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Week 18 Weekend Preview: Portland Timbers-NYCFC showdown headlines 9-game slate

The weekend’s marquee matchups involve both New York teams, with NYCFC hosting the Portland Timbers and the Red Bulls playing at Atlanta United

We get the rare occurrence of fewer weekend games than we witnessed in midweek, which was chock full of weird MLS results from Chicago blasting five goals past Atlanta United to a nearly five-hour marathon between Colorado and New England due to a few weather delays. 

Typically, the bizarre results are saved for midweek, but with plenty of teams finishing off long stretches of games and the heat and other conditions playing a significant factor still, we could be in for a wacky weekend of nine contests. 

After a brief hiatus, there are seven MLS games to indulge in Saturday night before two marquee clashes sandwiched between the Women’s World Cup, Copa America and Gold Cup finals. 

While there will be some interesting matchups on Saturday, the real intriguing comes Sunday with Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls squaring off and red-hot Portland heading east to face surging New York City FC

Week 18 Weekend Schedule

Saturday, July 6

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

Houston Dynamo at FC Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Seattle Sounders at Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Minnesota United at Montreal Impact (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Vancouver Whitecaps at Los Angeles FC (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) 

Sunday, July 7 

New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United (2 p.m. ET, Fox) 

Portland Timbers at New York City FC (6:30 p.m. ET, FS1) 

Things to Watch 

1. Injury and suspension adjustments in Chester

Jul 3, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City SC midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) tackles Philadelphia Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro (35) during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. Kljestan received a red card on the play. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

For the second leg of their home-and-home series Saturday, Philadelphia and Orlando will be forced to make changes due to injuries and a pair of suspensions.

Robin Jansson and Sacha Kljestan are out for the Lions due to red cards, while Jamiro Monteiro will miss the match at Talen Energy Stadium after suffering an ankle injury caused by Kljestan’s red-card tackle. 

The Union should be able to rely on Marco Fabian to replace Monteiro, with Brenden Aaronson playing one of the sides of the 4-4-2 diamond midfield. 

The Lions can slide Dom Dwyer back into the lineup to supplement Kljestan’s productivity in the final third, but the lineups for Saturday could look even more different than Wednesday. 

Orlando has its eye on the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals next week and the Union are playing their fourth game in 10 days. 

2. Can Houston stay hot & take advantage of FC Cincinnati’s defense? 

Jul 3, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis (17) reacts after scoring a goal during stoppage time against the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Stadium. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The Houston Dynamo are one of a few teams looking to bank on a strong Wednesday performance to produce momentum going into the weekend. 

Saturday’s trip up to Nippert Stadium to face FC Cincinnati presents the Houston attack with a perfect opportunity to build on the four goals put past the Red Bulls Wednesday. 

A victory in Cincinnati would be massive for the Dynamo, who enter a brutal stretch of games in July after Saturday with LAFC, Atlanta, Toronto FC and Seattle up in the next four games. 

For the expansion side, the first goal is to not be exposed on defense like it has during its six-game winning streak. When its defense is at full strength, FC Cincinnati has produced some decent performances, but the combination of injuries, international duty and poor form has led to a nightmare.

FC Cincinnati has given up 24 goals during the six-game losing streak. Eight MLS teams have given up 24 goals or fewer the entire season. 

3. Should we be worried about Seattle?

Jul 3, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Seattle Sounders defender Xavier Arreaga (25) heads the ball against the New York City FC during the second half at Yankee Stadium. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

While we’ve been busy roasting other teams (we’re looking at you, Ohio teams), Seattle has dropped four of its last five league games. 

In addition to that bad run of form, the Sounders are 1-5-3 on their travels, with zero points from their last four road games. 

The good news for the Seattle is struggling Columbus is its opponent Saturday and after its trip to MAPFRE Stadium, it plays four of its next five games at home.

Still, it is a bit concerning to see the Sounders production dry up with the LA teams earning results at the top of the Western Conference and margins being so thin in the hunt for the final five playoff positions.

4. How many goals does Minnesota have left in it? 

Jul 3, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Jan Gregus (8) controls the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes during the second half at Allianz Field (Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota United is the hottest team in front of goal in MLS with 10 tallies in the last 180 minutes of action. 

What is even more remarkable about the wins over FC Cincinnati and San Jose is the Loons had eight different players score, with Ike Opara and Kevin Molino the only ones with multiple goals. 

Like in baseball when hitting is contagious, scoring appears to be contagious within the Loons locker room, which could mean bad news for the Montreal Impact, who have the worst goal differential of any side sitting in the playoff positions at -7. 

Although the Impact’s defensive record is far from stellar, they have played well at Stade Saputo of late with victories over Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Portland in three of their last four home matches. 

