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MLS Week 11 Preview: Rivalry games, new beginnings and more

The Week 11 slate in Major League Soccer provides a chance to examine certain teams in different lights. 

FC Cincinnati and New England joined Colorado in the collection of teams to fire their head coaches, while a handful of significant signings and trades were made before the close of the primary transfer window Tuesday. 

Now, the mad sprint to the Concacaf Gold Cup break begins with some teams re-energized by the changes and others attempting to keep up the early-season form that boosted them up the standings. 

A trio of rivalry games stand out right away on the 12-game slate, which begins with the Cascadia Cup showdown between Portland and Vancouver. 

Real Salt Lake and Colorado renew Rocky Mountain Cup hostilities, and one of the league’s fastest-rising rivalries in the southeast takes center stage Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With staggered start times across the league Saturday, you should be able to watch a few minutes of each game, which can’t be said every week. 

Week 11 Schedule

Friday, May 10

Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps (10 p.m. ET, TSN1, ESPN+) 

Saturday, May 11

Montreal Impact at FC Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+) 

New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas (2 p.m. ET, Univision) 

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC (3 p.m. ET, TSN, ESPN+) 

New York City FC at LA Galaxy (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Los Angeles FC at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

San Jose Earthquakes at New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Minnesota United at Chicago Fire (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Houston Dynamo at Seattle Sounders (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Sunday, May 12

Orlando City at Atlanta United (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox) 

Sporting Kansas City at D.C. United (7 p.m. ET, FS1) 

Storylines to Watch

1. Response To New Coaches

May 4, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; FC Cincinnati defender Kendall Waston (2) passes the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes during the second half at Avaya Stadium. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

The Colorado Rapids failed to break out of their poor form when they played their first game since the firing of Anthony Hudson in Week 10.

FC Cincinnati and the Revolution will try to put together the opposite type of performance Saturday at home. 

FC Cincinnati let go of Alan Koch after struggling to find the back of the net in each of its last five games. There’s little going in favor of interim boss Yoann Damet, but it should help a little bit that the expansion side is back home for Saturday’s game against Montreal. 

A victory at home in front of one of the league’s top crowds would provide a jolt to a squad that faces three road trips in four games before the Gold Cup break. 

If it wasn’t for the Rapids, the Revs would be the hottest of hot messes in MLS. 

The firing of Brad Friedel on Thursday was necessary, but there’s still plenty of deeper-lying issues within the club that need to be fixed in order for success to be achieved on the field. 

The biggest goal for the Revs on Saturday against San Jose is to prove they have a competent defense again. The Revs conceded 18 goals in the last four games, and if the defensive issues aren’t fixed, no amount of attacking flair will be able to cover it up. 

2. First Versus Fourth In East 

Mar 2, 2019; Chester, PA; Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) and Philadelphia Union midfielder Marco Fabian (10) challenge for a header at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

No one expected Saturday’s clash between the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC to be a first-versus-fourth clash when the season began. 

In Week 1, Toronto went into Talen Energy Stadium and shook off its Concacaf Champions League struggles by beating the Union. 

The Union are a much different team than they were in Week 1, but they’re still missing a signature win after taking care of Montreal, FC Cincinnati and New England in recent weeks. 

With a healthy Marco Fabian in the lineup, the Union should be able to test the TFC backline, but the young defense trusted by manager Jim Curtin will be under the spotlight the most. 

Alejandro Pozuelo has proven to be one of the top playmakers in the league in a short time, and the Reds will have rested legs in midfield after Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado were rotated out of the lineup Wednesday in Atlanta. 

If Toronto wins, no one will bat an eye at the final score because people expect Greg Vanney’s side to win, but if the Union come away with three points, they’ll put the league on notice.

3. Can Columbus Keep Scoring? 

May 8, 2019; Columbus, OH; Columbus Crew SC forward Gyasi Zardes (11) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Los Angeles Galaxy at MAPFRE Stadium. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Columbus Crew finally broke out of their scoring drought Wednesday by putting three goals past the LA Galaxy. 

Los Angeles FC will be the next Western Conference contender to come into Mapfre Stadium on Saturday, and the Crew need to find a way to disassemble the Black-and-Gold defense to prove they can score on a consistent basis once again. 

The addition of David Accam in a trade with Philadelphia should add to the attacking threat on the wings, and if Accam makes an impact in the long term, it will go a long way in assisting the production of Gyasi Zardes. 

Zardes doesn’t need to be on the ball for long stretches, but he does need to be able to sneak through the LAFC defensive line to connect with the numerous crosses the Crew are expected to send in.

However, Zardes may have a hard time navigating through the penalty area due to the aerial presence of Walker Zimmerman. 

A victory at home by the Crew would be a bit of a statement, but most importantly, it would put them officially back on track in an Eastern Conference that is suddenly overflowing with contenders. 

4. Southeast Derby

Aug 24, 2018; Orlando, FL; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez celebrates as he scores a goal against Orlando City SC at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta United and Orlando City have developed a ferocious rivalry over two seasons and there’s a clear distaste for the opponent on each sideline based off previous meetings. 

The Five Stripes have a three-game winning streak against the Lions in the Southeast Derby. 

With Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Co. rounding into form, the Five Stripes are expected to be the aggressor over 90 minutes. 

But don’t count out the Orlando City attack with Nani running rampant down the wings. Few defenses have been able to contain the former Manchester United man since his MLS debut, but Franco Escobar is more than capable of holding his own in the one-on-one matchup. 

5. Can Sporting KC Turn Around Recent Form? 

May 5, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) moves the ball against Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst (3) during the second half at Children’s Mercy Park. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Sporting Kansas City’s recent lapse in form isn’t making headlines because, frankly, there are much worse dumpster fires still lit across MLS. 

The overwhelming belief with Sporting KC year after year is that eventually Peter Vermes will right the ship and have the club playing its best soccer when it matters the most. 

However, it is a bit concerning the club hasn’t won a league game since March 30, and there’s no guarantee the elusive victory comes at Audi Field in the Week 11 closer. 

Injuries and the Concacaf Champions League fallout can be blamed for the poor form, but this is a club with enough depth to get through the hard times and earn a result, especially with a familiar face in Benny Feilhaber coming back to the squad. 

Player to Watch

Luciano Acosta, M, D.C. United

Apr 9, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta (10) dribbles the ball as Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette (6) at Audi Field. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The D.C. United attack looked lively in Week 10 against Columbus with Luciano Acosta pulling the strings from the middle of the park. 

Sunday presents Acosta and the rest of this teammates the perfect opportunity to take advantage of an out-of-form side and put a few goals in the back of the net. 

If that occurs, the Black-and-Red could have three wins in four games and a spot on top of the Eastern Conference. 

Matchup to Watch

Marco Fabian, Philadelphia Union vs. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC 

The last time Fabian and Bradley squared off in Week 1, there were plenty of dramatic moments. 

Union fans left the stadium calling for discipline to be handed down to Bradley after his countless fouls, while Fabian got his North American counterpart back with some cheeky skill. 

Saturday will be Fabian’s first game back from injury so he’ll be fresh and ready to take on a familiar foe once again. 

Fantasy Player to Watch

Josef Martinez, F, Atlanta United 

If you look back at most of our picks in this section, you’ll notice they’re more of a jinx than a predictor of what actually happens on the field.

So we’re going with another pick that seems super safe in Josef Martinez, who has three goals in his last four games. 

On top of that, Martinez has a superb scoring record against Orlando City. He scored in each of the three meetings with the Lions in 2018.

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