Within the span of a few hours on Saturday night, one set of Major League Soccer fans will say goodbye to one of the best players for their side in recent memory and another will get to celebrate the long-awaited re-opening of their renovated stadium.
Columbus Crew fans will bid farewell to goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who is playing in his last home game before his summer departure for Manchester City.
It is only fitting that Steffen’s final home game with the Crew comes against New York City FC, who is owned by Manchester City.
In three seasons with the Crew, Steffen has 33 wins in 75 regular-season starts, he’s made 201 saves and earned 23 clean sheets.
Steffen also produced one of the most memorable playoff goalkeeping performances in MLS history against Atlanta United in 2017.
During his time with the Crew, Steffen has gained the top spot on the U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper depth chart, and he should be the starter for his former club boss Gregg Berhalter during the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
Once the Gold Cup ends, Steffen will head back to Europe. He previously played in Germany for Freiburg before moving to MLS to join the Crew.
Steffen might not play for Manchester City right away, but even if he goes out on loan to start the 2019-20 European season, he should be starting somewhere in order to continue his progression.
Just reaching this point is remarkable for Steffen since most players who failed to make it Europe don’t receive a second chance to do so, but that is what the 24-year-old has earned during his time with the Crew.
Three hours after Steffen’s sendoff begins in Columbus, the Portland Timbers play the first game in the newly-renovated Providence Park against Los Angeles FC.
Portland comes into the match in good form and with its club-record signing firing on all cylinders.
Brian Fernandez has scored three goals in his first two games for the Timbers, and he joins an already impressive collection of attacking talent led by Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
With Valeri, Fernandez and Blanco going up against Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Co, we could witness one of the best games of the season and a possible Western Conference Final preview on Saturday night.
It may seem crazy to suggest that with Portland sitting in 10th place, but it is in great position to surge up the table with a long run of home games in front of it.
If anything, Saturday’s nightcap should be spectacle that showcases one of the best soccer facilities in North American and two of the best attacking groups in the league.
Week 14 Weekend Schedule
Friday, May 31
Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps (10 p.m. ET, TSN 1/4, ESPN+)
Saturday, June 1
Orlando City at Montreal Impact (5 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+)
Chicago Fire at Atlanta United (6 p.m. ET, Univision)
Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
New York City FC at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN)
Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
San Jose Earthquakes at D.C. United (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
FC Cincinnati at Colorado Rapids (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Sunday, June 2
Philadelphia Union at Minnesota United (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
New England Revolution at LA Galaxy (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Storylines to Watch
1. Impact Looking To Continue Dominance of Orlando
Montreal comes into Saturday with four straight wins against Orlando City.
The Impact have a good chance to pick up a fifth straight victory over the Lions at Stade Saputo with first place in the Eastern Conference in their sights.
Remi Garde’s team already picked up a win over the Lions at Orlando City Stadium in March and earned a season sweep a year ago.
During the four-game winning streak against Orlando, the Impact have outscored their foe from central Florida 10-2.
Of course, every game presents a new set of challenges for both sides, which is something the Impact can attest to since it was announced this week they will be without Ignacio Piatti for an extended period of time.
By the time June ends, the Impact could be in first place in the East thanks to a four-game stretch at home that began with a 2-1 Wednesday win over Real Salt Lake.
Montreal has scored six of its 19 goals in the last two weeks, and it needs to continue that form in front of goal in order to fend off a challenge from Sacha Kljestan, Dom Dwyer and Co.
2. Petke’s Return to Red Bull Arena
Real Salt Lake manager Mike Petke returns to Red Bull Arena on Saturday for the first time as head coach of an opposing team.
The former New York Red Bulls player and manager took over the Claret-and-Cobalt a few days after RSL’s last trip to New Jersey in 2017.
Petke’s RSL beat the Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium at the start of the 2018 season and it comes into Harrison off a midweek defeat to the Impact.
Before falling to the Impact, RSL put together a three-game winning streak in which it scored multiple goals in each game.
The Red Bulls are starting to make noise in the Eastern Conference with 10 points in their last four games, and they’ve achieved those marks in typical Red Bulls fashion with unheralded players who have come up through the system making key contributions.
In order to keep building on their recent form, the Red Bulls have to slow down Albert Rusnak, who makes everything tick to perfection in the RSL front four.
3. Will Seattle or FC Dallas Get Out of Recent Slump?
Seattle and FC Dallas enter Saturday’s clash at Toyota Stadium in slumping form.
The Sounders suffered their first loss since April 24 in Week 13 against Sporting Kansas City, but the six games that preceded that result produced four draws and just two victories.
FC Dallas is in more worrisome form with two points from its last six games, and it hasn’t won since its triumph in Atlanta on April 20.
With Portland and Sporting KC expected to surge up from beneath the red line and other teams playing well to stay in the top seven, the Sounders and FC Dallas can’t afford to continue dropping points, especially Luchi Gonzalez’s seventh-place side.
The Sounders are in better shape of the two sides, but they can’t afford to go into the Gold Cup break with a few poor road results. Their final game before the break is in Montreal on Wednesday.
FC Dallas has an away game in San Jose to turn things around after Saturday’s home game. For most of the next month-and-a-half, FC Dallas also has to navigate through international absences, which means more trust will have to be put in younger players.
4. Can Wondo Keep Scoring?
Chris Wondolowski has found the back of the net on six occasions in the last two games.
During his terrific scoring stretch, Wondolowski has set the all-time scoring record in Major League Soccer and eclipsed Landon Donovan for most game-winning goals in league history.
After scoring twice to beat Toronto FC on the road a week ago, Wondolowski has another chance to lead the San Jose Earthquakes to an upset victory against D.C. United at Audi Field.
Scoring against D.C. is going to be a tougher task for Wondolowski, and the entire Quakes attack, since the Black-and-Red have conceded 17 goals in 16 games.
5. Who Wins the Midfield Battle in Portland?
We eluded to this a bit earlier, and it’s probably the best positional matchup of the weekend.
Portland’s midfield group of Fernandez, Valeri, Blanco and Diego Chara are going up against LAFC’s unit of Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Rossi and Vela.
An argument can be made that both groups are the best midfield unit in MLS when they are at their best, and we expect them all to be on Saturday night.
LAFC’s midfielders have performed at a remarkably high level all season, with Vela leading the charge with 15 goals and nine assists.
Portland has caught fire of late and come into Providence Park with the momentum from a 3-1 win in which Fernandez and Valeri scored.
Atuesta and Chara are two of the best midfield stoppers in the league, which will make life difficult for stretches for both sides.
How each team adjusts to the opponent over 90 minutes will eventually make the difference in front of the boisterous crowd in Portland.