Dax returns to RBA, West titans meet, ATL heads home: Week 9 storylines

Dax McCarty - Chicago Fire - Charges after the ball

USA Today Sports Images

To quote our man Matt Doyle, nobody knows anything about what’s going on in MLS. At least not yet.  

But that is precisely what makes this league really interesting.

Here are a few of the top storylines heading into Week 9 of the 2017 season:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo

Friday, 7:30 pm ET | TSN4/5 in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US

One team has Sebastian Giovinco. The other has MLS’ leading scorer. Golden Boot leader and (I don’t think it’s too early to say this) surefire MLS Comeback Player of the Year Erick “Cubo” Torres and the Houston Dynamo will head north of the border to take on Toronto FC in an intriguing matchup on Friday.

Houston have surprised, riding Torres and a deep, talented forward line to a 4-2-1 record, tied for the fourth-best mark in the league. That’s a solid start, but Houston have made all of their hay at home. They’re 0-2-0 on the road so far in 2017, and neither of those games were against a ticked-off Giovinco.

That’s Seba after he was subbed off after scoring two goals in Toronto’s 3-1 win against Chicago on Friday. No one in MLS enjoys facing the Italian under any circumstances. Matching up with him after a two-goal, slump-busting performance that buttressed TFC’s best game of the year? Yeah, hard pass.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Saturday, 3 pm ET | CTV in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US

After playing five of their first seven on the road, Montreal will begin an extended run of home matches on Saturday, with four of their next five coming at Stade Saputo. They need to take full advantage. The Impact haven’t looked bad this year, but they’re just 1-2-4 on the season. They’ll look to convert their decent form into three points against Vancouver, who, like Montreal, have seven points through their first seven games.

While the Impact have a decent run of home matches on the docket, Vancouver are in the midst of a tough four-game road trip. They gave the Timbers all they could handle last weekend, but ultimately fell short, losing 2-1 at their Cascadia rivals to drop to 0-3-0 away from BC Place this year. They’ll need to keep a close eye on red hot Impact striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who could be in line for a start this weekend after scoring three goals – a late winner against Atlanta and two second half tallies in last week’s 3-3 draw at Philadelphia – in Montreal’s last two games.  

Orlando City SC vs. Colorado Rapids

Saturday, 3:55 pm ET | UniMás, Facebook.com in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada

Might this be a trap game for Orlando? The East leading Lions are flying high after dispatching LA at home and topping NYCFC on the road in their last two outings, perhaps creating some danger that they’ll potentially overlook the struggling Rapids on Saturday.

Even if Orlando aren’t firing on all cylinders, the odds will be stacked against Colorado. After their outstanding 2016, the Rapids have fallen flat to start this season. They’re currently 21st in MLS with a 1-4-1 record and are 0-3-0 on the road, including a shutout loss at Minnesota – the Loons’ first MLS clean sheet – last week. Orlando have been dynamite at home, going 4-0-0 in Florida. They’ll be the heavy favorites on Saturday, with Cyle Larin looking to continue his hot run against a Rapids defense that’s been nowhere near as stingy as it was in 2016.

Columbus Crew SC vs. New York City FC

Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE

Two of the more talented attacking teams in the East, Columbus and NYCFC will both be looking for a positive result on Saturday after losing two of their last three.

Crew SC will have to replace influential defensive midfielder Artur, who broke his wrist in a loss at the Red Bulls last week, and could possibly be without defender Alex Crognale, who also left the loss in New Jersey due to an injury. Another question for Columbus: Will Kekuta Manneh take the field? The talented forward hasn’t played since being acquired by Columbus in a trade with Vancouver, and didn’t even travel last week.

NYCFC, of course, are dealing with their own injury issues. Ronald Matarrita is still out, with Rodney Wallace potentially set to fill in for him at left back for the second straight week. How he handles Crew SC’s talented wingers will go a long way in determining the outcome in Ohio.

New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE

For the first time since he arrived in Chicago last month, Bastian Schweinsteiger won’t be the main attraction when the Fire take the field this weekend. That’ll be his midfield partner Dax McCarty, who will be making his return to Red Bull Arena for the first time since New York shockingly traded him this winter.

