MLS weekend preview: Atlanta United aims to halt Seattle Sounders’ hot start. LA Galaxy get test vs. Portland Timbers
More than a month into the 2021 MLS season, the cream is starting to rise to the top.
The Seattle Sounders continue to be the class of the league, and their next challenger will be a rejuvenated Atlanta United team (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox).
Trying to keep pace with Seattle are the Los Angeles Galaxy, a once-upon-a-time MLS powerhouse that is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to its transcendent playmaker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and new coach Greg Vanney. The Galaxy's next test will be road game against the Portland Timbers on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC).
In the Eastern Conference, five-time MLS Cup-winning coach Bruce Arena has turned around the New England Revolution, who are off to a strong start. Revs as "Team of ESPN+"? Their next five games appear on the streaming platform.
New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil (22) has emerged as one of Major League Soccer's best players. (Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)
Here is what you need to know for the sixth weekend of the 2021 MLS season:
MLS game of the week
Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX) – Raúl Ruidíaz remains one of the best players in MLS, which is supported by his five goals in six matches. An early stalemate with Los Angeles Football Club was something of an outlier, as the Sounders (5-0-1, 16 points) have defeated its other five opponents to start the 2021 season and sit atop the Western Conference. After an ACL injury sidelined Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez in a dismal 2020 for the Five Stripes, Atlanta (2-1-2, 8 points) will take the field in Seattle with a healthy Martinez and its own power to showcase.
MLS player to watch
Carles Gil, New England Revolution – The Spanish midfield maestro is one assist shy (3) from the league-most and has played himself into early MLS Best XI consideration to begin the season. Gil has scored a penalty and also leads MLS in key passes (27) – or passes the lead to a legitimate chance at goal, a category that Gil leads by 12.
MLS schedule: What are this weekend's games?
(All times Eastern. ABC/ESPN games available to be streamed on Watch ESPN; Fox games on FOX Sports Live. Games also available on fuboTV.)
- CF Montreal vs. FC Cincinnati, 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
- Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
- Chicago Fire FC vs. Inter Miami CF, 6 p.m. (UniMas, TUDN)
- Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m. (ESPN+)
- New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
- FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m. (ESPN+)
- New England Revolution vs. New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m. (ESPN+)
- Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 9 p.m. (ESPN+)
- San Jose Earthquakes vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10 p.m. (ESPN+)
- Los Angeles FC vs. Colorado Rapids, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
- Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
- DC United vs. Philadelphia Union, 7 p.m. (ESPN+)
- Nashville SC vs. Austin FC, 9 p.m. (FS1)
MLS news and notes
Columbus SC moniker lasts one week:The Columbus Crew rebrand simply didn’t take hold and the club that officially existed for seven days as "Columbus SC" not only dropped its new name, but moved on from the name it started the 2021 season with too. The club that appeared in two MLS Cup finales and won one championship as Columbus Crew SC – the "SC" was added in a 2014 rebrand – has reverted back to its original name: the Columbus Crew. The switch back to the original name of the very first MLS franchise came after prominent front-office members and ownership met with fans regarding opposition to the since-discarded Columbus SC name.
MLS players in line for Euro 2020 to be staged this summer: With last summer’s European Championship postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 summer will see the competition finally staged and it looks like several MLS players will be involved in the competition. As of Wednesday, six MLS players had been named to their respective national team camps. Przemyslaw Frankowski (Chicago Fire FC; Poland), Szabolcs Schon (FC Dallas; Hungary), Robin Lod (Minnesota United FC; Finland), Jukka Raitala (Minnesota; Finland), Lassi Lappalainen (CF Montreal; Finland) and Daniel Gazdag (Philadelphia Union; Hungary) were all named to their respective countries' preliminary rosters. UEFA Euro 2020 kicks off on June 11 in Rome.
Chicago Fire FC midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski (11) has been named to Poland's roster for Euro 2020. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
Chicharito leading all MLS goal scorers: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has gone from feel-good early season story to what appears to be a legitimate MLS Golden Boot contender. After a white-hot start to the season, Chicharito has continued putting the ball in the back of the net for a formidable Los Angeles Galaxy side that’s started out hot in 2021 on a 4-1-0 record. Chicharito has seven goals through five matches – two more goals than Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz.
Bruce Arena back near the top of the MLS table: Now in his third season at New England Revolution, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that head coach Bruce Arena’s Revs are sitting atop the Eastern Conference table on a 3-1-2 record. Considering that Arena inherited a New England side that was veering well off course in 2019, though, it’s still impressive. We’ve said it here before and it’s worth saying again: New England’s run to the Eastern Conference final in 2020 was legit. The Revs are using the early days of this season to position themselves well for the long summer ahead.
