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MLS Week 18 Midweek Preview: NYCFC hosts Seattle Sounders in headliner

What to watch out for in a busy slate of 10 midweek games in Week 18.

Jun 29, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC midfielder Maximiliano Moralez (10) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia Union on a penalty kick during the first half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Because you haven’t had enough soccer in your life over the last few weeks, there are 10 — yes 10 — Major League Soccer games taking place Wednesday and Thursday. 

Seven kickoff Wednesday, with a few intriguing clashes expected to take center stage, including one matchup that doesn’t stick out until you dig deeper. 

All of the action Thursday night takes place in Western Conference stadiums, with Colorado, FC Dallas and LA Galaxy all hosting Eastern Conference foes. 

Entering Week 18, the top six teams in the East are separated by six points, while the teams in second through eighth in the West have eight points between them.

Every result matters at this stage of the season, which is why we should see an increased level of urgency in every side in midweek.

Below is a look at one thing to watch in each of the 10 midweek contests slated to take place in Week 18.

Week 18 Midweek Schedule

Wednesday, July 3

Seattle Sounders at New York City FC (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Philadelphia Union at Orlando City (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

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

San Jose Earthquakes at Minnesota United (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Los Angeles FC at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

New York Red Bulls at Houston Dynamo (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Thursday, July 4

New England Revolution at Colorado Rapids (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

D.C. United at FC Dallas (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Toronto FC at LA Galaxy (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Things To Watch

1. NYCFC’s attacking cohesion 

Jun 29, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC midfielder Valentin Castellanos (11) plays the ball against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Thanks to five assists in two games, Maxi Moralez is the current MLS leader in assists, and he combined superbly with Valentin Castellanos in New York City FC’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. 

What is crazy about that result is Alexandru Mitrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi didn’t have a significant impact on the contest, while Heber was out with an injury. 

Those five players have the potential to form one of the most dangerous MLS attacks in the second half. Wednesday is the perfect opportunity for their form to continue against a Seattle team making the dreaded midweek trip from the West coast. 

2. Squad depth in Orlando 

May 19, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City SC midfielder Oriol Rosell (20), forward Benji Michel (19), defender Kyle Smith (24) , forward Dom Dwyer (14) celebrate as they beat the FC Cincinnati at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City and Philadelphia Union enter Exploria Stadium on two different ends of the squad depth spectrum.

The Lions are getting reinforcements from players returning from international duty, and Dom Dwyer will be available after missing Saturday’s clash with Columbus. 

On the other end, the Union are playing their third game in a week and had to sign RJ Allen as a defensive reinforcement since they are short at right back. 

Jim Curtin’s side is thin at fullback and central midfield at the moment, but he needs to utilize some type of squad rotation with a home game against Orlando also ahead Saturday. 

3. Can Chicago not be, well..a Fire? 

Jun 28, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; Chicago Fire forward C.J. Sapong (9) reacts during the second half against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Fire have perpetually underachieved during the Veljko Paunovic era and there is no clear fix in sight.

On Friday against the New York Red Bulls, the Fire attempted 26 shots, but only put eight on target and they turned in a defensive performance that left us once again questioning their form. 

The Fire have some nice pieces in attack in Nemanja Nikolic, C.J. Sapong, Aleksandar Katai (who has been their best player) and Przemyslaw Frankowski, but their defense and goalkeeping have been nightmarish. 

Chicago isn’t expected to win against Atlanta United Wednesday, but what we do want to see out of the side is a strong response for a coach that is creeping closer to the hot seat with every negative result. 

4. Minnesota & San Jose trying to continue momentum

Jun 29, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finlay (13) celebrates with forward Carlos Darwin Quintero (25) after a goal against FC Cincinnati during the first half at Allianz Field. (Jordan Johnson/Minnesota United FC – Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

If you had to choose one game to watch on Wednesday, it should be the clash between Minnesota United and San Jose Earthquakes.

The contest at Allianz Field might not have the big-time stars you look for in a Game of the Week, but it has two teams flying high on confidence after stellar results in Week 17. 

It’s also a vital game in terms of the Western Conference playoff picture. San Jose is fifth with 25 points and Minnesota sits sixth with 24. With Portland and Colorado surging and Sporting Kansas City still lurking beneath the playoff line, every result is important from here on out. 

If you’re looking for an individual matchup to keep an eye on, look at how Loons center back Ike Opara deals with the movement of the San Jose forwards, who have taken turns being the in-form scorer in their side. 

