This weekend, MLS plays its last slate of games before an international break pauses the season. There are, as usual, a number of interesting matchups.
LAFC and NYCFC face off in a rare cross-conference matchup. FC Cincinnati will try to follow up its win last week as they face the New England Revolution. Saturday night’s LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes game is a rivalry between two entertaining, attacking teams.
Today, let’s take a look at the two nationally televised Sunday games. First, the Philadelphia Union hosted the Portland Timbers, a test for both contenders. That’s followed by a game between the Seattle Sounders and expansion Austin FC. Let’s take a look at what to watch in those two games.
Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers (Sunday, 7pm ET, FS1)
A couple of weeks ago, the Union signed attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag, a 25-year-old Hungarian who had 13 goals and six assists in his native league last year. Gazdag wasn’t expected to play immediately, but he made an appearance off the bench in Philly’s 1-0 win over D.C. United last week. It certainly seems plausible, then, that he could appear in the starting lineup this week, although it’s hard to know for sure.
Gazdag profiles as exactly the sort of player that the Union were looking for. “He is a versatile player who can play multiple positions in the midfield as well as at striker and has the ability to make an immediate impact,” sporting director Ernst Tanner said in the release. “His aggressive style of play has made him a top finisher in the Hungarian league and a good fit for our system.”
The Union’s most upgradeable position was in attacking midfield, where they lost Brenden Aaronson in the offseason. With young Leon Flach entering the midfield and Jamiro Monteiro filling a role higher up the field, Philly have been successful despite the departure of Aaronson. But Gazdag is a proven scorer who frees Monteiro to play alongside a more direct attacking option.
The fact that Gazdag is a member of the Hungarian national team — he’s expected to be called up for this summer’s Euros — is a good sign for his level of play. If he’s a consistent scorer, the Union will be hard to beat.
Portland have won their last couple of games, but they lost winger Andy Polo for the season due to a horror tackle from the Galaxy’s Derrick Williams, adding to a lengthy injury report. Among others, they’re missing Diego Chara, Sebastian Blanco, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Larrys Mabiala, and their top two goalkeepers, Steve Clark and Jeff Attinella. That’s a lot of injuries. But the Timbers are well-equipped to get by, though this week will be a tough test.
Prediction: Union win
Seattle Sounders vs. Austin FC (Sunday, 9:30pm ET, FS1)
So far, Austin FC can’t be too upset with where they are in their first MLS season. They’re playing their first eight games on the road as their sparkly home stadium gets ready, and in their first six, they have two wins and four losses. That’s despite starting defensive midfielder Alexander Ring picking up a red card in a loss to Sporting KC, which helped lead to a 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy the following week.
Ring will play against the Sounders, as will DPs Cecilio Dominguez and Tomas Pochettino, who have been relatively underwhelming so far. Led by manager Josh Wolff, Austin wants to play a possession-based system, which can be tougher without a certain skill level or elite talent.
They aren’t exactly a pushover, but the league-leading Sounders will be able to handle them without too much trouble.
Prediction: Sounders win
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