— Toronto FC is yet to reach a deal to keep Michael Bradley in town, but remains in contract talks with its captain. The same is true for Nicolas Benezet, while Drew Moor is out-of-contract.
— And that’s also what’s happening in Portland with Diego Valeri, the longtime star in talks with the team despite not having his option picked up.
— Chicago Fire announced a new branding initiative, changing its logo from a classic crest to something else and dropping the SC for an FC. Like Columbus before them, everyone will still call them the fire and ignore the SC, FC, or whatever see. It’s what happens when you take a formal nickname.
The club also cut ties with playmakers Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai.
— Minnesota United remains in talks to bring back Reading loanee and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner Vito Mannone, and that means longtime backstop Bobby Shuttleworth will hit the open market.
— Orlando declined its option on Dillon Powers, and also let the clock run out on the contract of one-time megastar Sacha Kljestan.
An early slate of Saturday matches which started with a one-goal snoozer ramped up to include an absolute onslaught of goals as Major League Soccer continued its match week following Friday’s Pozuelo show in Ontario.
Krisztian Nemeth scored a hat trick as Sporting KC completely dominated visiting Montreal at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday.
Johnny Russell scored two goals and added an assist, Felipe Gutierrez posted a goal and an assist, and Gerso Fernandes had a pair of assists in a win which puts the team at 2-1-1 on the young season.
Sixteen-year-old Gianluca Busio used the club’s sixth marker to record his second career MLS goal and first of the season. Saphir Taider struck in the 89th minute for Montreal’s only goal.
It was just… too… good from Peter Vermes’ men. The energy was enough even when the passes were a bit off, as Gerso showed this frightening burst of speed before putting the ball in the path of a sliding Nemeth for the game’s second goal.
In any other league, you’d take a peek at how 2018 went and expect much of the same; Throw some league legends leaving the East — David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco — and you’d consider whether some records might be broken by the returning Top Two.
But this is Major League Soccer, where no power is permanent. Here’s a quick way to keep you up to speed, in reverse order of 2018 finish.
FC Cincinnati — Manager Alan Koch brings a deep midfield and defense into MLS, hoping that Emmanuel Ledesma and Fanendo Adi can combine to get enough goals to surprise the league.
Star player: Ledesma. Yes, that Ledesma. He’s a wizard, but moving from USL to MLS will take some acclimation.
Realistic expectation: Miss the playoffs but use a rowdy stadium and signs of progress to scare plenty of people along the way.
Orlando City SC — This team is going to look massively different, as former Burnley player James O’Connor gets a full season to do what worked for him as a USL manager at Louisville City.
Star player: Nani. It’s difficult to imagine him not having an incredible amount of success in attack.
Realistic expectation: Find consistency and chemistry, challenge for a playoff spot.
Chicago Fire — Possibly adding Nicolas Gaitan to a crew of creators which includes Djordje Mihailovic should give Veljko Paunovic a chance to succeed, but can the Fire defend their own area?
Star player: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Whenever he plays, Chicago is simply the best version of itself.
Realistic expectation: Compete for a playoff spot, but likely fall just short.
Toronto FC — An absolute mess made more remarkable by the fact that arguably the same unit destroyed MLS in 2017. A healthy Jozy Altidore may be more important than many thought, but he’s not quite healthy now, is he?
Star player: Jonathan Osorio. Yes, really. Until we know that Jonathan Pozuelo is coming through the door or that Altidore’s fit enough to dominate, count on the hometown midfielder to continue as a leader after a 10-goal season.
Realistic expectation: Altidore stays healthy, Terrence Boyd feasts off his rebounds, and Toronto gets back into the Top Six.
New England Revolution — The are a lot of ifs for Brad Friedel‘s men, who have to hope that Edgar Castillo’s resurgent 2018 was not a one-off, and that Carles Gil is ready to bring consistent performances from Spain.
Star player: Gil. It’s going to have to be.
Realistic expectation: The opposite of last season; A slow start will eventually turn into some young pieces finding positive roles.
Montreal Impact — Remi Garde turned the Quebecois side into a good group of competitors down the stretch, and will hope either Orji Okwonkwo or Maxi Urruti finds the form to feast on the wizardry of Saphir Taider and Ignacio Piatti.
Star player: Piatti. He’s among the most overlooked superstars in MLS history.
Realistic expectation: A playoff spot and hopes for lightning in a MLS Cup Playoffs bottle.
Philadelphia Union — This is by far Philly’s best chance to make a run in its history, from Andre Blake at the back to new playmaker Marco Fabian.
Star player: Fabian. Will he be patient enough with the Union to allow them to gel? Because he’s got the gifts to dominate the East.
Realistic expectation: A home first round playoff game.