5. When will the Sporting KC resurgence start? 

Jun 29, 2019; Sandy, UT, USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Gerso (12) and Real Salt Lake defender Donny Toia (4) battle in the second half at Rio Tinto Stadium. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

Sporting Kansas City is beginning to have a 2018 Toronto FC feel to it as a team stuck in the bottom of the standings, one we expect to make a run into the playoff spot, but hasn’t yet. 

Peter Vermes’ side has two wins since the start of May and faces a tough task at home on Wednesday against a Los Angeles FC team looking to bounce back from a loss in Colorado.

The first match of the season between the two sides, which ended in a 2-1 LAFC win, was one of the best showdowns of the season. 

One of Sporting KC’s keys to success Wednesday will be the effectiveness of Ilie Sanchez, who faces a tough task against LAFC’s powerful midfield. 

If Ilie is able to lock down the space in front of the center backs, LAFC will be forced wide, where it will be forced to send in crosses, which favors Sporting KC and the aerial ability of its center backs and goalkeeper Tim Melia. 

6. Can Houston break its scoring slump? 

Jun 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; Houston Dynamo midfielder Darwin Ceren (24) controls the ball during the first half against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Houston Dynamo are firing on all cylinders in attack, they are one of the best teams to watch in MLS. 

But we haven’t seen a ton of attacking flair out of Wilmer Cabrera’s side over the last month-plus. In their last five games, the Dynamo have been shut out on three occasions and scored once in the other two games. 

Part of the offensive struggles has to deal with the international absences of the club’s Honduran contingent, but even they might not be the remedy to the situation since Honduras didn’t live up to expectations at the Gold Cup. 

In the same span, Houston’s Wednesday opponent, the New York Red Bulls, have scored 13 goals and that’s been without star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. 

7. RSL trying to keep up strong home form 

Jun 29, 2019; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Everton Luiz (25) and Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15) celebrate their 2-0 win against the Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

In their last three home games, Real Salt Lake have outscored opponents 7-1, with three victories coming against Toronto FC, Atlanta United and Sporting KC. 

The Claret-and-Cobalt need to continue to use Rio Tinto Stadium as a fortress, especially with their 2-6-2 road mark holding them out of the top seven in the West. 

Wednesday’s home clash with Columbus should be fairly straightforward for Mike Petke’s side since the Crew are stumbling through the schedule right now. 

If you tune into this late-night clash, watch how Albert Rusnak drives the RSL attack and the finishing ability of Sam Johnson, who has turned into a strong offseason signing for the eighth-place side in the West. 

8. Conor Casey vs. Bruce Arena

May 29, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Colorado Rapids head coach Conor Casey waives to fans prior to a game against the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Thursday’s match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park could have a bit of a MLS 1.0 feel to it with one of the league’s best strikers, Conor Casey, guiding Colorado and one of its most successful head coaches, Bruce Arena, in charge of New England. 

Do not expect anything fancy from this contest since the Rapids are still limited in terms of sheer talent and the Revs are playing their third game in a week at altitude. 

It won’t be the most appetizing affair, but it will be a display of two teams that have significantly improved in a short stretch after the firings of Anthony Hudson and Brad Friedel. 

The Rapids enter on a seven-game unbeaten run, while the Revs have picked up a point in each of their last six contests. 

9. Time to let more Homegrowns loose 

Jun 26, 2019; Frisco, TX, USA; FC Dallas midfielder Brandon Servania (18) in action during the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Stadium. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

FC Dallas’ sale of Carlos Gruezo to Augsburg opens the door for more Homegrown talent to take the field at Toyota Stadium. 

Edwin Cerrillo and Brandon Servania will be the direct beneficiaries of the Gruezo sale, and could form one heck of a young midfield triumvirate alongside Paxton Pomykal, who has already put himself in the discussion for the best young player in the league. 

Thursday could be the perfect opportunity for the three midfielders to shine on a big stage with Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and D.C. United coming to Frisco. 

If all goes well, the hype train station in Frisco that is already packed to capacity will have more riders wanting to get in on the craze. 

10. Zlatan 

Jun 29, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) after a game against the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s been too long since Zlatan Ibrahimovic graced us with his scoring presence. 

Too long by Ibrahimovic’s standards is two games stretched over a month, but if you look further back, he has two goals since May 8, which is an uncommon lengthy drought for the Swede. 

A year ago on the Fourth of July, Ibrahimovic scored a goal against D.C. United in the middle of one of his hottest scoring streaks. 

With Toronto FC coming to town and the LA Galaxy in need of a bounce-back win, Thursday presents Ibrahimovic with the perfect opportunity to set off some on-field fireworks before the real displays start in southern California. 

 

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