One of the great equalizers and problems in Major League Soccer comes to the forefront during Week 9’s weekend slate.
Los Angeles FC’s second meeting with the Seattle Sounders in two weeks takes place at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
No matter the shape of the turf fields across MLS, it still makes a difference when it comes to actually playing games.
Bob Bradley even admitted as such after the Black-and-Gold blitzed the Sounders 4-1 at Banc of California Stadium a week ago.
“I wish they’d get a grass field, but what can I say, with all the great things that Seattle has done, I have tremendous respect and admiration,” Bradley said. “Next week’s going to be a different game, in part because it’s going to be on turf. It’s just a fact.”
The good news for the Sounders is that Chad Marshall is back in the lineup at center back. The 16-year MLS veteran was missed in Week 8, when the LAFC offense ran through the Sounders back line with ease.
Defending Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Co. is still going to be a tough task, but the Sounders defense has the familiarity with the turf on their side, and the pace of play will be different with LAFC having a harder time working through the defensive lines through the ground.
LAFC isn’t a one-dimensional side, but it will have to make adjustments on the fly in order to counter the difficulties of the turf.
But the Sounders proved on Wednesday they aren’t a perfect side yet. The defense gave up a pair of goals to the San Jose Earthquakes before coming back to earn a draw.
After being the target of criticism for most of March, the Quakes have turned into one of the league’s best stories in April by beating Portland and Sporting Kansas City at home and earning a point in Seattle.
Suddenly, the Quakes look like a competent side under first-year head coach Matias Almeyda, and dare we say, they are fun to watch.
The Quakes are only three points out of the Western Conference playoff spots, but they face a difficult task on Saturday against a FC Dallas side that is improving in its own right under first-year boss Luchi Gonzalez.
Shea Salinas has turned into an unlikely goal contributor with three goals in the last two games, and he’s already reached a career high in scoring with four tallies.
THIS MAN IS ON FIRE! 🔥🔥🔥
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) April 25, 2019
Cristian Espinoza has also been a bright spot for the Quakes in the middle of the park, and Jackson Yueill looks the part of a MLS starter after he was finally given an opportunity to show his quality in an extended role under Almeyda.
Compared to the other teams that were in need of massive improvements, the Quakes are in great shape.
Colorado is still lingering at the bottom of the West, Vancouver hasn’t hit its stride yet, while New England and Chicago have been up-and-down in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of the Revolution, Brad Friedel has come under plenty of criticism for his team’s performance in 2019, and even though he deserves the No. 1 spot on the hot seat rankings, remember this is a franchise that gave Jay Heaps plenty of chances to turn things around before cutting ties in 2017.
Week 9 Weekend Schedule
Saturday, April 27
Orlando City at New York City FC (1 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Portland Timbers at Toronto FC (3 p.m, ET, TSN, ESPN+)
San Jose Earthquakes at FC Dallas (3:30 p.m. ET, Univision)
Philadelphia Union at Vancouver Whitecaps (5 p.m. ET, TSN, ESPN+)
Colorado Rapids at Atlanta United (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
FC Cincinnati at New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Columbus Crew at Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sunday, April 28
Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact (12:30 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+)
D.C. United at Minnesota United (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
Los Angeles FC at Seattle Sounders (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Player to Watch
Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Alejandro Pozuelo has already established himself as the main attraction in the Toronto FC attack, but he’ll have even more pressure to create chances on Saturday without Jozy Altidore on the field.
The Spaniard has four goals and five assists in four games, and the majority of those assists have come on goals scored by Altidore.
If he continues to be a menace in the final third, the Reds won’t drop off much in production, even if they are calling on their depth to manage through Altidore’s injury absence.
Matchup to Watch
Alberth Elis, Houston vs. Waylon Francis, Columbus
Alberth Elis has torn apart a few defenses with his pacy runs down the right wing.
The Honduran attacker is one of the most dangerous attackers in MLS when he gets rolling, and he’ll try to show that again on Saturday against the Columbus Crew’s Waylon Francis.
Francis is one of the most experienced full backs in MLS and he is a part of a Crew back line that has conceded nine goals, which is tied for second-fewest in the league.
The Crew back line will be on short rest on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium, which leads us to believe Elis has an advantage in this matchup going into the match.
Fantasy Option To Watch
Heber, F, New York City FC
Heber has made an instant impact on the New York City FC attack in his four games with the club.
The 27-year-old forward has a goal and two assists in his two starts, including an assist on Wednesday against Chicago.
Short rest might be a factor in Heber’s performance on Saturday against Orlando City, but if you had him in your lineup at the start of the match week, you should be able to reap more benefits out of him.