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MLS Week 4 Preview: Navigating through the international break

Major League Soccer is no stranger to playing through FIFA international windows.

Every season, the issue of missing players comes up during a shortened slate of games, and Week 4 is no different than that. 

This is just the first of many international windows MLS is going to have to play through with the regular season trimmed by a month to accommodate the new playoff format, which was established with the October and November international breaks in mind. 

In 2019, MLS sides have to deal with regular international absences, participation of its players in May’s U20 World Cup in Poland and stars away for the knockout round of the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. 

This is nothing new for MLS teams, and given how much depth each team boasts at the start of each season, it should be something all of the league’s clubs should be used to dealing with by now. 

Of course, some international windows are going to hit teams harder than others, but most can prepare for games during the international break by planning weeks in advance and being in direct communication with federations. 

Albert Rusnak, Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Carlos Gruezo, Andre Blake and Kemar Lawrence are among the stars absent from their club’s Week 4 games, but we aren’t devoid of any star power in MLS this weekend, as Carlos Vela is still with LAFC and Bradley Wright-Phillips will once again lead the line for the New York Red Bulls.

Since there are only five games in Week 4, you have a good opportunity to take a look at some teams you may not have paid attention to over the first three weeks. 

Week 4 Schedule

Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas (Saturday, 5:45 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Orlando City at New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Columbus Crew at Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

FC Cincinnati at New England Revolution (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Player to Watch

Brenden Aaronson, M, Philadelphia Union

The latest Homegrown Player to take the field for the Philadelphia Union impressed in his debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 3.

Brenden Aaronson, who received plenty of praise in preseason from the Union’s staff, was the club’s brightest attacker in Week 3 against Atlanta United, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a goal. 

Now with Marco Fabian suspended another game from his Week 2 red card, Aaronson has an opportunity to shine in front of the home crowd at Talen Energy Stadium.

The 18-year-old isn’t just a must-watch player for Philadelphia fans, as he’ll make a push to be one of the stars of the next U20 World Cup cycle. Even if he marvels in his next few games, Aaronson is seen as a long shot to make the 2019 U20 World Cup because most of that squad is already set. 

The pressure will be on Aaronson to thrive in the final third, as the Union are without Fabian, Cory Burke and Sergio Santos, which leaves Aaronson, Fafa Picault and David Accam as the likely starting attacking combination in Jim Curtin’s lineup. 

Matchup to Watch 

Kellyn Acosta, Colorado Rapids vs. Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas

The top individual storyline from Week 4 comes from Colorado’s visit to FC Dallas, as Kellyn Acosta makes his first appearance at Toyota Stadium since he was traded to the Rapids. 

Acosta is expected to once again spearhead the Colorado midfield, and he’ll do so against a depleted FC Dallas midfield. 

With Carlos Gruezo and Bryan Acosta away on international duty, Paxton Pomykal should have plenty of run-ins with the former FC Dallas player on Saturday. 

Acosta and Pomykal might not go directly at each other on every play, but both will be tasked with creating scoring chances through the middle of the park, and whichever player does it best could leave the field with three points. 

Fantasy Player to Watch 

Carlos Vela, F, LAFC 

If you don’t have Carlos Vela in your fantasy lineup, go add him now. 

The LAFC forward, who has three goals and two assists in three games, is going up against a Real Salt Lake defense that conceded five times on its travels in Week 3 against D.C. United. 

Since RSL will be lacking some bite in its attack without Corey Baird, Albert Rusnak and Sam Johnson, it’ll likely sit back and defend in an attempt to get out of Banc of California as unscathed as possible. 

However, the Claret and Cobalt could be in for a rough night with LAFC’s attack looking strong and Bob Bradley’s side in search of revenge from its playoff exit at the hands of Mike Petke’s side. 

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