The Major League Soccer scheduling gurus didn’t do teams any favors for Week 12.
Some of the longest road trips in the league will be made for the five midweek games, four of which will be played on Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s game in Vancouver begins a brutal three-game travel stretch for the Five Stripes, who have to play at the New York Red Bulls on Sunday and then get on a plane to visit Real Salt Lake for a Friday matchup next week.
At least Orlando City gets to go back home for two straight games after the midweek excursion to CenturyLink Field, but it is still a tough journey to make in a short amount of time.
The latest stop of Portland’s three-month odyssey is BBVA Compass Stadium. The good news for the Timbers is they are handed some scheduling relief with an off weekend ahead of one final road trip to Philadelphia before Providence Park opens.
The first of the two games takes place at Banc of California Stadium on Thursday on national television and both should have a playoff feel on the field and in terms of scheduling.
The Eastern Conference clash at BMO Field is huge for the Black-and-Red in order to remain near the top of the East, while the Reds need to rebound after a surprising home loss to Philadelphia.
If you want to feel bad for Wednesday’s home teams, you can. Toronto has to get on a plane to Salt Lake City for a Saturday game, while the Sounders have to travel across the country to play the Union on Saturday.
Complain about the traveling quirks all you want, but this is a stretch in which depth could shine through.
For some of the teams taking part in two games in Week 12, this will be a chance to give deserving players more minutes and flex a good amount of depth, while others may suffer because of a lack of quality throughout the roster.
Week 12 Midweek Schedule
Wednesday, May 15
D.C. United at Toronto FC (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN 1/4)
Portland Timbers at Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Atlanta United at Vancouver Whitecaps (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN 1)
Orlando City at Seattle Sounders (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Thursday, May 16
.FC Dallas at Los Angeles FC (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Storylines to Watch
1. How does TFC bounce back?
Toronto experienced a significant setback in its quest to reach the top of the East in Week 11 with losses to Atlanta and Philadelphia.
The next task standing in the way of Greg Vanney’s men is conquering D.C. United and rediscovering form after losing three of the last four games.
Alejandro Pozuelo is still the man to stop in the TFC midfield, but he should have some much-needed support in the form of a healthy Jozy Altidore, who came on as a substitute on Saturday versus Philadelphia.
Pozuelo will have a difficult task breaking down D.C.’s defensive lines, and he may require help from Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado and Michael Bradley to open up space between Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno and the D.C. back line.
Osorio and Delgado, who continue to be some of the most underrated players in MLS, will be key in creating space on the outside in order to open up channels in between D.C.’s defensive midfielder for Pozuelo to operate in.
But executing that approach will be difficult against a D.C. defense that has held opponents to two goals in the last four games.
2. Can Portland’s fullbacks contain Houston’s wingers?
It is no secret that one of Houston’s biggest strengths is its ability to attack opponents through the wings with Alberth Elis leading the charge.
Brad Smith and the Seattle defense did a good job containing Elis in Week 11, but rarely have we seen the Honduran struggle in two consecutive games.
Wilmer Cabrera’s side should attempt to attack the Timbers through the wings, instead of running into Diego Chara by going through the middle.
The only way Portland can force Houston inside is if its full backs are able to contain the effectiveness of Elis and Memo Rodriguez.
If the Timbers limit the scoring chances from the outside, Chara will have more opportunities to shut down Houston’s attacking buildup and start quick counters for Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse to benefit from.
3. Will Vancouver continue winning run against Atlanta’s rotated squad?
Vancouver is in prime position to pick up its third straight win, even if Atlanta is the team lining up across from it.
Darlington Nagbe and Michael Parkhurst won’t make the trip to BC Place and some rotation has to be expected out of Frank de Boer due to the long travel and busy week.
Earning three points is imperative for the Whitecaps on Wednesday with the brutal stretch of games they have coming up.
After hosting the defending MLS Cup champion, the Whitecaps have to face Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas and LA Galaxy before the Concacaf Gold Cup break.
Vancouver already has a midweek home win over Los Angeles FC, and if it approaches Wednesday with the same defensive intensity it did against Bob Bradley’s side and the Timbers in Week 11, Marc dos Santos could earn his third straight win.
Fredy Montero has started to fire into the back of the net for the Whitecaps, and with Parkhurst already confirmed out of the Atlanta defense, he needs to take advantage of his opportunities in front of net in order to avoid a late rush for a win or draw by the visitors.
4. What will Orlando’s depth produce?
We already know what the Seattle Sounders are capable of, and if we’re being honest, the majority of us expect them to leave Wednesday’s match with Orlando City with three points.
The more intriguing story going into the match at CenturyLink Field is the lineup Orlando manager James O’Connor will produce.
Sacha Kljestan and Nani didn’t play on Sunday in Atlanta and could be utilized in Seattle in an attempt to steal a point.
O’Connor could also use Wednesday to get minutes for some of his fringe players. With motivation to impress the manager with a result, the role players in the Lions squad could produce an unexpected scoreline.
While Seattle is capable of putting three of four goals past Orlando, this has the feel of a game that could get MLSy and have Orlando leave with three points.
5. Can FC Dallas contain Carlos Vela?
Few defenses have succeeded in containing Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela.
FC Dallas has two cracks at shutting down the Golden Boot leader, and it is one of the few teams in MLS who is more than capable of putting the clamps on the league’s leading scorer.
Luchi Gonzalez’s side has conceded 14 goals in 11 games and it is a rare opponent that can keep the possession away from LAFC.
If Bryan Acosta, Carlos Gruezo or Jacori Hayes is able to make life difficult for LAFC’s playmaking midfielders, Vela’s chances will dry up.
If Vela does break through the midfield line, FC Dallas has two experienced center backs in Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler that will be hard to get by.
It is also worth noting that the last time FC Dallas faced an MLS Cup contender on the road, Jesse Gonzalez stood on his head in goal to make seven saves against Atlanta United on April 20.