Big blow to NYRB and USMNT: New York Red Bulls central defender Aaron Long tore his right Achilles tendon during last Saturday's loss to the Philadelphia Union. Not only will the injury be a devastating blow for the Red Bulls, but also the U.S. men's national team in what will be a busy year with Concacaf Nations League, the Gold Cup and qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Long is the second player who figured to play a role in most if not all of those USMNT events to suffer a significant injury, following Jordan Morris, who tore his left ACL in February playing on loan at Swansea City. Long's absence could mean elevated USMNT roles for Nashville SC's Walker Zimmerman and Atlanta United's Miles Robinson.
40k-plus in Atlanta: Crowds are returning to sporting events in increasing numbers, and nowhere was that more evident than in Atlanta, where an announced attendance of 40,116 was at Atlanta United's 1-0 win over Club de Foot Montreal on Saturday. It was the largest attendance for a soccer game in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the sporting world shut down in March 2020.
Stefan steps in for Stefan: The Seattle Sounders continued on their hot start and remained unbeaten after their high-octane showdown with Los Angeles FC on Sunday despite losing their stalwart between the pipes, Stefan Frei. In his stead, Stefan Cleveland earned a clean sheet against the team that features the previous two MLS Golden Boot winners. Seattle will need Cleveland to keep up the good work with Frei expected to miss a few weeks with a knee sprain. Next up for Cleveland: Atlanta United and the 2018 Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez on national TV. No biggie.
Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland makes a save during Sunday's win over LAFC. (Photo: Jennifer Buchanan, USA TODAY Sports)
Charlotte FC player making progress: Charlotte FC won’t begin play in MLS until 2022 but the club’s roster build started early. Charlotte midfielder Riley McGree saw his loan at Birmingham City of the second-division English Championship extended until January 2022 after making 15 league appearances for Birmingham this past season. After the loan period expires, McGree, a well-traveled 22-year-old, should begin preparations to join Charlotte for the 2022 MLS campaign.
By the numbers
7: The absence of Jordan Morris hasn't made a difference for the Seattle Sounders. With a win or draw against Atlanta United on Sunday, the Sounders would set a franchise record for best start to a season with seven straight games unbeaten. Early on, the Sounders look poised for a run to their third straight MLS Cup final.
MLS power rankings: Top 10 power poll
1. Seattle Sounders: The sound MLS is hearing are the laughs of Seattle players who heard about their eventual demise before the season. Seattle is the best club in the league and proved it again in a 2-0 win over LAFC thanks to second-half goals by Xavier Arreaga and Brad Smith.
2. Los Angeles Galaxy: The return of Galaxy, and Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, to the forefront of MLS is tremendous news for a league that still needs more viewers. The Galaxy made easy work of expansion franchise Austin. Chicharito added his league-leading seventh goal, and it could’ve been eight if not for a penalty save by Brad Stuver in the first half.
3. New England Revolution: Adam Buksa made an instant impact as a substitute in the recent 1-0 win over Columbus. He checked into the game at the 83rd minute mark, then scored the game-winner three minutes later. The Revs are two points clear of the second-place team in the Eastern Conference.
4. Orlando City SC: Orlando is alone in second place of the Eastern Conference with nine points. That would be good enough for fifth place out west. Orlando held off DC United for a 1-0 win on Sunday after Mauricio Pereyra scored a 17th-minute goal.
5. Sporting Kansas City: SKC won two of three matches over eight days, a run that started with a comeback victory over Austin FC on May 9. Sporting closed out the week with a dominant 3-0 win over Vancouver.
6. New York City FC: NYCFC holds a plus-six goal differential after five matches, which is second most in the league behind the plus-11 for Seattle. Consecutive 1-1 draws leave NYCFC in third place in the Eastern Conference behind New England and Orlando. NYCFC ends the month of May with matches against Columbus and LAFC.
7. Colorado Rapids: The Rapids are one of the pleasant surprises of the early season. Colorado has won three straight to start May and move into a tie for third place in the Western Conference with 10 points.
8. Atlanta United: Atlanta has amassed five points over its last three matches, including three from a 1-0 win over CF Montreal on Saturday when Marcelino Moreno scored a thriller in stoppage time in front of 40,000 spectators.
9. Philadelphia Union: The Union had to navigate the early season MLS schedule with Concacaf Champions League matches. Since then, Philadelphia is rounding into form, earning seven points in the last three games. The Union defeated the New York Red Bulls the last time out.
10. Real Salt Lake: RSL only have played four matches, which is tied for fewest in the league along with FC Cincinnati. Still, Salt Lake remains in seventh place in the Western Conference with a trip to FC Dallas looming.
Moving in: Colorado Rapids, Atlanta United, Philadelphia Union, Real Salt Lake
Dropping out: San Jose Earthquakes (previously: 4) Columbus Crew (5) Nashville SC, New York Red Bulls (10)
Others receiving votes: Nashville SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Inter Miami CF, Los Angeles FC
USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Mike Craven, Austin American-Statesman; Drake Hills, The Tennessean; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch; Jim Reineking, USA TODAY.
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