Raul Ruidiaz celebrates goal vs. ORL
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Wiebe: Five big questions for MLS Week 14's weekend action

Week 14 turns the calendar to June. We’re almost halfway to Decision Day. Can you believe it?

Some highlights from Thursday’s Extratime, featuring a chat with Real Salt Lake GM Craig Waibel (41:59), in case you’d like to skip around while you read.

How many points will the Timbers pick up at Providence Park?

A whole lot of praise has been heaped on Portland this week, and rightfully so. Nobody remembers those five straight losses from March 10 to April 13. That’s ancient history!

Four road wins from 12 games is a playoff-caliber return, especially considering their MLS Cup team from last season had four away wins during the course of the entire 2018 regular season. It certainly helps that the Timbers splashed the cash on Brian Fernandez, who wasted no time justifying the club-record transfer fee that brought him to MLS from Liga MX and doesn’t seem like the type to get complacent.

The more I think about it, the more this road trip gives me a hint of déjà vu from the truncated, in comparison, away stretch (five games) the club dealt with last year. Portland didn’t win a single one of those matches in 2018 – cue the panic meter! – then ripped off 10 wins in 15 unbeaten games after they doubled down on keeping the ball out of the back of their own net and giving their special players the space to do special things.

Only this time, it was six games without a win, Giovanni Savarese didn’t have to burn any home games to figure out the path forward and they have Fernandez. The Timbers still don’t have a shutout, but they’ve found an away style that gets results. Now they go home for the full 17-game slate, with five roadies mixed in, and within striking distance, just four points out of the playoff field and games in hand on everyone but the Dynamo. They’re in position to make a big jump up the table.

Think of it this way: This time last year, D.C. United had nine points to the Timbers’ 14. They also signed a transformative player midseason, and they went on an insane run to finish fourth in the East. That was good, but the Timbers from here on out could be great. Why? There are two big differences between the two situations.

An aerial view of the renovated Providence Park | Portland Timbers

First, Wayne Rooney didn’t hit the field for Ben Olsen until mid-July, meaning the Timbers will have Fernandez for two additional months. Second, Rooney or not, D.C. won just one away game all year. Give that team four road wins and they hit the 60-point mark. Portland have the same advantages United had and then some, not least a core that’s been together and won together for years.

So where will the Timbers end up at the end of 2019? Based on recent history, they’ll have to get somewhere between 45 and 50 points to make the playoffs. I think they’ll easily exceed that bare minimum of expectations. I’m predicting a 12-2-3 record, 39 points from 51 available, at home this year, a shade better than the average of their last three seasons at Providence Park. That’s good, no doubt, but not unrealistic.

That makes 53 points (comfortably in the playoffs) with five away games still to account for somehow. Let’s be conservative. Let’s say they get four points from those games. You’re up to 57, which ought to earn at the very least a first-round playoff game at home. And that’s the goal, right? Let’s see if they can do it, starting Saturday night against LAFC (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2 in the US, TSN in Canada), the match of the weekend in my opinion.

Before we move on, this quote from Merritt Paulson in Doug McIntyre’s piece about the club’s 2019 reboot stuck with me: “I’m a big believer in where this league is going long-term. We need to continue our league-wide investment not only in infrastructure but also in the product on the field. I think we can make a statement with the action we’re taking in Portland. It’s definitely a bet on the future of the league.”

Music to my ears. I’ve never been to the Rose City. I will remedy that this year.

Will Nacho Piatti get the last hurrah he deserves?

This is the last thing the Impact wanted.

The East is wide open. So wide open, in fact, that the Impact, mostly without Piatti, who’s played just five games, are in third place. Just imagine what this team could be and where it would be in the standings with their talisman in the sort of form we’ve seen the past three seasons…

  • 2018: 16 G, 13 A
  • 2017: 17 G, 6 A
  • 2016: 17 G, 6 A

Piatti’s most recent injury is a shame for everyone involved, unless you’re a supporter of another Eastern Conference team, that is. Fitness gets fickle at the age of 34, but Nacho deserved better than this for what he’s given MLS. Here’s hoping he comes back with a couple good months in his legs and helps vault Montreal into the East’s upper echelon, if they’re not there already.

In the meantime, Omar Browne… keep scoring, my guy! My #CCLFever just won’t go away.

How will Copa América affect MLS squads?

