Looks like you’ve got time to kill. Thanks for killing it with me. I’m dropping two questions this week. You’ll get three instead of five and like it.
Below are some other MLS reads to keep you busy, as well as the most recent episode of Extratime, which was fun and good. Hit play on the pod and start scrolling.
- Warshaw: LA Galaxy risk making wrong kind of history if they miss playoffs
- Armchair Analyst: One big question for each MLS team, revisited
What are the six biggest matches remaining in the 2019 MLS regular season?
Ben Baer asked me to name the five biggest matches remaining in the regular season this week, but it doesn’t make sense to limit it to five. Five is an arbitrary number, Ben.
There are six match windows left – this weekend, midweek, weekend, midweek, weekend, Decision Day presented by AT&T – and so we’ll pick six games, one from each slate of games. Only two teams will play in all of them: Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers. Every single team plays on the final two Sundays, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.
WARNING: None of my games will include teams I consider to be outside the playoff field, from Sporting Kansas City in the West and Chicago in the East down the table. Those games are still massively consequential, of course, but they don’t matter as much as so-called six-pointers. Feel free to disagree.
CAVEAT: This could all change and make me look dumb. Couple upsets here, unexpected dropped points there and the entire playoff outlook gets blown to smithereens. Out West, four points separate the Galaxy in eighth and the Sounders in second. The gap between fourth and ninth in the East is seven points. This league is wild. Buckle up for the final month before the new playoff format takes the drama to new heights.
Orlando City vs. New England Revolution, Saturday @ 7:30 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
If Orlando lose, they’re basically done. The gap would be seven points with just three games left to make up the difference. If they win, the most they’ll trail in the race for the seventh spot is two points, maybe just one! They’d need help to jump the line, but crazier things have happened.
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Wednesday, Sept. 18 @ 10:30 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
The Western Conference is an absolute traffic jam, and any match between the seven teams jockeying for a home game and, more importantly, to avoid being team left on the outside looking in is going to be seriously fraught. If Dallas win in Chicago this weekend and Seattle fail to win at home against the Red Bulls – very possible! – this is going to be one spicy meatball.
Honorable Mention: Portland Timbers vs. New York Red Bulls
LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday, Sept. 21 @ 10:30 pm ET (TVAS, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US)
The Galaxy are trying to blow it! Again! If they do, it would arguably be the highest-profile playoff failure in the history of Major League Soccer. Click here to read Bobby’s column on this very topic. Borderline teams gotta beat other borderline teams at home this time of year. Tell ‘em Zlatan.
“We need to step it up. If we really want it, we need to step it up. ... We have to show that we want it. Every game and every day in training.” - Z on the #LAGalaxy’s final five game stretch.— Adam Serrano (@AdamSerrano) September 12, 2019
Montreal, meanwhile, are going to be fighting for their playoff lives until the very last whistle. First step, beat FC Cincinnati at Stade Saputo this weekend. If they can’t do that, well then they deserve to be in dire straights. If they can do that, this game becomes a massive opportunity to put pressure on the Revs (and maybe even the Red Bulls and D.C. United, who each have a game in hand).
Honorable Mention: Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United
New York City FC vs. Atlanta United, Wednesday, Sept. 25 @ 7 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
We know LAFC is going to have home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs and, I presume, MLS Cup should they get there. We have no idea in the East.
This game could be the tipping point to decide it (as could my honorable mention). It’s basically Atlanta United’s game in hand. After this juicy midweek slate – four of six games meet my six-point criteria – everybody’s got two games left. What a message it would send for either side to pick up three points. And forget messages, it’d create instant separation in the standings.
Honorable Mention: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union
New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United, Sunday, Sept. 29 @ 5 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
In the final two weeks, everything stays in conference, as it should be. My guess is the Red Bulls and D.C. United will be within a couple points of each other. That could mean they’re safely in the playoff field, battling for seeding and homefield advantage in the opening round. Or it could mean they’re holding on for dear life around the playoff line. No matter what it means, it’s a nice dose of “this #&%$ really matters” to give the Atlantic Cup some much-needed vitriol.
Honorable Mention: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders (Minnesota-LAFC rematch, too)
Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC, Sunday, Oct. 6 @ 4 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
Only five games meet my current criteria for consideration on Decision Day. The other four are listed as honorable mentions. That’s sort of a bummer, but it means everybody is going to be scoreboard watching and there will be plenty of spoiler potential.
Depending on how the points fall leading up to Decision Day, this matchup could be for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and homefield advantage through MLS Cup, should LAFC fall before the big game. With the new playoff format going to single-game elimination, that could be the difference between making history and having a parade and just having a good (but ultimately incomplete) season.
Honorable Mention: ATL-NE, MTL-NY, POR-SJ, SEA-MIN
Which players will I have my eye on this weekend?
FWD Zdenek Ondrasek (FC Dallas) – No pressure, Mr. Cobra … but FC Dallas’ season is kinda riding on your goalscoring form. You’re going to need to get one or two over on some guy named Bastian Schweinsteiger to get your team the points they need to avoid dropping out of the playoff field. Can you get them? Recent form (four goals, two assists in three games) suggests you can! Thing is, all but one of those goals came at home…
CB Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union) – It’s been a weird second professional season for McKenzie, who looked poised to lock down a starting position then dropped off the face of the Earth thanks to injuries, the U-20 World Cup and Jim Curtin’s preference for other options.
Now, when the season’s hit its most intense point, Curtin has given his young central defender two straight starts, his first two of the year with the first team. The last was against a tired Atlanta United in a big win for Philly. Assuming he isn’t dropped for Aurelien Collin or Auston Trusty, how will McKenzie deal with LAFC and potentially Carlos Vela? It’s a big test and one that could be instructive as the Union go forward toward the playoffs.
FWD Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – Come on, you know you can’t tear your eyes away. Zlatan can win games single-handedly. He might have to do that this weekend (and the rest of the way) for the Galaxy to avoid disaster. You better believe I’ll be watching on FS1 Sunday night (10 pm ET — Full TV & streaming info). Remember, Matchday Central will wrap up the entire weekend after the final whistle, so join us on MLSsoccer.com, Twitter and Facebook for the best/only true MLS wrap-up show in the entire world.
What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?
I know, I know. I sold you on Orlando City-Revs as the “biggest” game of the weekend. And I meant it. That’s gonna be a dogfight between two teams hovering around the playoff line. There are huge consequences for both.
It’s just that must-watch implies that the soccer is going to be great, and there isn’t going to be a better soccer game in MLS this weekend (please let this not be a jinx) than the Union hosting LAFC on Saturday (7:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info).
Remember how hard Talen Energy Stadium was rocking for that big dub against Atlanta a couple weeks back? Here comes the best team in MLS to ratchet the atmosphere up a couple more notches. Philly don’t have anything to prove, per se, but they do need to keep pace with NYCFC at the top of the East in order to give that Decision Day clash some big-time meaning.