-fashioned No. 6,” he said. “Ozzie is a little bit of a hybrid, where he is very good on the ball, dribbles out of pressure, plays some direct passing. Gustav is a little bit more central, very simple. My role kind of changes. Ozzie would do a lot of the leg work to get the ball from the defense to the offense.

“Now I am finding myself playing a little bit deeper and, at times, playing as a No. 10. I’m fluctuating between a No. 6 and a No. 10 and as a No. 8. It’s worked well for us. Nico comes down a little deeper, as well. I think it’s a little more interactive between the three of us.”

Sounds like a nightmare to deal with. Whoever wins that battle on Sunday is likely to take the points.

Bigger test for the Galaxy or Dynamo on Friday night?

Kevin Garcia, left, and the Houstonn Dynamo kept the LA Galaxy out of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs with their victory at the StubHub Center on Decision Day 2018 | USA Today Sports Images

I feel somewhat giddy about Friday’s MLS tripleheader. Gonna pick up a bottle of red, throw a couple steaks and some asparagus on the grill and settle in on the couch to start the weekend.

The most important game, standings wise, is pretty clearly LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo (11 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). The Galaxy have five wins and one loss, the Dynamo four wins and a draw. They’re back to back, third and fourth, in a currently stacked Western Conference playoff field.

You could argue this a bigger test for Houston. Wilmer Cabrera’s team won their only road game so far, but they were 2-10-5 away from BBVA in 2018. Plus, that away dub was against currently winless Colorado and Zlatan is a different beast … as is this LA team, finally somewhat balanced and with Giancarlo Gonzalez available to continue steadying the backline.

You could argue that, but I won’t. Not when our most recent memory of this matchup is a Decision Day presented by AT&T choke job.

Any result would be a positive for the Dynamo. The Galaxy’s task this year is to prove they’re back to being the Galaxy. In other words, one of, if not the, best teams in MLS. Those teams win these games at home. So far Guillermo Barros Schelotto has home wins against Chicago, Minnesota, Portland and Philadelphia. No offense, but that’s not exactly murder’s row.

Even better, as far as testing purposes go, Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas are going to get at LA in the open field. Get ready to run, Jorgen Skjelvik!

Will Frank De Boer change it up again?

Probably seems like a safe bet, especially given Eric Remedi is out with a concussion and both Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez came off the bench in a 2-0 win against the Revs.

Here’s hoping De Boer sticks with the same backline for continuity’s sake, from left to right: Brek Shea, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst. For those whose first reaction is to gnash their teeth about Parkhurst in a wide role, here’s a feature from Sam Stejskal on Robinson’s growth and the captain’s own words from preseason, thanks to Felipe Cardenas at The Athletic.

“I definitely think I could [play right back],” Parkhurst said. “I’d have to increase my fitness a little bit. I’m back at center back fitness level. It’s a little different.”

Here’s what I’d like to see …

Should they need a spark against FC Dallas Saturday (4 pm ET | ESPN; MLS LIVE on DAZN), then Barco is ready to rock with a fresh tank of confidence. I’ll be watching Pity closely, too. Josef Martinez needs service. He needs goals. He needs to get his swagger back. No better place to get back on track than Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Which players will I have my eye on?

Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls) – The Red Bulls will be their best selves this season when BWP is his best self. Time to get him rolling. Four goals in four games is a good return from the past two seasons against the Revs. Hey, Foxborough got Barco back on track, after all!

Romain Metanire (Minnesota United) – Adrian Heath called the 29-year-old the “best player on the field” in the Loons’ 3-3 draw to open Allianz Field. It was hard not to notice Metanire. He was everywhere, breaking up attacks and driving forward himself. I’ll be watching him closely in Toronto, as well as Ethan Finlay (I expect) in front of him.

James Sands (New York City FC) – The 18-year-old has quietly started all six matches for Dome Torrent this season. The first five were at defensive midfield, while he was shifted back to central defense in Minnesota. I omitted him from my #PlayYourKids column this week and heard about it from the blue side of New York. Where will he play against D.C. United? How will he deal with LuchoRoo? Can he make the U-20 World Cup team?

What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?

I’ll take Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers On Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) just for the storylines. Caleb Porter leading the Crew against a winless Timbers side on the very field where he won MLS Cup a little more than three years ago as Portland head coach? Yes, please.

For a goalfest, you can’t go wrong with Toronto FC vs. Minnesota United  on Friday night (8 pm ET | TSN 1/4/5, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US). Did you watch the Loons’ first-ever game at Allianz Field? Gappy is an understatement, but that attack has some real pieces and Angelo Rodriguez is looking like he might be hitting a warm streak. They’ll score, but they might give up a handful without Ike Opara, likely out with that boxer’s cut.

Toronto, meanwhile, have won 3-2 against New England and 4-0 vs. NYCFC at BMO Field with a 2-2 draw against the Fire thrown in. Sounds like there are some fireworks on the schedule. Plus, the Red have Jozuelo. You know, Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo? OK, I’ll see myself out.

(Enjoy the weekend. Get MLS Fantasy set up on the app. You’ll thank me later.)

Series: 

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