After two weeks of the 2021 MLS season, we have already seen some teams emerge as being better than expected (LA Galaxy, CF Montreal) and others that have endured surprisingly bad starts (Minnesota United, FC Dallas), but Week 3 should help bring things into focus, especially toward the top of each conference.
In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC square off in a clash of the last two teams to finish atop the conference table. The Union are still searching for their first win of the season, but will be riding a wave of confidence after their convincing Concacaf Champions League win against Atlanta United. New York City FC thrashed FC Cincinnati last week to rebound from a disappointing season-opening loss to D.C. United.
In the Western Conference, the Seattle Sounders have looked strong to start the campaign and will offer up the toughest challenge to date for the 2-0 LA Galaxy. Greg Vanney’s men have posted a pair of wins and have already shown considerable improvement under their new coach, with Javier Hernandez finally looking like the star striker the Galaxy hoped they had signed when he arrived a year ago.
Here is a closer look at all the MLS Week 3 matchups:
(All Times Eastern)
Red Bulls vs. Fire, 1 p.m.
The New York Red Bulls are a work in progress after integrating a plethora of new, young faces in head coach Gerhard Struber’s first season in charge. They face a Fire team in its second season under Raphael Wicky, a side that has shown some glimpses, but still lacks some attacking punch and defensive stability.
Look for the Red Bulls to earn their first win of the season, with Brazilian striker Fabio opening his scoring account.
Prediction: RED BULLS 2, Fire 0.
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC, 2 p.m.
RSL enjoyed a winning start at Minnesota United in a match the Loons dominated, and now return to Utah to face a Sporting KC side that has looked solid in collecting four points from its first two matches.
RSL showed that it has a counterattack with some bite, with Rubio Rubin looking like a difference-making acquisition, but Sporting KC’s defense will be tougher to break down than Minnesota’s while Alan Pulido will prove too much for RSL’s centerbacks to deal with.
Prediction: RSL 1, SPORTING KC 2.
CF Montreal vs. Crew, 3 p.m.
Montreal has been one of the surprise teams of the early going, but the team formerly known as the Impact will face a stern challenge from the reigning MLS Cup champions. Caleb Porter might have his sights on the second-leg of the CCL quarterfinal series with Monterrey, but should still field a strong lineup against Montreal.
The Crew shouldn’t surrender the kind of counterattacking chances Montreal capitalized on its first two weeks, while the Crew attack, led by Lucas Zelarayan, should find chances galore as it takes some CCL frustrations out on the Canadian side.
Prediction: CF Montreal 1, CREW 3.
Dynamo vs. LAFC, 3:30 p.m.
The Dynamo return home from a tough road loss in Portland, but find their toughest challenge to date in an LAFC side that is expected to bring back Diego Rossi from injury. His return should help offset the expected absence of injured Mexican star Carlos Vela, who appears set to miss his second straight match.
There should be a good battle for possession in midfield, where LAFC has the slight edge, but the real edge for the visitors will be LAFC’s attack against a Dynamo defense that is still working things out.
Prediction: Dynamo 1, LAFC 2.
Revolution vs. Atlanta United, 7 p.m.
Gabriel Heinze has Atlanta United playing attractive soccer again, and the CCL loss to Philadelphia doesn’t change that, but that loss should have Atlanta eager to make amends.
Doing so against New England is another matter. The Revs are stingy at home defensively, but also boast the type of attacking weapons to punish Atlanta United’s defense. Carles Gil will make the difference in what should be tight battle.
Prediction: REVOLUTION 1, Atlanta United 0.
Orlando City vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
The Lions have had a rough start to 2021, with one goal in two matches and one point to show for their troubles. Don’t take that to mean Orlando City isn’t a strong team though, Atlanta United and Sporting KC were two strong opponents.
FC Cincinnati is not, and Orlando City will be anxious to have a chance to light up that vulnerably Cincy defense.
Prediction: ORLANDO CITY 2, FC Cincinnati 0
Union vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.
NYCFC’s big win against FC Cincinnati was a bit misleading because all five of its goals came on set pieces, and it took some heroics from Sean Johnson to keep FC Cincinnati from taking an early lead and potentially control in the match.
