After the usual Fourth of July fireworks were delivered on the field to start Week 19 of the Major League Soccer schedule, the focus turns to 10 Saturday matches and a rivalry clash on Sunday night.
Most eyes will be on the New York soccer landscape, as both the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have new managers in charge following the departures of Jesse Marsch and Patrick Vieira.
The rest of the Week 19 schedule isn’t anything to write home about, but there are some interesting clashes between clubs fighting for respect in both playoff races.
Here’s a look at what to watch throughout the weekend MLS schedule.
Game of the Week
New York Red Bulls at New York City FC (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Jesse Marsch followed Patrick Vieira out the door to Europe, or that’s where he’ll presumably land, on Friday.
Domenec Torrent took over for NYCFC when Vieira left and Chris Armas is now in charge of the Red Bulls. Outside of the new names on the bench, not much should change in a heated New York derby between the second and third place teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls are still going to press, NYCFC is still going to take advantage of the small field at Yankee Stadium and create chances through its dangerous forwards.
If Bradley Wright-Phillips continues his success in the New York derby, where he has 11 goals, he could reach 100 regular-season goals with a hat-trick.
Other Games to Watch
Atlanta United at Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
One month ago, the Philadelphia Union played Atlanta United tight for 19 minutes before a kerfuffle broke out after the awarding of a penalty to Josef Martinez.
Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya were sent off and the Five Stripes won, 4-1, with a two-man advantage.
A month later, Medunjanin will be playing in his first game after a three-match suspension and the Union are trying to capitalize on home field and a tired Atlanta side that will be playing its third game in seven days.
Atlanta still has the quality to overpower the Union, but the home side will come out hungry looking to prove it can play with the Supporters’ Shield leader and keep pace with the other contenders for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots.
FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
FC Dallas is going to be under the spotlight in the coming weeks as it looks to replace Mauro Diaz in the No. 10 role.
Oscar Pareja’s side thrived in the first game after Diaz’s departure for the United Arab Emirates, as it knocked off Atlanta, 3-2, on Wednesday.
The Western Conference leader takes to the road on Saturday to face off with a Real Salt Lake side it is unbeaten in four games against.
Keep an eye on how the FC Dallas center backs deal with RSL Homegrown forward Corey Baird, who is emerging as a Rookie of the Year frontrunner thanks to his scoring prowess and incisive runs in the final third.
Chicago Fire at Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Saturday’s clash between the Fire and Whitecaps is a prove it game. The Fire are unbeaten in five games and they’re sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Impact and Union.
The Whitecaps lost two in a row and they need a boost to remain in sixth place in the Western Conference and stave off Houston and the LA Galaxy.
Everyone’s favorite midfield instigator Felipe goes head-to-head with former teammate Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the positional battle that could determine the matchup.
Colorado Rapids at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+)
Dare we say Rapids-Impact is a bit of an intriguing matchup.
Both teams improved in recent week, as the Rapids earned seven points from three games before falling to the Sounders on Wednesday and the Impact enter on a three-game winning streak.
The Impact’s back line is in the middle of one of the best defensive runs of form of the MLS season, as they possess a 342-minute shutout streak.
Don’t expect a ton of flash and flair in this game since the Rapids will be content to bunker, but there’s always a chance Ignacio Piatti runs the show.
Seattle Sounders at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
This is a can’t lose game for the New England Revolution.
Although the Seattle Sounders come to Massachusetts off a needed midweek win in Colorado, the fifth-place Revs should win at Gillette Stadium.
The key for Brad Friedel’s side will be to unlock the stingy Sounders defense with its movement in the final third led by leading scorer Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez and Cristian Penilla.
Penilla’s been one of the breakout stars of the 2018 campaign, and if he causes trouble to the tired Sounders squad, it’ll be a long night for Brian Schmetzer’s side.
Toronto FC at Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TSN, ESPN+)
We’re done trying to convince you Toronto FC will rebound from its rough start because there’s really no end in sight after giving up four goals to Minnesota United.
The Reds don’t face an easier road to redemption on Saturday, as Sporting Kansas City enters hungry for a win after losses on the road in Montreal and Salt Lake.
Peter Vermes’ side hasn’t covered itself in glory lately, as it let in eight goals over the last three games.
Saturday might not mark the end of the poor defensive run given Toronto’s tendency to get involved in wild seven-goal affairs, but the second-place side in the West should come out with a victory.
Minnesota United at Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
You have our attention, Loons, or at least until another defensive mistake dooms you in Houston.
Darwin Quintero produced one of the best attacking performances against Toronto FC on Wednesday, but now the key for the Loons is to continue the progress at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Containing the Dynamo attack won’t be an easy task for the Francisco Calvo-led defense, but at some point they have to prove they reverse course.
Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo aren’t in stunning form, but they only dropped seven points at home in eight matches.
Columbus Crew at LA Galaxy (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Let’s be honest. You’re not tuning into Crew-Galaxy for the Ola Kamara and Gyasi Zardes reunions, all you want to see is another Zlatan Ibrahimovic golazo.
It’s hard to blame fans for that since the Galaxy defense is wretched at best and Sigi Schmid deserves to be close to the hot seat.
If the Crew defense is able to handle the movement of the Galaxy forwards, who could welcome back the Dos Santos brothers after their World Cup venture with Mexico, they’d pass a major test on the road.
Of course, the same litmus test could measure the Galaxy, as they deal with a familiar face in Zardes, but the Crew have much more to lose defensively than the struggling Galaxy.
Orlando City at LAFC (Saturday, 11 p.m. ET, FS1)
Double the pleasure, double the fun of MLS After Dark this week after LAFC’s match with Orlando City at Banc of California Stadium was pushed back due to the heat.
Facing the most well-rounded front line in the Western Conference is going to be a difficult task for the Lions, who need something positive to go their way to avoid dropping a ninth straight contest.
If you haven’t paid attention to LAFC in recent weeks, watch out for Adama Diomande, who has seven goals and two assists in his last five games.
San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers (Saturday, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
The Timbers should take care of the Quakes with ease at Providence Park.
The Timbers haven’t lost since April 8 and the Earthquakes have only beaten Minnesota United in 2018.
The Earthquakes held the Timbers scoreless for 87 minutes on May 5, but they possess a defense without a clean sheet in 17 games.
Expect the poor defensive trend to continue, as Diego Valeri matriculates his way through the Earthquakes back line.