It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when reacting to the fast starts of certain Major League Soccer teams. But Los Angeles FC and the Seattle Sounders are different than previous quick starters. The pair of Western Conference teams, who square off twice in the next two weeks — starting with Sunday’s clash at Banc of California Stadium — are the best the league has to offer in 2019.
The top-of-the-table clash in the West could give us a way-too-early look at the Western Conference playoffs six months from now.
LAFC’s explosive attack has received a majority of the national headlines because of how well Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi have played. But Seattle has an equally as dominant forward combination in Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris.
The Sounders haven’t been as prolific in front of net as LAFC, but they still have the quality to go into California and steal a victory.
LAFC already conquered one of the league’s best teams by dismantling D.C. United at Audi Field two weeks ago, but the Black and Gold displayed a bit of weakness in their 1-0 Wednesday loss to Vancouver.
Sunday marks the first significant Western Conference test for Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders, and it comes a week after they took care of Toronto FC on home soil.
Aside from Vela and Ruidiaz, Sunday’s game could be won by some X-Factors, including Brad Smith and Cristian Roldan for Seattle and Eduard Atuesta and Walker Zimmerman for LAFC.
These are two well-constructed teams and it will be interesting to see how Schmetzer and Bob Bradley align their chess pieces to take advantage of the weaknesses they perceive the opponent has.
While LAFC-Seattle gets top billing in Week 8, there are a few other notable games worth mentioning in this space.
Houston’s Friday-night trip to Dignity Health Sports Park to play LA Galaxy is an intriguing bout that pits the Dynamo’s electric attack against an improving Galaxy defense. How Giancarlo Gonzalez deals with his new system in LA and with the runs made by Houston’s Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Co. could decide the game.
Then there’s a sneaky good matchup between FC Dallas and Atlanta United, which, like the two matches already mentioned, will be nationally televised. Of course eyes will be locked on FC Dallas’ Paxton Pomykal, but FCD coach Luchi Gonzalez’s entire team has played well to start the season.
Saturday’s match between the Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers doesn’t sit on the top of the marquee, but it carries its own headlines with Caleb Porter managing against the Timbers for the first time since he left the Portland job.
If you go up and down the schedule, there are a few other intriguing matchups spread across the three-day weekend that could make this the most exciting set of games of the season to date.
Week 8 Schedule
Friday, April 19
Real Salt Lake at FC Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Minnesota United at Toronto FC (8 p.m. ET, TSN 1/4/5, ESPN+)
Houston Dynamo at LA Galaxy (11 p.m. ET, Univision)
Saturday, April 20
Colorado Rapids at Chicago Fire (1 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Montreal Impact at Philadelphia Union (1 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+)
Vancouver Whitecaps at Orlando City (3 p.m. ET, TSN 1/5, ESPN+)
FC Dallas at Atlanta United (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sporting Kansas City at San Jose Earthquakes (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sunday, April 21
New York City FC at D.C. United (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles FC (7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Player to Watch
Gyasi Zardes, F, Columbus Crew
Gyasi Zardes started the 2019 season on a good note with three goals in March, but he hasn’t scored yet in April.
With Jozy Altidore taking control of the U.S. Men’s National Team forward depth chart because of his form at Toronto FC, Zardes needs to keep finding the back of the net to secure a roster spot for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
Zardes’ form is also important from the Columbus Crew’s perspective since they’ve been involved in plenty of tight games in 2019.
Five of Columbus’ games have been decided by 1-0 or 2-0 results. If Zardes takes advantage of one or two scoring opportunities against a struggling Portland defense, he could lock up three points with the help of goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who has been playing out of his mind ahead of his departure to Manchester City.
Matchup to Watch
Ezequiel Barco, Atlanta United vs. Carlos Gruezo, FC Dallas
Ezequiel Barco is coming off his best performance in an Atlanta United shirt in Week 7, when he scored twice against New England.
The much-hyped playmaker faces a tricky test at home Saturday against FC Dallas’ midfield destroyer Carlos Gruezo.
FC Dallas has three wins in its last four games and won’t be intimidated by the big stage of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes are still far from perfect under Frank de Boer, and if Gruezo frustrates Barco and the other attackers, it could be a long afternoon for the home side.
Fantasy Player to Watch
Krisztian Nemeth and Johnny Russell, Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City’s pair of four-goal scorers take on a San Jose defense that has let up 16 goals over six games Saturday night.
The Earthquakes have shown some improvement in recent weeks under first-year head coach Matias Almeyda, but containing Sporting KC’s attack will be one of their toughest tests of the season to date.
Sporting KC is one of five teams in MLS with 14 or more goals scored. Four of those teams reside in the Western Conference.