Jason Davis takes a look at some of the top matchups and storylines ahead of Week 19 of the 2017 Major League Soccer season in this edition of W2W4.
Contenders clash, minus some key players, in Dallas
In any other week, a clash between the 2016 Supporters Shield winner and the defending Eastern Conference champion would be a really big deal. FC Dallas and Toronto FC are two of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer, each a serious contender to win silverware this season.
As it is, this game is made a little less big by the timing of the match. The Gold Cup looms, which means several starters will be missing from the combined starting XIs. For FC Dallas, Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges are already away with the United States men’s national team, while Toronto arrives short of five players, including possible starters Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards. Striker depth will be an issue for Toronto too with Tosaint Ricketts and Armando Cooper called up by Canada and Panama respectively, while Steven Beitashour is also out injured.
But Toronto FC will still have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in their lineup under the heat of the Texas sun. Considering the holes he has to fill, coach Oscar Pareja certainly has a tougher task than his counterpart Greg Vanney, something that could give the visiting team a bump. Vanney might decide to rotate his team, however, with Toronto fresh off a Tuesday victory in the Canadian Championship.
This is going to be a tough midfield ask for the more depleted FC Dallas team, though the more time Mauro Diaz gets to settle in after his long injury layoff, the better they’ll be moving forward.
Columbus aims for measure of revenge against Atlanta
Columbus Crew SC and Atlanta United are separated by a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, and while it’s much too early to call this match a playoff six-pointer, it could lead to something of a shakeup. Columbus might also be on the hunt for revenge; just two weeks ago, Gregg Berhalter’s team was pressed and harried into several mistakes that Atlanta turned into a 3-1 win.
That game was at Bobby Dodd Stadium, in front of Atlanta’s vociferous support. This time, Crew SC will have the home-field advantage.
The advantage might take a hit thanks to a bit of drama swirling around Columbus. Midfielder Dilly Duka was disciplined for tweeting internal team stats in what looked to be a complaint about playing time. Berhalter excluded Duka from training, and Duka will not be in the 18 against Atlanta. Duka hasn’t played in a single match this season, but with Columbus’ recent history of internal drama, there’s reason to be concerned about team dynamics.
Atlanta has no such issues and will bring what amounts to a full-strength squad to Ohio. Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez returned from injury and picked up where he left off in terms of goal scoring. It will be up to the Crew SC defense to slow him down. That defense could include Ghanaians Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. The pair were called up by Ghana for the friendly against the U.S. on Saturday, but FIFA should allow for Berhalter to recall them.
California Clasico puts heat on new San Jose coach
The California Clasico is always an emotional affair, regardless of where the two teams sit in the standings. In the season’s first meeting, the LA Galaxy beat the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium 4-2 on May 27.
The 65th match overall between the teams will go down at Stanford Stadium. A sellout crowd should be on hand, and the ground has served as backdrop to some of the most dramatic moments in the late history of the Cali Clasico.
The Quakes enter the game fresh off a shocking shift in leadership on the sideline. Venerable MLS head coach Dominic Kinnear was dismissed after last week’s win over Real Salt Lake, summarily dumped despite leading San Jose to a playoff position at this point in the season on one of the league’s more modest budgets. Chris Leitch, a 10-year MLS veteran as a player who has served as the club’s technical director for two years, moves into the head coach role. Leitch’s lack of coaching experience and the near universal respect Kinnear commanded in San Jose and around the league means the pressure is on the 38-year-old new coach.
LA will be missing Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes, both of whom are on international duty. San Jose will lose several players to the Gold Cup, but Panamanian midfielder Anibal Godoy should be in the lineup before heading to join his international teammates.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.