Chris Wondolowski - San Jose Earthquakes - Lifted by teammates
Courtesy of San Jose Earthquakes

Midweek MLS: Primer for action-packed Wednesday night of soccer

Months gone in a flash, Wednesday marks the start of MLS Week 17. By Sunday night, the league will have officially crept to the halfway mark of the season.

Where has the time gone?

The tale of the first half of the season cannot be told without LAFC's dominance, nor the impact of new coaches like Matias Almeyda, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frank de Boer and, more recently, interim boss Conor Casey. Carlos Vela is the runaway Landon Donovan MLS MVP leader, but half of the terrain is still to be covered. Who will catch their second wind to move within catching distance? What happens in the Secondary Transfer Window?

Andrew Wiebe tackled some of these very questions and did so in depth. Check it out.

Perhaps the biggest storyline is the new playoff format, with seven teams qualifying from each conference. It's beginning to come into focus as spring turned to summer and Decision Day, blurry still, remains on the horizon. 

The Eastern Conference is wide open; spots two-through-seven out West are in flux (would you bet your favorite pair of jeans that the LA Galaxy will remain in second place?). With 18 matches between Wednesday and Sunday, positions ought to change fast and keep changing until the end of the season.

Here's your primer for MLS on Wednesday night, while the US men's national team also closes out their Gold Cup group stage against Panama (9 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, UDC).

Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko celebrates a goal | USA Today Sports

Competition in Philly

New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union | 7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada

With Andrew Wooten signed, the Union will soon be four-deep at striker with two starting spots up for grabs every game between Wooten, Sergio Santos, Fafa Picault and Kacper Przybylko

It's about to get crowded. With four games until Wooten is eligible to debut, the triad of incumbents have ample time to prove to head coach Jim Curtin why they should either partner Wooten or make his path to the starting XI a difficult one. 

Lately, Santos and Przybylko have gotten most of the starts up top, but they have just one goal between themselves across the last three games. 

Squad rotation?

Montreal Impact vs. Portland Timbers | 7:30 pm ET | TVAS in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

This seems like a prime time for some Timbers squad rotation, right? Midweek trip across the continent, amid four games in 11 days. After the 10-day break between games at the beginning of the month, Brian Fernandez, Sebastian Blanco, Jeremy Ebobisse and (first-time All-Star!) Diego Chara have started each of the last three between Open Cup and MLS. 

Head coach Gio Savarese had this to say after his side's 4-0 win over the Houston Dynamo last Saturday: 

“Now we continue to look into the plan that we had and see if anything changes to be prepared for these next two matches that we have. I always said it – everybody’s important at this club. We need everyone to be ready to participate and the more guys we have, the better we can go through these double weeks when you have a congested schedule.”

Squad rotation or not, look out in the Western Conference, because the Timbers are coming. They have begun their ascent off the bottom of table, following their lengthy road trip to begin the season that accommodated several Providence Park renovations. 

D.C. United's beloved partnership up top has cooled off some | USA Today Sports

Searching for LuchoRoo

D.C. United vs. Orlando City SC | 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada

Over the last month-and-a-half, D.C. United have scored more than one goal in 90 minutes just once. They don't even have a win to show for it, either, as it was a thrilling 3-3 draw with the Chicago Fire

This attack is too good to not produce more goals. Having Paul Arriola and Lucas Rodriguez as your third and fourth options is a luxury, yet opulent scoring hasn't materialized consistently. At the heart of it is Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta not producing the same numbers together as last year, particularly Acosta's assists. He has just two after 17 last year. (He does have goals in back-to-back games, at least, and is on pace to equal last year's goal tally of 10.)

Is the contract situation weighing on Acosta? His deal is up at the end of the season, meaning we're mere days away from him being allowed to sign a pre-contract agreement abroad for January. D.C. United could lose him for nothing. 

Toronto trying to hold on

Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United | 8 pm ET | TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

Toronto are in a landslide, trying to grab hold of anything to slow their drop from the top of the Eastern Conference to below the playoff line. But their eight-game winless streak is impossible to ignore, one in which they've conceded 15 goals and kept only one clean sheet. 

With Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley at the Gold Cup – ditto for Omar Gonzalez, who will first be eligible to play for his new club on July 13 – it's not going to get any easier. With games against Atlanta, D.C. and the LA Galaxy before the Gold Cup final, which the USMNT expect to play in, TFC will have to tread water without three vital players for a little while longer. 

Frank de Boer described it, ever so eloquently, that Toronto "are a wounded animal and wounded animals are really dangerous."

It's a big chance for Atlanta to snatch three away points and continue their trend in the direction opposite TFC, looking to gain ground on Philly atop the East. It's also a big chance for Pity Martinez to be the hero, as the team will be without Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Tito Villalba

Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko celebrates a goal | USA Today Sports

What happens if Ali Adnan does leave?

FC Dallas vs. Vancouver Whitecaps | 9 pm ET | TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US

On June 30, Ali Adnan's loan expires and he's set to return to Udinese. Vancouver is working around the clock, but nothing is certain as the deadline approaches. The 'Caps have two games before the 30th, so are we watching the end of the (brief) Ali Adnan era?

It's been a whirlwind. He hasn't been impervious to the odd error, but, man has he been good. At times, he's been Vancouver's most threatening and consistent attacking outlet. His runs forward start with hope, unknown and intrigue, continue with belligerent force wrapped in delicate touches, then end either with a big smile or yelling at himself in disgust. It's a rollercoaster experience worth the price of admission. What's next if he leaves?

Let's save that for a week from now. Enjoy, potentially, his final two games north of the border. 

Also enjoy the youth movement in Dallas, who started five Homegrowns in their comprehensive win over Toronto. The future is now, and the future is fun. 

Are the San Jose Earthquakes for real?

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Houston Dynamo | 10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada

Apologies for the hacky sports radio framing of the question. 

The Earthquakes, with largely the same roster that finished bottom of MLS last year and started 2019 with four straight losses, have rallied to just one point below the Western Conference playoff line. Wasn't this supposed to be a transitional year for the team to fully grasp Matias Almeyda's brand of soccer and await greater roster flexibility? Well, Almeyda doesn't seem like the type to be content with a subpar product. They have lost once in their last nine league games. Chris Wondolowski looks like he's 28 again, and Cristian Espinoza continues to get better and better. Soon, new signing Carlos Fierro will debut and their summer work is yet to be done, with Andres Rios linked heavily with the club

It's a huge week for the Quakes, hosting the Dynamo and Galaxy. They are third and second, respectively, in points per game in the conference. Not that San Jose needs much help given the run of form they're on, but the Dynamo are without Alberth Elis, Romell Quito and Maynor Figueroa. They might be without Mauro Manotas, too. The Galaxy are without Uriel Antuna and Jonathan dos Santos.

By Thursday morning, San Jose could be as high as sixth place in the conference. That was inconceivable two months ago. 

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