Can Philadelphia take advantage of an LAFC side that's dipped without Vela?
Time is running out on the MLS regular season, with just three weeks remaining until the playoffs get underway, and Wayne Rooney and D.C. United are traveling to Portland for a Sunday afternoon tilt on ESPN, while the Philadelphia Union take aim at LAFC, plus Eastern Conference leaders New York City FC clash with San Jose.
Can Philly pounce on LAFC’s slump?
From the looks of it, the Philadelphia Union have shaken off their midsummer slump and are heading into the final weeks of the season playing some of their best soccer of the season, with four wins from their past five.
The man who has proved pivotal of late is Kacper Przybylko. The German forward has four goals in his past five games, and 13 on the season in 22 appearances to give Philly the proven goal scorer that it has needed.
The Union already passed one big test with flying colors when they downed Atlanta United 3-1 right before the international break, and they’ll need to be just as prepared on Saturday against league leaders LAFC (7:30 p.m. ET, streaming on ESPN+).
It’s an interesting time for Bob Bradley’s bunch. The hamstring injury to Carlos Vela has made LAFC beatable, with a 2-0 loss to Minnesota United followed a 2-2 draw in Orlando last Saturday being the results without the Mexican.
Yet despite missing Vela and key players like Brian Rodriguez, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Walker Zimmerman on international duty, LAFC showed some character in rallying for a point in Orlando. If Vela is a scratch again this weekend, it would send a strong message to the rest of the league that LAFC could beat one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams without Vela having played a single minute.
Rooney’s legacy to be examined in Portland
With the international break now completed, the MLS season has reached crunch time, with playoff places and seeding up for grabs. That’s especially important for D.C. United, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference and still have some work to do to secure a spot in the postseason.
There is also the matter of Wayne Rooney’s D.C. legacy to consider. Nobody disputes that the Englishman’s early days in the nation’s capital were a big hit, with arguably the play of the 2018 season against Orlando City. But things have somewhat soured this summer for Rooney.
The abrupt news of his decision to leave at season’s end coincided with a social media outburst about the league’s travel policy, plus some choice words for a fourth official in Vancouver. A red card against the New York Red Bulls last month didn’t help things, and by the end of August, D.C. had earned just four wins since May 15.
Yet if the former Manchester United man can deliver a strong finish and lead his team on a deep run in the postseason, his legacy in MLS will be firmly intact. The first test is Sunday against the Portland Timbers (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), who are coming off a big 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City and are right in the thick of an airtight Western Conference playoff race.
Can NYCFC solidify place atop East in brunch date with Quakes?
There is so much to like about how New York City FC’s season has unfolded. Head coach Domenec Torrent was feeling the heat at the start, as the team didn’t even pull down a win until Week 7, but now a full year into his reign in the Bronx, Torrent’s mark is firmly stamped on this team and they have risen to the top of the Easter Conference playing some aesthetically pleasing soccer.
The 1-1 midweek draw with Toronto FC will go down as a disappointment, but that should not take away from what is a six-match unbeaten run, with five victories. Next up for NYCFC is an early Saturday kickoff with the San Jose Earthquakes (12:30 p.m. ET, streaming on ESPN+).
The Earthquakes were in action in midweek as well, a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, and now venture to New York to play a match that starts when a good chunk of Northern California will still be in their pajamas. The Quakes are likely to be a bit fatigued from Wednesday night, plus their body clocks will still be on Pacific time. The chances to strike early — and fortify their place atop the East — should be there for NYCFC.