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MLS Week 23 Preview: Massive Sunday slate, Hell is Real debuts

Six of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable teams grace the national stage in Week 23. 

Atlanta United, New York City FC, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, Los Angeles FC and New York Red Bulls will all be on display on Sunday. 

The Los Angeles clubs stole the headlines at the end of the secondary transfer window to reinforce their positions ain the Western Conference, and even if their new players do not play on Sunday, it will be interesting to see if they provide a mental boost in the middle of the postseason push. 

Of the six teams, D.C. might be the most intriguing to watch this week to see its response to Wayne Rooney leaving at the end of the season, as well as the countless new faces it added over the last week. 

Before some of the top clubs in MLS steal the spotlight on Sunday, we will witness the MLS debut of the “Hell is Real” derby on Saturday between Columbus and FC Cincinnati.

There are two other rivalry clashes on Saturday, one between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake and the other in Cascadia, and there are some showdowns that could send shockwaves through each conference table. 

MLS Week 23 Schedule

Saturday, August 10 

New England Revolution at Seattle Sounders (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

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

Orlando City at Toronto FC (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN4) 

Minnesota United at FC Dallas (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Montreal Impact at Chicago Fire (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers (11 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN 1/4) 

Sunday, August 11

New York City FC at Atlanta United (3:55 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Houston Dynamo at Philadelphia Union (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

LA Galaxy at D.C. United (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1) 

New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles FC (10 p.m. ET, FS1) 

Things To Watch 

Bounce Back In Seattle

Aug 4, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei (24) reacts following a 3-2 defeat against the Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the weekend presents New England and Seattle with an interesting dynamic.

Both the Revs and Sounders are coming off disappointing home defeats, with Bruce Arena’s side falling to LAFC and Brian Schmetzer’s squad dropping a result to Sporting Kansas City.

In theory, the Sounders should be favored in this game because they did not have to travel cross-country and prepare for a tough opponent. 

But this is around the time of year when teams right above and below the red line get a little desperate, and even though the Revs have played well under Arena, they need to show a stronger sense of urgency with Toronto FC hot on their heels. 

Saturday also marks the start of an important stretch for the Revs, who have four of their next six on the road. 

Elimination Game at BMO? 

Aug 7, 2019; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; The Toronto FC celebrate a goal scored by defender Drew Moor (3) in the first half against the Ottawa Fury FC at TD Place Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC sits three points ahead of Orlando City going into Week 23. 

If the Reds knock off the Lions, that would create a six-point difference with nine games left.

It is not an insurmountable deficit for Orlando City to make up, but falling in Ontario would make life more difficult with Toronto and New England playing well. 

On top of that, a victory by Greg Vanney’s side would give it a two-win advantage over Orlando. Wins are the first tiebreaker if teams are even on points. 

Hell Is Real 

August 3, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Columbus Crew SC midfielder Artur (8) during the second half against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

FC Cincinnati and Columbus should treat their two derby matches like MLS Cup. 

Neither team is making the postseason and none of their remaining matches will carry more significance than the first two editions of the Ohio derby. 

The Crew have taken eight points from the last four games. Before their recent run of form, the Crew earned 10 points from March 30-July 13. 

FC Cincinnati has lost its last four league matches, but it has reinforcements on the way and a new manager, Ron Jans, in charge. 

The Crew also have some new players they would like to integrate into the squad, so there could be some growing pains on both sides as the intensity pours on to the field from the expected boisterous support from both teams in attendance. 

Is Sporting KC Back? 

Aug 4, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7, right) backs down Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Cristian Roldan (7, left) during the second half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We have asked this question a few times this season and on each occurrence Sporting KC has disappointed in its response. 

After beating the Sounders at CenturyLink Field in Week 22, Peter Vermes’ side returns home for a crucial clash with Real Salt Lake that could inch it back into the playoff discussion.

Sporting KC has four of its next five games at home, all of which are against Western Conference foes. If it can take advantage of that run at Children’s Mercy Park, it has a chance to sneak into the No. 7 seed, but we are not fully convinced it can since it is 4-3-3 at home. 

Can Portland Break Its Vancouver Curse? 

May 10, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Erik Godoy (22) reaches for the ball against Portland Timbers during the second half at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers have not defeated Vancouver in league play since October 22, 2017.

The Whitecaps swept the season series in 2018 and shut out the Timbers in their first Cascadia Cup clash back in May. 

Since then, Marc Dos Santos’ team has two wins from 14 matches, but it does carry some momentum from a late game-winner against FC Cincinnati a week ago. 

Portland is the better of the two sides based on pure talent, and there is a chance it could take out all its anger from back-to-back losses to Minnesota United on the Whitecaps at home. 

Second vs. Third In East 

Apr 24, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC’s Valentin Castellanos (11) celebrates his goal with forward Heber (9) during the first half against the Chicago Fire at Yankee Stadium. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Depending on who you ask, Atlanta United and all of its talent, or New York City FC and its games in hand will eventually top the Eastern Conference. 

The Five Stripes sniffed first place overnight in Week 22 before Philadelphia snatched it back, and now they have an opportunity to create some distance between themselves and NYCFC for the time being. 

Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez are coming off their best performance of the season, but they could face a tough time against Alexander Ring and NYCFC’s defensive-minded players. 

We do not talk about NYCFC’s attackers as much as we should, but they can pack a massive punch in the final third as well between Maxi Moralez, Valentin Castellanos and Heber. 

How Will D.C. Respond To Wild Week?

Jul 4, 2019; Frisco, TX, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) in action during the game between FC Dallas and the D.C. United at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United experienced one of the most tumultuous weeks of any MLS team in 2019, with Rooney announcing his departure at the end of the season and a handful of players coming into the squad. 

All of the moves occurred days after the Black-and-Red received a 5-1 thumping at the hands of the Union. 

Ben Olsen’s side needs a positive result to erase any doubt that the Rooney situation is weighing down its chase to secure a postseason berth.

There is no better way to make a statement than to do it on national television against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy, who themselves need a result in Week 23 after being bumped from the top four in the West a week ago. 

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