Talk about schedule congestion.
In the span of 16 days from Sept. 14 through Sept. 29, the Seattle Sounders – once again a serious contender to reach MLS Cup – will have played five games. This run of matches includes both the Leagues Cup semifinal (a 1-0 win over Santos Laguna on Sept. 14) and final (a 3-2 loss to Leon on Wednesday night in Las Vegas).
That busy slate includes Sunday’s huge showdown on the road against Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City, and finishes with another road game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday.
How Seattle manages this stretch – it lost to Real Salt Lake last Saturday – could determine whether or not it finishes atop the West when the regular season is done.
Here is what you need to know for the weekend in MLS:
Sporting Kansas City vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1): The Western Conference frontrunner will be decided in this game, as Sporting Kansas City currently holds a one-point lead over the Seattle Sounders in the standings. SKC has enjoyed its home-field advantage at Children’s Mercy Park as of late in this series, going unbeaten in its last five vs. Seattle, winning five of those games. This is the first of two high-octane matchups between the two clubs in the next month, as they will meet again on Oct. 23 in Seattle.
Josef Martínez, Atlanta United: Under new coach Gonzalo Pineda, Atlanta is making a late-season surge up the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta has won three straight, and seven of its last eight. Martinez has scored three goals in the last two games, and will need to keep that production going Saturday against a Philadelphia Union team that is competing with Atlanta for coveted playoff spots.
15: As the postseason nears, teams were clearly more aggressive in the attack this week with 15 teams scoring three or more goals in a game. Half of the 24 games this past week featured at least one team scoring three or more goals. San Jose and Atlanta scored at least three goals in both their games, as MLS set a record with 87 goals scored for the week of Sept. 14-19. Eight of those teams are within three points of the final playoff spot in each conference.
Coming in 2023: Super-sized World Cup-style Leagues Cup: MLS and Liga MX announced Tuesday that the Leagues Cup competition between the two leagues will be expanded, starting in 2023. Leagues Cup will include every team from the two leagues – with each pausing regular-season league play for a month – with 47 teams (29 from MLS and 18 from Liga MX) playing in a World Cup-style group stage before advancing to knockout rounds. In addition to prize money, the winner will earn an automatic berth into the Concacaf Champions League round of 16. The second- and third-place finishers will earn spots in the Champions League’s opening round. The current incarnation of the Leagues Cup has eight teams.
Luchi Gonzalez was removed at FC Dallas after about three years in charge of the club. A steady stream of domestic talent cultivated within the organization, and most recently the arrival of Ricardo Pepi, couldn’t be molded into a consistent product for Gonzalez, whose FC Dallas sat 11th in the Western Conference on 27 points and a 6-11-9 record at the time of his departure. For now, Dallas is leading its principal rivals in the standings – in-state foes Houston Dynamo and Austin FC are 12th and 13th in the West, respectively. That usually indicates something positive for whichever Texan club leading that trio, but not in 2021 with those teams comprising the West’s bottom three sides. The death knell for Gonzalez was a 3-2 defeat to Houston last weekend in which Dallas trailed 3-0 an hour into the match.
NYCFC sign 14-year-old defender Christian McFarlane to homegrown deal: Signing teenagers to MLS contracts is becoming increasingly normal – even expected, particularly in the soccer realm. But Christian McFarlane and New York City FC grabbed headlines late last week when NYCFC made McFarlane the third-youngest player in MLS history to sign a first-team deal at 14 years old. “He is at an earlier stage of his development than our previous Academy signings and initially will continue to train and play with our U-17 team, but we are excited that he has committed to become a professional at this young age,” NYCFC sporting director David Lee said in a statement. “There is a development plan in place for him over the coming years and we are looking forward to supporting his development to maximize his potential.” McFarlane became NYCFC’s sixth academy product to sign a first-team contract.
Seattle Sounders’ Shield push takes injury hit: The Seattle Sounders are firmly in the race for Western Conference supremacy, as well as the Supporters Shield, which is awarded to the regular season champion in MLS. However, Seattle’s bid took a significant injury hit that will last for an untold period of time following Nicolas Lodeiro’s right knee arthroscopy. The procedure was performed successfully in Chicago on Monday following Lodeiro’s re-aggravating “an injury from earlier this season during training last week and sat out Saturday’s match at Real Salt Lake,” the club stated in a news release. Lodeiro had surgery on the same knee in May. In the meantime, New England Revolution (17-4-5, 56 pts.) are still firmly in control of the Shield race as they’re 10 points clear of Sporting Kansas City (13-5-7, 46 pts.) with Seattle (13-5-6) 11 points back.
1. New England Revolution: The Revolution’s quest for the Supporters’ Shield continues Saturday against an Orlando City team that it eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
2. Seattle Sounders: Coming off the Leagues Cup final, the Sounders’ schedule remains hectic with key Western Conference matches on the road against Sporting KC on Sunday and at home against the Colorado Rapids on Oct. 3 sandwiching a Wednesday road tilt against the San Jose Earthquakes.
3. Sporting Kansas City: SKC, which is coming off a hefty 4-0 win over Minnesota United last Wednesday, will be well-rested and at home for its big showdown against Seattle on Sunday.
4. Colorado Rapids: At 10 games, the Rapids are riding the second-longest undefeated streak in team history (longest: 15 games during the 2016 season).
5. Nashville SC: Nashville isn’t going to catch first-place New England, but this team has a great opportunity to be the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. That’d be a nice accomplishment for the second-year expansion team.
6. New York City FC: In a scheduling quirk, NYCFC gets a home-and-home series against their rivals, the New York Red Bulls, this week.
7. Los Angeles Galaxy: After falling 3-0 to Minnesota United last Saturday, the Galaxy has a great chance to collect three points when they face an Austin FC team that’s lost five straight games.
8. Portland Timbers: Portland earned a huge 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC on Sunday, and can distance itself from another Western Conference playoff hopeful when it hosts Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
9. Orlando City SC: Orlando hasn’t won since Labor Day weekend, and faces the daunting task of attempting to get a result on the road against the team running away with the Eastern Conference, the Revolution.
10: Atlanta United: Fast-rising Atlanta has a big game Saturday, as it faces the Philadelphia Union on the road in a showdown of teams on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Moving in: Atlanta United
Dropping out: Philadelphia Union (previously: 9)
Others receiving votes: Philadelphia Union, Club de Foot Montréal, Minnesota United
USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Drake Hills, The Tennessean; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch; Jim Reineking, USA TODAY.