All-Star festivities wrung my brain dry. So instead of five questions and 2,000 words previewing Week 22 — that will return next Friday — all I’ve got is one about Saturday’s clash between Atlanta United and the LA Galaxy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (5 pm ET | FOX, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).
How will Atlanta United react to the pressure swirling around the club?
I don’t care Jonathan dos Santos said the Galaxy “have to win.” I don’t care this isn’t a conference battle. I don’t care Atlanta United are second in the Eastern Conference and perfectly capable of defending MLS Cup. I don’t care Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s propensity for yellow cards deprived us of the big man’s force of personality and knack for the moment.
Yeah, no Zlatan is a bummer, as are the absences of Diego Polenta and Efrain Alvarez. I would have loved to see Ibrahimovic, Josef Martinez and the Mercedes-Benz crowd play off each other. But, for me at least, it doesn’t lessen the tension, on the field and in the stands. It might actually increase it.
The Atlanta crowd will expect three points against the Zlatan-less Galaxy and any hint of potential disappointment will play into the narrative that Frank de Boer isn’t getting the most out of his squad. Atlanta may be second in the Eastern Conference standings, but as Matt Doyle keeps repeating, they’re under .500 over their past 11 games and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez caused a bit of a media storm during the All-Star festivities this week.
Pity Martinez, meanwhile, had another frustrating outing in the All-Star Game and he’ll be feeling the pressure as well. How long will de Boer give him to impact the game before the hook? Will he even start? Maybe it’s time for Ezequiel Barco to get a run from minute one. Or maybe this will be Pity’s breakout match. Bobby Warshaw has valuable perspective on Martinez here.
Guess we’ll just have to watch to find out.
Couldn’t help myself. Here’s a sentence or two on the four other big matches this weekend. Both conferences are so tight that every result is going to reshuffle the table.
New England Revolution vs. LAFC (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
Bruce vs. Bob. Best team in MLS against the hottest team in MLS. We already know what we need to know about LAFC. The next three games (LAFC, @SEA, @RBNY) will tell us an awful lot about the Revs. Flip on ESPN+ after ATL-LA. That’s four hours well spent.
Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers (Sun., 4 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
The Loons want more respect. The Timbers look like they’re rounding into form. Both teams are on six-game unbeaten streaks, second only to New England’s 11-match run. Portland won their last two games: at Seattle and home vs. LA. Minnesota drew them: at Real Salt Lake and home vs. Vancouver. Onus is on the home team here. Want respect (and a playoff bye)? Gotta earn it.
D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union (Sun. 7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN 1/3)
The Union are top of the table in the East, but their form doesn’t match their position in the standings. Ditto for D.C. United, who’ve won twice in 12 games since May 12. I’m going to sound like a broken record all the way until Decision Day presented by AT&T, but you can’t overstate how important hosting for as long as possible in the playoffs is going to be. This is a six-pointer in the race for seeding.
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City (Sun. 10 pm ET | FS1, TSN 1/3)
An Extratime listener and Sporting supporter asked on Thursday if it was time to give up on 2019. Well, is it? Kansas City probably need more than two points per game to dig themselves out of this hole. That means most games are going to have a must-win vibe, even on the road.
On the flipside, this is the time of year the Sounders start reeling off wins. They’ve got three in their last four. Here we go again? Seattle consider themselves contenders, and rightfully so. Contenders win this game.