Previewing the three biggest games (all on Sunday) this weekend, the first with video-assistant referee (VAR), in MLS…
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New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday, 6 p.m. ET
After ending up on opposite ends of separate 4-0 drubbings last weekend, the Red Bulls enter Sunday’s showdown at Yankee Stadium winners of four straight (and five out of six), far and away their best run of form this season after a torrid time in April and May. NYCFC, meanwhile, find themselves in the midst of indifferent form (just one win from their last four, conceding 10 goals during that stretch) the likes of which they’ve rarely seen this year.
The last time these sides met, a month and a half ago at Red Bull Arena, it was the visitors who ran rampant en route to a 2-0 victory. Since that defeat, the lone loss in five games, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch altered his tactical approach, opting to go with three in the back, a loaded midfield with five bodies surrounding playmaker Sacha Kljestan, and Bradley Wright-Phillips the spearhead beneficiary (three goals in four games) of last year’s assist king (20) having his defensive duties drastically reduced. Wright-Phillips has an unbelievable scoring record in this Hudson River derby, bagging eight goals in seven games against the blue side of New York.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United — Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
The post-Dom Dwyer era got off to a roaring start in KC last week, as Sporting knocked off the red-hot Chicago Fire thanks to an unexpected offensive explosion. With Dwyer no longer in the fold, Peter Vermes’ side is now able to play the expansive, possession-dominant soccer he’s coveted since the arrival of Ilie Sanchez last winter. The foundation remains the league’s best defense, though, (17 goals conceded in 22 games) now that Ike Opara is back from injury (concussion), as are Matt Besler and Graham Zusi following the Gold Cup. The month of August has proven Sporting’s undoing each of the last three years, as injuries and fatigue finally caught up to a hard-worked bunch. Contrary to popular demand, the rationing of minutes remains very heavily weighted toward the squad’s top 14 players.
As for Atlanta, they’ll attack with the same tempo and openness that ultimately proved Chicago’s undoing last week — it’s the only way they know to play, and it’s the reason their tied for most goals this season (41, level with Supporters’ Shield-leading Toronto FC). Unbeaten in five (four wins), Tata Martino’s can push the tempo beyond any opponent’s comfort level, even a control-crazed side like Sporting. In terms of entertaining soccer, this is the game of the weekend.
Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy — Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Finally, let’s talk about two teams in need of a victory in the worst possible ways. Portland, winners of one of their last eight (four draws), host LA, winners of zero of their last six (five losses). Caleb Porter’s Timbers, by virtue of little more than their strong start to the season, currently occupy the fourth spot in a very weak Western Conference. By the time kickoff rolls around on Sunday, it’ll be nearly two months to the day since their last clean sheet.
With the clearly stated objective to get the Galaxy into the playoffs, Sigi Schmid has his work cut out after taking over for Curt Onalfo last week, as his new side currently sits seven points adrift of the sixth and final playoff place. The streak of eight straight seasons competing in the playoffs is in serious danger. Jonathan Dos Santos is highly unlikely to be available as he awaits his U.S. visa, which means another week of Jermaine Jones patrolling central midfield for the Galaxy. LA have won just nine points in the 11 games Jones has played this season (14 from 10 games without him).
Full MLS schedule
D.C. United vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. FC Dallas — 7 p.m. ET
Montreal Impact vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Seattle Sounders — 8 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution — 8:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo — 10 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 10 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Columbus Crew SC — 10:30 p.m. ET