Previewing three important games as MLS plays a midweek slate

Posted By Harrison Hamm on August 25, 2020

MLS had a fruitful weekend of games as teams returned to their home stadiums. Toronto FC shredded the Vancouver Whitecaps twice in four days. The LA Galaxy managed to beat LAFC in El Trafico. Inter Miami beat Orlando City SC 3-2 in an exciting rivalry match. The Sounders beat the Timbers 3-0 with three late goals in quick succession.

There are plenty more games this week. Only Thursday will have no games, and Tuesday and Wednesday will have full slates. Let’s take a look at three of the more interesting ones.

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Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls (Tuesday, 7:30pm)

To start the weekend, the Red Bulls picked up an impressive 1-0 win over NYCFC, upping their regular season record to 3-2-1, good for 10 points and third-place in the Eastern Conference. NYRB are scrappy and generally don’t have clear, debilitating weaknesses. They work hard in attack and do enough to disrupt the possession sequences of opponents. In Aaron Long and Tim Parker, they have an upper-tier central defense pair when both are playing their best. (That hasn’t always been the case with Parker, but he was good against NYC.) Chris Armas won’t blow you away with tactics, but they have produced results that indicate they’re overcoming their talent level.

Against NYC, they benefited from a Sean Johnson howler and a fortunate VAR decision (I’m still not sure, that ball actually crossed the line). Philly played the Revolution to a scoreless draw on Thursday.

The Red Bulls could approach the Union in a similar tactical fashion to the way they approached NYC. They’ll press early in the game, prevent midfielders from getting into a rhythm, and force Philly to seek out counter-attacks. It’s not pretty, and it requires the Red Bulls to scrounge out a goal at some point, but the Union haven’t been lighting their opponents on fire lately.

Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo (Tuesday, 8:30pm ET)

A tad quietly, Sporting KC sit atop the Western Conference standings through six games, with five wins already. They have minimized some of the issues that plagued them last season — defensive weakness, age, injuries — and they’re back to being a well-oiled Peter Vermes machine. They play with purpose and they don’t put out a weak player at any position.

Against Minnesota United, they kept only 41 percent of the ball, but they won 2-1 and often appeared the better team. Sporting looked adept at advancing possession quickly and taking advantage of their chances in the final third. Gianluca Busio was exceptional as a passing central midfielder, and their attackers remain very impressive. The front three of Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido, and Johnny Russell fits together well. Gadi Kinda is a clever creative player behind them.

Houston assembled 17 shots and 57 percent possession in a scoreless draw against FC Dallas. They’re still figuring out how to implement Tab Ramos’s favored possession system. They’ll get there eventually, but SKC presents a difficult task. Darwin Quintero will have to equal the moments of magic that Russell and Kinda can produce.

Inter Miami vs. Atlanta United (Thursday, 8pm ET)

Both of these teams are on a high right now, with quality wins over the weekend that restored hope in a pair of fanbases. Miami, as mentioned above, defeated Orlando 3-2, with young forward Julian Carranza living up to his billing and scoring a brace. Atlanta finally scored some goals, beating Nashville SC 2-0.

ATL in particular shouldn’t derive too much excitement from a home win over Nashville — an expansion team that now has four points from five games this season — but they looked more joyous and free with Frank de Boer gone. Most promisingly, Pity Martinez scored a pair of goals, a great sign for the future. A superstar version of Pity, something we’ve never seen in MLS, would vault Atlanta back into contention.

Miami showed their bona fides as a difficult team to beat, as they forced errors from an Orlando team that had been error-free in a run to the tournament final. More above-average attacking performances, particularly from Carranza and Rodolfo Pizarro, would be huge for Diego Alonso’s club. This Miami-Atlanta match will serve as a nice litmus test for both teams.

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