That said, NYCFC is a good team that will like its chances in Chester, especially after watching Inter Miami take three points at Subaru Park last week. Deila’s men aren’t facing FC Cincinnati though. The Union are coming off a big CCL win, and have a comfortable enough lead in their series with Atlanta United to feel comfortable deploying a full-strength lineup on Saturday. Jim Curtin will want all three points, especially after failing to win either of the Union’s previous two league matches, and Sergio Santos should have a big game for the home team.
Prediction: UNION 3, NYCFC 1.
FC Dallas vs. Timbers, 8 p.m.
The season hasn’t started the way FC Dallas would have hoped, especially after revamping its roster, but a return home coupled with facing an opponent dealing with CCL could help Luchi Gonzalez’s men snap out of their funk.
The Timbers are locked in a tough CCL series with Club America, and after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Portland, the Timbers could be tempted to rest some starters against FC Dallas. Look for FCD wingers Jader Obrian and Freddy Vargas to find chances and break through against Portland’s defense.
Prediction: FC DALLAS 2, Timbers 1.
Minnesota United vs. Austin FC, 8 p.m.
What is going on with the Loons? Adrian Heath’s men came into 2021 with high expectations, but a pair of losses, including a surprise home loss to Real Salt Lake has raised some questions. The big issue is Minnesota’s defense hasn’t played well in the absence of injured centerback Bakeye Dibassy, and while the attack hasn’t been firing either, the back-line has been particularly vulnerable.
Austin FC may be an expansion team, but the first-year club has real attacking firepower and is coming off the first victory in its history. Cecilio Dominguez could have a field day against the Loons centerbacks, especially with Tomas Pochettino avaiable, but this should be a game for Emmanuel Reynoso to work his midfield magic and halt the loons slide.
Prediction: MINNESOTA UNITED 2, Austin FC 1.
Earthquakes vs. D.C. United, 11 p.m.
The Earthquakes looked sharp in last week’s romp against FC Dallas, with Cade Cowell leading the way. Cowell won’t have as much room to operate against a D.C. United side that will look to keep numbers behind the ball.
Can Matias Almeyda’s men break down a defensive-minded D.C. United? Cristian Espinoza will be key to unlocking the visiting defense, and he should find success in front of the home fans at Avaya Stadium.
Prediction: EARTHQUAKES 2, D.C. United 0.
Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami, 1 p.m.
Nashville SC are the MLS Jeckyll and Hyde team, giving up two goals in each of its first two match only to rally both times to earn draws. The comebacks have been impressive, but Gary Smith can’t be happy seeing his normally-stingy defense give up early goals they have so far.
The good news for Nashville is Inter Miami heads into their meeting expected to have several key players absence, including Gonzalo Higuain (in Argentina after the recent death of his mother), Robbie Robinson (hamstring injury) and Julian Carranza (non-COVID illness). Then there is Mexican star Rodolfo Pizarro, who is in Mexico securing his green card and may not be back in time. That is too much firepower for Miami to be without.
Prediction: NASHVILLE SC 1, Inter Miami 0.
Sounders vs. LA Galaxy, 9 p.m.
Javier Hernandez and the LA Galaxy have enjoyed a dream start to 2021, but the Sounders will present a much tougher challenge than the Galaxy has faced so far this season. The Sounders defense hasn’t allowed a goal in the run of play yet, and their shift to a three-centerback system has gone relatively smoothly.
Look for Chicharito to cool off, especially with Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget serving a suspension, and look for the Sounders attack to put up multiple goals on a Galaxy defense that remains a work in progress.
Prediction: SOUNDERS 2, Galaxy 0.
Whitecaps vs. Rapids, 10 p.m.
Which season start is the real one? Vancouver’s four points from its first two matches, or the Rapids mustering one point in their first two matches? Bank on Colorado being better than it was in last week’s loss to the Earthquakes, especially if Sam Vines and Lalas Abubakar can return from injury to start.
Vines’ injury has led to Kellyn Acosta playing at left back. Acosta has done very well in the role, but the Rapids need him back in central midfield. Having Abubakar back would also help the Rapids deal with Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini. Give the Rapids the edge in this one, which will feel like a neutral site match given the Whitecaps are playing their home games in Florida.
Prediction: Whitecaps 1, RAPIDS 2.