Major League Soccer has set up an early-season rivalry week that features some enticing match-ups in both conference, led by a pair of Western Conference headliners.
Los Angeles FC plays host to the LA Galaxy on Saturday night and the Portland Timbers welcome the Seattle Sounders to Providence Park on Sunday night in a pair of clashes that should help clarify the early-season picture in the Western Conference.
The Eastern Conference has some enticing matchups too, including New York City FC’s return to Orlando City, Toronto FC’s visit to Red Bull Arena to face the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United’s visit to Florida to take on Inter Miami.
Here is a closer look at the MLS Week 4 Schedule:
Fire vs. Union, 1 p.m.
The Union have yet to win a league match, but that doesn’t really do the Union’s quality justice (as their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal win against Atlanta United showed).
The Fire remain a work in progress, and the Union aren’t the team you want to face when you’re still working out the kinks. Kacper Przybylko scores a pair to deliver a road win for Jim Curtin’s side.
Prediction: Fire 1, UNION 3
Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC, 1 p.m.
Chris Armas returns to Red Bull Arena with his new team as he faces his former employer in an intriguing Eastern Conference clash. TFC is fresh off being eliminated from Concacaf Champions League on Tuesday in Mexico City so fatigue could play a part on Saturday.
TFC’s biggest issue continues to be the extended injury absence of reigning MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, but the good news is TFC is expected to debut newly-signed Designated Player Yeferson Soteldo, who should provide an attacking spark.
Prediction: Red Bulls 1, Toronto FC 1
Crew vs. D.C. United, 1:30 p.m.
Fresh off a midweek CCL loss at Monterrey, the Crew should be eager to take out their frustrations on a D.C. side that has lost two straight.
Lucas Zelarayan didn’t play against Monterrey and should be fresh and ready to have his way with a D.C. United defense that looked vulnerable in last week’s 4-1 loss to San Jose.
Prediction: CREW 2, D.C. United 0
Nashville SC vs. Revolution, 1:30 p.m.
Three straight draws have left Nashville SC frustrated by a trio of disappointing first-half performances, and Gary Smith surely knows that a slow start against New England could lead to a blowout loss.
The Revs have been in good form to start the season, and Carles Gil is coming off a Player of the Week showing. Dax McCarty will have his hands full trying to contain the Spanish playmaker, but if the veteran midfielder can neutralize Gil then Nashville have a chance of finding its first win.
Prediction: NASHVILLE SC 1, Revolution 0
Whitecaps vs. CF Montreal, 3 p.m.
Montreal enters this all-Canada clash still unbeaten and coming off having posted a shutout in a 0-0 draw with Columbus. Montreal is technically the road team for this one, but Rio Tinto Stadium won’t offer the Whitecaps much of a home-field advantage.
CF Montreal has shown more so far this season and should have confidence in its attack creating enough chances to earn a road win.
Prediction: Whitecaps 1, CF MONTREAL 2
FC Dallas vs. Dynamo, 3:30 p.m.
The original Texas Derby sees FC Dallas coming on off a confidence-boosting win against Portland last week, but Luchi Gonzalez’s men face a Dynamo side that showed well in a draw against Los Angeles FC.
As much as the win against Portland came against mostly reserves due to the Timbers’ CCL participation, FC Dallas should benefit from some players snapping out of funks, including newly-acquired winger Jander Obrian. Give FC Dallas the edge, with Andres Ricaurte poised for a big game.
Prediction: FC DALLAS 2, Dynamo 0.
Orlando City vs. New York City FC, 6 p.m.
NYCFC returns to Exploria Stadium, where its playoffs ended last season, and while revenge offers some motivation, Ronny Deila’s men will want to build on their recent impressive results.
The Lions are unbeaten, and have allowed just one goal in three matches, but NYCFC will present a much tougher challenge than FC Cincinnati, especially with Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellanos both starting the season in excellent form.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, NYCFC 1
Galaxy vs. LAFC, 8 p.m.
The first LA Derby of 2021 sees Los Angeles FC take the trip to Dignity Health Sports Park to face off against Javier Hernandez for the first time.
The big question is whether Carlos Vela will return from injury to face his old friend and former Mexican national team sidekick. LAFC hasn’t hit its stride yet this season, due partly to Vela’s absence, and Diego Rossi’s injury absence to start the season.
The Galaxy’s defense continues to be a weak link, even if improvements have been made, and LAFC will be able to exploit it, especially if Vela plays.
Prediction: Galaxy 1, LAFC 2.
Rapids vs. Minnesota United, 10 p.m.
Minnesota United has been one of the biggest disappointments of the early part of the MLS season, and things might not get better in the altitude of Colorado against a Rapids side coming off its first win of the season.
The Loons defense has been particularly shaky, with the absence of Bakaye Dibassy forcing Adrian Heath to field a patchwork central defense. The result has been seven goals allowed in three matches. The Rapids don’t have a dangerous attack though, but their defense can make things difficult for the Loons, who are also awaiting the arrival of some newly-signed attacking reinforcements.
Prediction: RAPIDS 1, Minnesota United 0
Inter Miami vs. Atlanta United, 1 p.m.
Former Manchester United teammates Phil Neville and Gabriel Heinze square off as MLS head coaches for the first time. Both teams have shown promise under their new coaches, but this clash should show which has made more progress.
Gonzalo Higuain and Josef Martinez will be in the spotlight, with both going up against tough centerbacks. Atlanta United played a midweek CCL match against the Philadelphia Union, so Miami should be the fresher of the two teams. Look for Rodolfo Pizarro to make the difference.
Prediction: INTER MIAMI 2, Atlanta United 1.
Timbers vs. Sounders, 3 p.m.
The Timbers don’t have much time to dwell on their CCL elimination, they must now face Seattle on short rest, and they’ll be facing a Sounders side in outstanding form.
Look for Seattle to push the action in an effort to take advantage of Portland’s potential fatigue from its midweek loss in Mexico. Raul Ruidiaz is in red-hot form and Nicolas Lodeiro should be closer to returning to the starting lineup, which doesn’t bode well for a Timbers side still waiting for Sebastian Blanco to return from injury.
Prediction: Timbers 1, SOUNDERS 2
Sporting Kansas City vs. Austin FC, 7:30 p.m.
We might finally get to see a full-strength Sporting Kansas City, with goalkeeper Tim Melia looking ready to return from injury for his first start of the season. That’s good news coming off last week’s disappointing showing in a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Austin FC rolls in having won two straight, but the trip to Children’s Mercy Park will be a different kind of test, especially with Melia in goal. Jared Stroud could have some success against Luis Martins, but Austin will struggle to find chances.
Prediction: SPORTING KC 2, Austin FC 0.