Keep an eye on Montreal center back Zakaria Diallo, who could be the key to stopping the Loons’ buildup in the middle of the park. Diallo has quietly produced a few good showings for the Impact this season.

5. How do Sporting KC and Chicago respond to opposite midweek results? 

Jul 3, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting Kansas City midfielder Yohan Croizet (10) reacts after scoring a goal during the second half Los Angeles FC against at Children’s Mercy Park. (Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)

Saturday’s clash at Children’s Mercy Park between Sporting Kansas City and Chicago is the most fascinating match of Week 18 from an emotional perspective. 

On Wednesday, the Fire earned their first victory since May 11 in a trouncing of Atlanta United at home, while Sporting KC fell flat once again against LAFC. 

For Chicago, the concern is about being consistent in generating positive results since it has followed a win with another victory just once in 2019. 

It is unusual to see Peter Vermes’ side mired at the bottom of the table, especially with how poorly the team has played. 

Saturday is the perfect chance for Sporting KC to bounce back on short notice at home to make a statement, but we kept saying that about Toronto FC in 2018 and it rarely happened. 

6. Can Vancouver get the best of LAFC again? 

Apr 17, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) celebrates the win with goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (16) after the end of the second half at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The Vancouver Whitecaps are one of two teams to beat LAFC this season, and on Saturday, they have a chance to pull off a rare feat against Bob Bradley’s side. 

The April 17 victory at BC Place wasn’t a fluke, even though LAFC rested Jordan Harvey, Steven Beitashour and Mark-Anthony Kaye. 

Marc Dos Santos’ team made Carlos Vela rather ineffective in the final third by holding him to one shot on goal, and the defense as a whole held the Supporters’ Shield leader to three shots on goal. 

The Whitecaps need some type of positive response to a four-game winless run, and they will be on full rest after being one of four teams not to play in midweek.

If you’re looking for a difference-maker for the Whitecaps, look at Ali Adnan, who just signed a Designated Player deal with the team Friday. It’s a big investment for the club in defense, but he has proved he’s worth the price so far. 

7. Expect playoff-level intensity at Avaya Stadium

Jul 3, 2019; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake forward Sam Johnson (50) races down the line against the Columbus Crew at Rio Tinto Stadium. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re staying up late to catch a look at San Jose, and why wouldn’t you with the way they are playing, you should be in for one of the most intense matches of the weekend. 

San Jose and RSL will engage in a possible six-pointer that could affect the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff spots in a significant manner. 

The Quakes have received all of the love from around the league for their recent form, but RSL is keeping pace with most of their rivals and are one point better than Matias Almeyda’s side. 

Saturday should be a real test for the San Jose back line, even though it is a home game, since RSL has one of the more in-form forwards in Sam Johnson and has a dangerous No. 10 in Albert Rusnak who can get in between the lines and wreak havoc. 

It’s also worth watching how Damir Kreilach and Everton Luiz handle the combination play between Vako, Chris Wondolowski, Magnus Eriksson and Cristian Espinoza. 

8. How will Red Bulls defense handle Atlanta’s attack? 

May 25, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; New York Red Bulls defender Amro Tarek (3) reacts against FC Cincinnati in the first half at Nippert Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

You could point to every position on the field and pick out an intriguing matchup to watch in Sunday’s clash between Atlanta and the Red Bulls, but the real concern going into the contest is the Red Bulls back line.

With Aaron Long still away at the Gold Cup and Tim Parker banged up, the Red Bulls have to rely on Amro Tarek to hold down the fort in the middle of the back four while dealing with the interplay and movement of Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.

Against Houston’s Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto Wednesday, the Red Bulls back line looked outmatched and gave up four goals. 

The Red Bulls can’t afford another terrible defensive performance, but it is going to be tough to contain an Atlanta attack hungry to make a statement that the loss to Chicago was a fluke and it can flex its muscle against one of the best sides in the East.

9. How will Portland manage Yankee Stadium? 

May 15, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Portland Timbers forward Brian Fernandez (7) reacts after scoring a goal during the second half against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta-Red Bulls is the appetizer to the real MLS showdown on Sunday. 

Portland and NYCFC are two of the best teams in the league, and their respective attacks are firing on all cylinders. 

One of the most interesting things to watch at Yankee Stadium will be how the combination of Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Brian Fernandez work together in tight spaces. 

Fernandez’s adjustment to the Yankee Stadium is worth watching as well, since some of the league’s best players and teams have struggled with the short dimensions. 

In addition to playing in a condensed area, the Timbers have to go up against Alexander Ring, who is even more underrated of a player than their own defensive midfielder Diego Chara. 

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