It’ll no doubt be an emotional occasion for the former Red Bull captain, who was vocal in his criticism of how New York head coach Jesse Marsch handled his trade. It’s also a big match in the Eastern Conference. The Fire will be looking to continue their solid start after stumbling at Toronto last week, while New York will be aiming to go a perfect 3-for-3 on their home stand.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers

Saturday, 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE

Could we be looking at an early preview of the Western Conference Championship?

Portland and Dallas are unquestionably two of the most talented teams in MLS, and both have started well in 2017, with the Timbers currently leading the league and Dallas two points behind them in third. MLS’ lone remaining unbeaten, Dallas will have the upper hand on Saturday as the home team. Portland aren’t to be trifled with, however. The Timbers have won two of three, and Darlington Nagbe is in full-on beast mode.

Watching Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi against Carlos Gruezo, Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges will be fascinating. Which side wins that battle will likely leave Frisco happy this weekend.

Minnesota United FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Saturday, 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE

After being written off by the entire league following their miserable start, Minnesota have rebounded with a 2-1-1 record in their last four matches. The Loons have gotten a big boost from the acquisitions of Sam Cronin and Marc Burch, and have taken steps toward figuring out their center back situation, registering their first shutout of their MLS existence in Sunday’s 1-0 win against Colorado.

They’ll face a similarly offensively-challenged opponent in San Jose on Saturday. Winless in their last six, the Quakes have scored just eight goals in eight games, and were shut out twice last week. Chris Wondolowski hasn’t started firing yet, and Anibal Godoy’s golazos have dried up. We know Minnesota have the horses in the attack. If San Jose can’t figure out where their goals will come from, they could be looking at another defeat this weekend.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake

Saturday, 8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE

Long one of the most heated rivalries in the league, the SKC vs. RSL feud definitely has a different feel heading into Saturday’s match. For one, RSL have a new man on the bench. Mike Petke didn’t go through the blood wars that defined the rivalry in earlier years, and probably won’t approach Saturday’s match with the same level of vitriol that either of his predecessors did.

Still, he and RSL will be playing for keeps on Saturday. The Claret-and-Cobalt have had far from the ideal start to the season, and will be looking to make up for the points they dropped in last week’s home loss to Atlanta. It’ll be tough sledding against Kansas City, however, who boast the top defense in the league and will be feeling a little extra juice after losing their first match of the year last week at FC Dallas.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution

Saturday, 10 pm ET | MLS LIVE

After slogging their way through the first month-and-a-half of the year, the Sounders finally kicked things into gear last weekend, demolishing the LA Galaxy 3-0 at StubHub Center. Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris were up to their old tricks, while Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan provided plenty of bite in the midfield.

Things didn’t go as well for New England. The Revs drew a pair of home games in Week 8, failing to score in a 0-0 draw against scuffling San Jose on Wednesday and falling behind early before coming back to tie D.C. 2-2 on Saturday. Those are crucial lost points for New England, who will likely be on the edge of the playoffs again this year. A result in Seattle would no doubt make them feel much better about their chances moving forward. 

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union

Saturday, 10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE

The two most disappointing teams of 2017 will meet at StubHub Center on Saturday night. For head coaches Curt Onalfo and Jim Curtin, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Both managers are feeling a ton of heat from their team’s respective fan bases after getting off to poor starts, and both enter Saturday’s match at low points.

LA were picked apart last week, losing 3-0 at home to the Sounders in a match that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. The winless Union picked up a point against Montreal, but did it in about the most demoralizing way imaginable, coughing up a 3-0 first half lead to draw 3-3 at home. Philly would probably take a draw in LA on Saturday, while anything less than a win for the Galaxy would only increase the already considerable pressure on Onalfo and his charges.

Atlanta United FC vs. D.C. United

Sunday, 3 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada

For the first time since March 18, Atlanta United will return home on Sunday. The Five Stripes are coming off of a successful road trip that saw them draw at Seattle and at Toronto, lose at the death after playing down a man for the second half at Montreal and dispatch RSL 3-1 last weekend. D.C. is on deck for their homecoming, with the Black-and-Red in line for a difficult test.

Atlanta are one of the most dangerous teams in the league, and smashed the Fire 4-0 in their last game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. D.C. picked up a solid road point at New England last weekend, but have mostly struggled on the road this year, posting an 0-2-1 record and getting outscored 8-2 away from RFK. We’ll see how they cope with Atlanta’s attack – and legions of fans – this Sunday.

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