In case you forgot, this weekend is the last “normal” MLS weekend until the end of June. There are some scattered games next week and weekend, but other than that it’s U.S. Open Cup, Gold Cup, Copa América and Women’s World Cup dominating the soccer calendar for three-plus weeks.

The break will help mitigate the raft of MLS international call-ups, but it won’t completely alleviate the loss of contributors, starters and stars. We’re still waiting for most of the final Gold Cup rosters, though Canada already dropped their roster – complete with 12 MLS representatives. But we know who’ll be gone for CONMEBOL’s premier competition.

I’d like to see Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador make a run via the contributions of their MLS players. Would the GMs and head coaches of the teams affected? Probably not so much.

Which players will I have my eye on?

LB Ali Adnan (Vancouver Whitecaps) – Here’s hoping that little groin tweak won’t keep the Iraq international out against Toronto FC on Friday. Luckily, he did this ☝️ before coming off. You ought to watch him in MLS every chance you get. No telling how many more opportunities there’ll be, as Vancouver attempt to hold on to Adnan past the end of June. His loan from Udinese is down to four games and counting…

“We want to keep him, we really like him, he likes it here, he fits in very well with the group, but because it’s not our player — he doesn’t belong to us — we have to stay calm in the process,” Marc Dos Santos told The Province’s J.J. Adams, who does a bang-up job covering the club. “Maybe he’s going to stay, maybe he won’t. But we’re doing everything we can.”

Even Inbeom Hwang is publicly campaigning for the left back to stick around…

Jozuelo … Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC) – As you’ll see in a second, I am really high on this week’s Friday night match. Jozuelo – groan in unison, please – has just one start together since the Spaniard arrived from Belgium. It was Pozuelo’s magical debut against Minnesota, complete with Panenka, chip goal, assist to Jozy and generally spellbinding quality in the final third. Finally, Altidore is healthy and TFC’s Sebastian Giovinco replacement is back from suspension. Entertain us, please.

Bruce Arena (New England Revolution) – No, not a player, but I think you’ll forgive me. As recently as Wednesday, Arena was leading the team in training but wasn’t sure he’d be on the sideline against the Galaxy: “If I think I’m going to be a distraction to the team, I won’t do it.” So … is it a distraction? I guess we’ll find out. The Revs are only five points out of a playoff spot. In MLS, especially with another postseason berth to work with, anything can happen.

UPDATE: Bruce is gonna stalk the sidelines in LA, per Frank Dell'Apa.

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

On Extratime, I went with Vancouver vs. Toronto, on ESPN+ in the United States and this week’s MLS Friday Night on TSN up in Canada. The ‘Caps have lost just two of their last 10 games and are slowly building toward Dos Santos’ vision. As you already know, Jozuelo is back for Toronto. They’re capable of scoring goals (and allowing them) in bunches.

Plus, you can devote your full attention to the match since there aren’t any others to distract you, a blessing in this day and age of 24/7 soccer inundation. But you might be busy on Friday night — thankfully, we aren’t all stuck at home with a toddler — and so you’ll be needing a good Saturday or Sunday option as well.

Here’s the elevator pitch for a pair I’ll have my eye on during my weekend off from Matchday Central. The crew wraps up all of Week 14 after Sunday’s Galaxy-Revs clash, at 12:30 am ET (Monday morning) on MLSsoccer.com, the MLS app, Facebook and Twitter. That’s pretty late. I’ll be watching first thing Monday morning.

DALvSEA, Sat. @ 8 pm ET: Four losses and a draw for FC Dallas since Paxton Pomykal went down injured and then skedaddled to the U-20 World Cup. Can they stop the bleeding against the Sounders, who are about to lose Raul Ruidiaz and Nico Lodeiro to Copa América? Seattle have just one road win so far. Dallas need to keep it that way.

MINvPHI, Sun. @ 4 pm ET: Minnesota are starting to figure out how to cue up some post-game Oasis at Allianz Field. Adrian Heath said his team just needed a break, and they’re getting them. All three wins at their new St. Paul home have been by a 1-0 scoreline, the most recent via a massive deflection. The Union arrive in the Twin Cities with a single point from three home games. They’ve been bone-dry in front of net. This is a big match for both.

Also, take Jon’s advice about Columbus-NYCFC (Sat., 7:30 pm ET). That one has quality narratives, and the soccer ought to be good, too.

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