The MLS regular season is back in full swing, with teams playing in their home stadiums. (Sometimes even with some fans, surprisingly enough.) For the first weekend of games, MLS scheduled a number of rivalry matches to ramp up excitement. Thursday night saw the New York Derby — the Red Bulls won on a controversial goal — and Friday night saw the Dynamo play FC Dallas to a scoreless draw.
There are matches scheduled every day through Wednesday. It’s a blitz of games. We’ll have coverage as the games come, but today, let’s take a look at some of the best coming up.
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy (Saturday, 6pm ET)
Another El Trafico! It was fun the first time around, in the Orlando bubble, when they combined for eight goals in a 6-2 LAFC win. The Galaxy’s defense struggled to contain Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, and with Chicharito still out, they may have trouble finding an outlet up top. But Jonathan dos Santos is back in midfield, a return from injury that probably helps them more than Chicharito would.
The Galaxy also signed 26-year-old winger Yony Gonzalez on loan from Benfica, potentially adding a much-needed contributor to an attack that relies heavily on Cristian Pavon. They will still face a tough task taking down LAFC, who get Carlos Vela back. These games are entertaining every time, so expect no different here.
Atlanta United vs. Nashville SC (Saturday, 7pm ET)
Calling this a “rivalry” is stretching the definition quite a bit, and I’m not trying to force anything, but two new-ish expansion teams in the south are meeting for the first time. That feels noteworthy, even if it’s impossible to know whether there will be any real animosity happening.
Neither team is a fully-formed version of itself. Nashville has a coalition of average-ish MLS players who bring different skillsets, apart from the elite talent of Walker Zimmerman. They’re still figuring out their building blocks. Atlanta has an interim manager after letting Frank de Boer go and will likely start newly-signed Cubo Torres up top now. ATL are hoping to do the best they can in a season without Josef Martinez.
I imagine Atlanta will have the ball a lot in this game.
Inter Miami vs. Orlando City SC (Saturday, 8pm ET)
These teams met in the first game of the MLS is Back tournament. Orlando won on a last-second Nani goal en route to a surprising run to the final of the tourney. The Lions are the newest team considered to be among the league’s elites, or at least among those with a shot at making a run. They possess the ball eloquently and play good soccer.
Miami will be one of the more interesting teams to watch, as they will debut new signing Blaise Matuidi at some point, in addition to adding center back Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez to their backline. They are looking for their newcoming attackers — including Rodolfo Pizarro, Julian Carranza, Matias Pellegrini, and Lewis Morgan — to prove they deserve a spot in the team. High-profile players from around the world are rumored to be targets for David Beckham’s team. They are on the verge of breaking out at some point.
There will be tensions between these two Florida opponents. If Miami grows into a contender and Orlando maintains its form, this could be one of the league’s most exciting new rivalries.
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 10pm ET)
Still the best and longest-lasting rivalry in the league, this year will be as important as ever with both of these teams considered among the best in MLS. The Timbers are coming off an impressive tournament victory in Orlando, with Sebastian Blanco winning tournament MVP. The attack is versatile, with players like Diego Valeri and Jaroslaw Niezgoda potentially being used as super-subs at points, and the midfield has a blossoming Eryk Williamson, who makes a great partner for Diego Chara.
Seattle enter the new regular season hoping to defend last year’s MLS Cup title, which feels like it happened about three years ago. They saw some great performances from Jordan Morris in the bubble tournament, although they’ll hope the backline performs much better. Xavier Arreaga in particular had a rough go of it. With Joao Paulo back after missing the tournament, the Sounders are contenders in spite of their defensive issues.