Given you’ve got something like 2,500 words to read from Matt Doyle on the US men’s national team’s international window, I’m not going to monopolize your time. I am going to ask for a couple minutes of it, though.
MLS Week 27 has some serious playoff implications, despite the truncated slate, and we’ve got five games and thus five questions to answer to get you ready for Saturday’s action. I’m going to do my best to limit each to 150 words or less. Consider this the anti-Armchair Analyst weekend preview. Brevity is better, right?
How will NYCFC cope without Heber? And will he be ready for the playoffs?
WATCH: NYCFC vs. New England; 3:30 pm ET | Univision, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada
This was no good, very bad news for the blue side of New York.
Torrent said Heber will be out 3-4 weeks with a quad injury #NYCFC— Dylan Butler (@Dylan_Butler) September 5, 2019
New York City FC are 12-2-3 in games that Heber starts this year. Without the Brazilian in the XI, they are 2-3-5. He may not have been a “marquee” No. 9 signing, but he’s absolutely played like it. It’s not just the 14 goals that need replacing. It’s the way he opens up space for his teammates to be dangerous and, more importantly, productive as well.
If you take the glass half-full approach to Dome Torrent’s timeline, Heber will be back for the Philadelphia Union on Decision Day presented by AT&T and the playoffs. That’s good! If you take the glass half-empty approach, he’ll miss at least six games that will determine NYCFC’s playoff seeding and the number of postseason games they’ll host at Yankee Stadium.
Are Toronto FC going to surge or stumble?
WATCH: FC Cincinnati vs. Toronto FC; 7:30 pm ET | ESPN+ in the US, TSN4 in Canada
Thankfully for the Reds, currently above the line in 7th, none of their direct competition for a playoff place – basically every Eastern Conference team outside the top three – seem to be able to take advantage of the power vacuum from 4th to 11th. Even better, Toronto have games in hand on everybody around them in the table.
Playoff teams make those games matter, and playoff teams, this year at least, beat FC Cincinnati, home or away.
Gregg Berhalter did his fellow Greg (Vanney) a solid leaving Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley off his USMNT roster. Now, Altidore and Bradley have to make that count. Ten to 12 points from four winnable games – at CIN, vs. COL, at CHI, vs. CLB – and Toronto are in, maybe even have a home game considering the form of D.C. United and the Red Bulls.
This team can’t miss the playoffs two years in a row, can they?
Can Orlando City give the Wall a moment they deserve?
WATCH: Orlando City vs. LAFC; 7:30 pm ET | ESPN+ in the US, DAZN in Canada
I feel safe saying Bob Bradley won’t risk Carlos Vela in Orlando. Why on earth would he? LAFC have the Supporters’ Shield all but wrapped up, and there’s zero reasons to put the Landon Donovan MVP favorite on a cross-country flight with a balky hamstring that the Black-and-Gold need gone by playoff time.
That makes this game a massive opportunity for James O’Connor’s group to pick up points they otherwise might have written off. They’re within touching distance of 7th, but just barely. With five games left, the clock is ticking on 2019. Every game is must-win or play golf in October.
What lineup will Brian Schmetzer cobble together against the Rapids?
WATCH: Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders; 9 pm ET | ESPN+ in the US, DAZN in Canada
Deep breath … Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Jordy Delem (Martinique), Joevin Jones (Trinidad & Tobago), Nouhou (Cameroon U-23), Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru), Brad Smith (Australia), Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Jordan Morris (USA), Cristian Roldan (USA) and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (USA U-17) … all gone on international duty.
That’s 10 players, at least six of them shoo-in starters. Hell, the Sounders are even missing an assistant coach. Gonzalo Pineda is with the US U-23s.
So what will Brian Schmetzer do against a Rapids team that’s played respectable soccer since Anthony Hudson was shown the door and now has a new head coach in Robin Fraser to give them a little end-of-year bump despite the playoffs being out of reach?
We’ll see. Second place in the Western Conference is up for grabs, and Seattle could put four points between themselves and idle Minnesota this weekend with a road win. Better to be on the other side of the bracket from LAFC.
Can Sporting Kansas City continue their climb or will Portland begin theirs?
WATCH: Portland Timbers vs. Sporting KC; 10:30 pm ET | ESPN+ in the US, DAZN in Canada
A couple weeks back, Charlie Davies pronounced Kansas City’s season over on Extratime. It made sense after four losses in five games. But then Sporting reeled off three straight home win (SJ, MIN, HOU) to jump within five points of the final playoff spot in the West.
You might be thinking, “Five points is still a lot. SKC are probably still cooked,” and you’d be right. On Saturday night, they’ve got a chance to prove they’re capable of making up the gap by taking three points away from the team one spot ahead of them in the table.
Portland, meanwhile, did a nice job rebounding from home losses to Seattle and Atlanta against Real Salt Lake, but it wasn’t exactly a resounding win. I still think they could end up as high as second place in the West. They won’t if they lose games at home against teams below them in the table, though.