Columbus Crew SC — Caleb Porter’s back in Ohio, hoping to burnish his reputation by producing more consistent success than the brutal highs and lows of his tenure in Portland. Remember: Gregg Berhalter consistently out-performed the club’s budget.
Star player: Gyasi Zardes. Forget your USMNT impression of him; In MLS, he just scores goals.
Realistic expectation: A fight for the final playoff spot.
DC United — Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta get a full season together, and DC fans will rightly be dreaming of the postseason.
Star player: Acosta. Rooney’s a star and an engine, but Acosta’s the one who nearly had Paris Saint-Germain on his shirt this winter.
Realistic expectation: Multiple home playoff games.
New York City FC — Dome Torrent has not yet replicated Patrick Vieira’s success and lost David Villa to Vissel Kobe; Will an offseason of preparation and Alexandru Mitrita and Keaton Parks be the right additions to keep up playoff spirit?
Star player: Maxi Moralez. At his best, he’s MVP caliber good.
Realistic expectation: A home playoff game.
Atlanta United — There are questions here; Miguel Almiron is already showing the Premier League how fortunate Atlanta was to have a player of his elite quality, and Frank De Boer is implementing a season quite different than Tata Martino. But Atlanta won it all in Year Two, and has a gifted squad.
Star player: Josef Martinez. It’s reasonable to think the answer will be Pity Martinez by the end of the season, but you’re not the star player when the MLS single season goal record holder is returning for another season and committed to Georgia.
Realistic expectation: Compete for the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
New York Red Bulls — The only question here is not how good Tyler Adams was, rather how difficult it will be to find someone to do what he did so well at a functional level. RBNY should again be one of the best teams in the league.
Star player: Kaku. A playmaker of the highest order.
Realistic expectation: Compete for every bit of hardware they want while blooding the next wave of Red Bulls through their prolific set-up.
Carlos Vela and expansion LAFC are in a race for the West’s top seed, while crosstown rival LA Galaxy are riding Zlatan Ibrahimovic toward the final playoff spot.
In the East, Wayne Rooney and DC United are now in a playoff spot (at the expense of Saphir Taider and Montreal). And Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez are hoping to maintain their pole position straight into a Supporters’ Shield.
With *most* teams on 32 matches played — eight teams have midweek matches before a busy weekend — here’s the state of play in the East and West. Let’s start with the latter, where there’s plenty more to dissect but no Supporters’ Shield implications.
The race for the top of the West could be thrilling
Sporting KC is four points behind leaders FC Dallas and three back of LAFC but has a match-in-hand on both.
That match is against a Vancouver team desperate to keep its playoff dreams alive (more on that later, because a Caps win over KC would further enliven the race for sixth!).
Sporting heads to Dallas before hosting LAFC in the finale. Making the race even more exciting is the fact that all three teams are rarities in MLS in that they are .500 or better away from home.
Dallas is in the best spot of the bunch, with a match against lowly Colorado in addition to the visit from KC. LAFC also faces Vancouver, in LA, in what will still be a desperate affair for the Caps.
A home first round spot is Cascadian; Sixth is anyone’s guess
Portland and Seattle are fourth and fifth in the table, and likely jockeying for a home match against the other in what would be a fantastic first round match.
And the fixtures set us up for a lot of fun. Here are the remaining matches for teams still alive for a playoff spot.
Most notably: The final day could have Real Salt Lake simply watching the scoreboard due to a bye, while a Cascadian derby could decide plenty.
Wednesday Seattle Sounders at Orlando City SC
New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake
Sporting KC at Vancouver Whitecaps
LA Galaxy at Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers
Seattle Sounders at Houston Dynamo
Vancouver Whitecaps at LAFC
Houston Dynamo at LA Galaxy
Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps
San Jose Earthquakes at Seattle Sounders
Atlanta United has been consistent home and away, and Tata Martino’s men simply need to match the Red Bulls results to gain a first Supporters’ Shield. Atlanta is home to Chicago and away to Toronto in what should be close to certain.
The Red Bulls know they’ll be first or second, and head to tricky Philadelphia before hosting Orlando City SC.
DC can lessen the drama at midweek
The Black-and-Red haven’t lost since Aug. 29, a run of seven matches, and the Wayne Rooney-Luciano Acosta show hosts already eliminated and Michael Bradley-less Toronto FC on Wednesday.
If DC wins, it will have a four-point lead on seventh-place Montreal and be eyeing up fourth. DC then hosts NYCFC before traveling to Chicago.
Montreal hosts Toronto in a derby before traveling to New England, and can max out at 49 points. That means they need either DC to struggle or Columbus to turn into a pool of mush. The Crew heads to Orlando before hosting Minnesota and… yeah… it would take mush. More than a puddle or maybe even a pool. Perhaps a Lake of Mush.