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MLS Week 17 Preview: Cali Clasico, top-6 battles and more

The LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes renew their rivalry this weekend with some added drama.

One of the best spectacles in Major League Soccer is the Cali Clasico match played at Stanford Stadium. 

The Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes have produced plenty of special moments inside the sold-out stadium in the past, and there is a good chance a few more are added to the history of the rivalry on Saturday night. 

The Galaxy sit in second place in the Western Conference in Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s first year in charge, while the Quakes are playing some of the best soccer of any team in the league with rookie manager Matías Almeyda finally getting his system to work properly. 

The second-versus-sixth clash in the West is one of three games this weekend pitting teams in the top six of their conference against each other, with the other two taking place in the East. 

Week 17 Weekend Schedule

Friday, June 28

Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls (8 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Los Angeles FC at Colorado Rapids (10 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Saturday, June 29 

FC Cincinnati at Minnesota United (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Montreal Impact at Atlanta United (6 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+) 

Philadelphia Union at New York City FC (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Orlando City SC at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Houston Dynamo at New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Toronto FC at DC United (8 p.m. ET, TSN 2, ESPN+) 

Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Sunday, June 30 

FC Dallas at Portland Timbers (11 p.m. ET, UniMas, ESPN+) 

Things To Watch 

1. Can Colorado compete with LAFC? 

Jun 22, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Colorado Rapids forward Kei Kamara (23) challenges Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Andy Rose (15) during the first half at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Just two months ago, the answer to this question would have been an emphatic “no,” followed by minutes of laughter. 

But thanks to the resurgence led by interim boss Conor Casey, the Colorado Rapids carry a six-game unbeaten run into Friday night’s home clash with Los Angeles FC.

The Rapids still need to put together a perfect game in order to hand the Supporters’ Shield leader its second loss of the season. Friday would be the perfect time for Kellyn Acosta to step up and turn in a splendid performance against LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta. 

If Acosta is able to clog up the middle of the field and force LAFC to generate chances from the flanks, the Rapids’ centerback pairing of Tommy Smith and Lalas Abubakar will have a better opportunity to contain the scoring chances given to Carlos Vela. 

In reality, this is a tough task for a Rapids team that has never scored against LAFC, but we will learn something about Casey’s team if it remains competitive for 90 minutes. 

If Colorado can somehow win the contest, the front office might as well just the interim tag off Casey’s job title.

2. Which losing streak ends at Allianz Field? 

Jun 18, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finlay (13) celebrates forward Carlos Darwin Quintero (25) goal against the Houston Dynamo in the second half at BBVA Stadium. (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Broadcasting FC Cincinnati and Minnesota United in a national showcase game was supposed to give the audience a chance to watch an exciting expansion side against an up-and-coming team with a brand-new stadium.

But there is not a ton of excitement being generated in the buildup to Saturday’s game. FC Cincinnati is on a five-game losing streak and the Loons have lost three straight. 

Saturday marks the start of a crucial stretch for the Loons, with three of their next four games at Allianz Field, where they are 3-1-3. In order to hold on to one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference, Adrian Heath’s team must take full advantage of the opportunity in front of it. 

As for FC Cincinnati, the first goal should be limiting the damage at the back. During the five-game losing run, the expansion side has conceded on 17 occasions, and it has given up five goals on two different occasions. 

A draw would be an acceptable result for FC Cincinnati as long as it finds a way to stop the bleeding inside its own box. 

3. Can NYCFC take advantage of home stretch and games in hand? 

Jun 6, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC midfielder Alexander Ring (8) wears a rainbow captain arm band for pride night during the second half against FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the numbers that stands out in the Eastern Conference standings is the 14 games played by New York City FC in four months. 

Portland, which has played 15 games, is the only other team in Major League Soccer that hasn’t played 16 games to this date. The games-played tally is important for NYCFC because it now has an opportunity to capitalize on that and gain ground in the table. 

Domenec Torrent’s side has a chance to make a real impact on the Eastern Conference standings at the start of its three-game home stand against first-place Philadelphia. 

A win would pull NYCFC six points back of the Union with four games in hand, giving it a real possibility of fighting for first for the rest of the season. 

However, the Pigeons will struggle for a result with a depleted squad against Philadelphia. Leading scorer Héber has been ruled out of the contest. 

4. New wrinkle to Cali Clasico

May 18, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski (8) is congratulated by head coach Matias Almeyda after scoring a goal during the second half against the Chicago Fire at Avaya Stadium. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

The Galaxy and Quakes didn’t need another set of factors added to their rivalry in order to spice up the drama for Saturday’s game, but that’s the case with their new managers. 

Almeyda previously coached at Argentinian powerhouse River Plate, while Schelotto was hired to the Galaxy from Boca Juniors. 

There are so many layers to the contest, including the pasts of the managers, the positions of both teams in the standings and MLS 1.0 Chris Wondolowski versus MLS 3.0 Zlatan Ibrahimović in the forward battle. 

While the Galaxy have been further up the standings than the Quakes in the last two years, San Jose holds the recent edge in the rivalry with a pair of wins from 2017 and a 3-3 draw at Stanford Stadium last June. 

The last two Cali Clasicos at Stanford have featured a stoppage-time game-winner from Shea Salinas and a come-from-behind result powered by a Wondo equalizer 12 months ago. 

With the Quakes playing well and coming off a 2-0 win over Houston on Wednesday, they could be ripe for another result against a Galaxy side that earned a 2-0 win of their own against Cincinnati on Saturday. 

One of the many matchups to watch is San Jose’s Jackson Yueill squaring off against the Galaxy’s new signing Favio Álvarez in the middle of the park.

Also keep an eye on how the Galaxy fullbacks deal with San Jose’s movement between Vako, Magnus Eriksson, Cristian Espinoza and Wondo in the final third. 

5. Can Portland’s attackers break down FC Dallas at home? 

Jun 22, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers forward Brian Fernandez (7) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second half against the Houston Dynamo at Providence Park. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the biggest advantages Portland has going into the second half of the season is its ability to combine in attack through Brian Fernández, Sebastián Blanco and Diego Valeri. The trio has high expectations to perform well everywhere, but especially at Providence Park, where Giovanni Savarese’s club has a long run of games upcoming. 

After resting a majority of their first-choice players for Wednesday’s trip to Montreal, the Timbers will be at full strength for FC Dallas’ visit on Sunday night in a super-special MLS After Dark kickoff at 11 p.m. ET following Sunday’s two Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinals. 

FC Dallas has to travel up to Oregon after playing a hard-fought 2-2 draw at home on Wednesday, which leads us to believe Portland is in the right spot to open up the floodgates and continue their surge up the standings. 

On Saturday, the Timbers proved how dangerous they can be in the final third by putting four goals past Houston. A similar result is possible with FC Dallas not having a full complement of players available. 

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