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MLS Preview: Atlanta United hosts last season’s MLS champion, and more

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Coming off an exciting All-Star week, week 23 of MLS action resumes with 11 matches, 10 of them taking place on Saturday. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on this weekend…

[READ: Premier League season previews]

Atlanta hosts defending champions

Since Toronto FC fell in the CONCACAF Champions League final at the end of April, the team has been spiraling out of control. Long-term injuries have kept Victor Vasquez, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga and Eriq Zavalata among others off the field, and the team’s fortunes have suffered. Now, Toronto FC heads into the lion’s den to face the current Supporters Shield leaders.

Josef Martinez is coming off four goals in a week, including one against Juventus in the MLS All-Star game. While Toronto FC has won two-straight games, Atlanta United has four wins in its last five and has one loss in it’s last 11 as the incredible firepower has overcome any defensive liabilities. With Drew Moor still out, can Martinez continue his incredible goal-scoring form?

Can the Loons keep winning?

It appears we need to split the history of Minnesota United in MLS as pre-Darwin Quintero and post the day Quintero signed for the club.

Since joining, Minnesota United has been arguably the hottest team in MLS. with three wins in their last four that including three goals in that same span from Quintero. In fact, when Quintero and Christian Ramirez play together, they average an impressive 1.8 goals per 90 minutes. The duo were shut down though last week against Vancouver, and that’s a tactic the Sounders are likely to try this Saturday when they visit Minnesota.

Seattle meanwhile is beginning to play much better and has won three-straight games, including a six-game unbeaten run. Nico Lodeiro has played a big role, with three goals and four assists in the Sounders’ last 11 games.

Battle of the stars

Bradley Wright-Phillips and the New York Red Bulls host Carlos Vela and LAFC in Sunday’s national TV matchup.

It’s a first matchup between Red Bulls coach Chris Armas and his former coach, Bob Bradley, where the two teamed up for the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup double in Chicago. Meanwhile, both teams have been successful in the attack this year. The Red Bulls and LAFC are two of just five teams averaging 1.9 expected goals per game or more, per Opta.

One of the big battles to keep an eye on is Adama Diomande against Aaron Long. The young centerback is returning from a confidence-boosting All-Star game appearance but Diomande has been one of the best strikers in MLS since joining.

VIDEO: LAFC have 2-0 HT lead (again) in El Trafico

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Los Angeles FC hold a 2-0 lead over the LA Galaxy in the second-ever El Trafico clash at Banc of California Stadium.

[ MORE: Peru star Raul Ruidiaz gets first MLS goal; Sounders win ]

2-0 was the halftime score back in March for the inaugural clash of LA sides. LAFC went 3-0 up just after the restart, but the Galaxy, spearheaded by a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic (including a 40-yard bomb for his first MLS goal), came back to win 4-3.

Much like the first meeting, which took place at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., the expansion side has been in complete control since the first whistle. Of course, that mattered very little in round 1.

Carlos Vela opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a powerful header following Adama Diomande‘s cross inside the six-yard box, and Lee Nguyen doubled the advantage 13 minutes later, when he uncorked a free kick that eluded the outstretched hands of David Bingham.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?

Nothing to separate Portland and 10-man LAFC

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There was entertainment value in Los Angeles FC’s potential playoff preview with the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the City of Angels, but all that arrived was a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: Atlanta 1-1 Seattle ]

Both Giovani Savarese’s Timbers and Bob Bradley‘s nickname-free expansion club remain in the West’s Top Four. PLAFC remains unbeaten at home during their maiden voyage through Major League Soccer.

Adama Diomande came close for the hosts, who finished with 10-men when Lee Nguyen went studs-up on Sebastian Blanco‘s thigh for a pretty easy red card (though it took some time for Silviu Petrescu to produce the red).

Diomande, LAFC continue to roar, nearing Western lead

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Major League Soccer completed what the World Cup started Saturday by putting a lot more goals on the board, and one player continues to roast everything that comes in his Stateside path.

[ MORE: Ranking the World Cup semifinalists ]

Adama Diomande scored for the seventh and eighth times in five starts to give him nine goals and two assists in 473 minutes to begin life on our shores.

The ex-Hull City striker, 28, is making a mockery of defenses, and is averaging a goal or an assist every 43 minutes following LAFC’s 4-1 beatdown of Orlando City on Sunday.

No one is cleaning up goal mouth messes any better than Diomande, who has been in or near the six for the majority of his markers, and he’s been doing it without World Cup participants Carlos Vela and Marcos Urena (the pair returned to LAFC as subs on Saturday night).

How do we make one of those videos of cartoon sunglasses sliding down onto Bob Bradley‘s face?

Elsewhere
Philadelphia Union 0-2 Atlanta United
Montreal Impact 2-1 Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake 2-0 FC Dallas
Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 Chicago Fire
LA Galaxy 4-0 Columbus Crew
Sporting KC 2-2 Toronto FC
New England Revolution 0-0 Seattle Sounders
Houston Dynamo 3-0 Minnesota United
Portland Timbers 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes
New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday