Seattle, Toronto look to rebound; LA hosts talented Portland attack
Jason Davis takes a look at some of the top matchups and storylines ahead of Week 2 of the 2017 Major League Soccer season in this edition of W2W4.
Toronto heads to Philly for 2016 playoff rematch
It might seem a little odd to pick a game featuring two teams that failed to score on the opening weekend of the season as one to watch, but the showdown in Chester, Pennsylvania, between the Union and Toronto FC does have potential to be a good one.
First of all, it's a rematch of last year's knockout-round playoff clash, when TFC bounced Philadelphia from the postseason 3-1 at BMO Field. In that game, Sebastian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio and Jozy Altidore all scored. Needless to say if that happens again on Saturday, Toronto will most likely be headed home with its first three points of the 2017 season.
TFC's Eastern Conference title defense and quest to get back to the MLS Cup final got off to a sputtering start on the road in Utah last week. Giovinco had a penalty kick saved by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and though the Reds passed the ball relatively well, they were outshot 17-9 and were not able to find the back of the net.
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Coach Greg Vanney put out the same 11 who started the MLS Cup final back in December, a nod to the stability in the TFC squad. There's a chance the coach could shake things up and give Victor Vazquez his full debut in a TFC uniform, though it's more likely that the Spanish creator will come off the bench again as he works his way to full fitness.
The Union's failure to score in Vancouver last week is not quite as troubling as TFC's, though there are going to be questions should the club fail to find the net in its 2017 home debut. Who will score the goals represents the biggest unknown for the Union in 2017. Newcomer Jay Simpson got the start up top against Whitecaps but struggled to impact the game as a long option. The Englishman should get another chance, with Fabian Herbers, Alejandro Bedoya and Chris Pontius the trio behind him providing service and runs off the ball.
Keep an eye on Philadelphia's emerging homegrown talent, midfielder Derrick Jones. The native of Ghana impressed in his debut against Vancouver last week.
Defending champs Sounders look to get on track
The defending MLS Cup champions are on the road for the second consecutive week as they head all the way across the continent to face the Impact in Montreal. Both teams suffered defeats in their openers last week, with Seattle falling to Houston 2-1 and Montreal losing to San Jose 1-0 at Avaya Stadium.
Frankly, neither team looked good in their respective first 90 minutes of the season. The Sounders were especially poor in the first half down in Houston, where a couple of first-half goals from the Dynamo set them up for a loss. Seattle did get a boost as Clint Dempsey returned to the lineup for the first time since last August. The U.S. international scored an opportunistic goal in the defeat, a positive sign as the team moves forward with its full group of attacking weapons. The Sounders will still be without Brad Evans due to injury, however.
The Impact fumbled their way to a loss in San Jose last Saturday thanks to a midfield turnover by Patrice Bernier and an attack that failed to put a shot on target. Key man Ignacio Piatti was especially quiet. As Piatti goes, so go the Impact, putting extra pressure on the Argentinean to find his groove in the first home game of the season.
The game shapes up to be particular fun from the tactical perspective. Even at home, the Impact were most comfortable last season springing the counter-attack from deep-lying positions. A shift to the en vogue high press in 2017 means Montreal is something of a mystery heading into this game. Will Mauro Biello stick with the approach or revert? With Evans out for the Sounders and Piatti likely to slide to the Impact's left, attention will be on Evans's replacement to hold down the playmaker.
LA has to handle Portland without Jermaine Jones
The Galaxy are traditionally one of the best home teams in MLS -- a league in which home-away splits are already dramatic, and most teams are good at home. That's why last week's opening-round loss to FC Dallas at the StubHub Center should trouble Galaxy fans. With all the change that has happened in the past few months, a first-week win at home would have gone a long way toward calming some natural fears.
L.A. gets another crack at scoring a home victory on Sunday afternoon, but the task isn't much easier than it was against Dallas. The Timbers looked sharp in a 5-1 beat down against expansion Minnesota United last week, and Caleb Porter's team will roll into Los Angeles with a healthy dose of confidence. For the Galaxy, the task of slowing down Diego Valeri and company is made all the more difficult by suspensions for Jermaine Jones and Dave Romney handed down midweek.
Jones was retroactively red-carded for a 17th-minute tackle on FC Dallas's Cristian Colman, a foul that only merited a yellow during the match. The 35-year-old is crucial to the new-look Galaxy, largely because of the ground he can cover and the tone he sets in the center of the pitch. Without Jones, Galaxy boss Curt Onalfo will likely have to push Sebastian Lletget into the middle and start Emmanuel Boateng on the wing. Replacing Romney is much more difficult, as it means blooding a defender without any MLS experience.
Portland arrives with Vytautas Andriuskevicius unavailable due to an injured calf, and could be without Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell as well. For a team that struggled defensively last year, a test of depth this early is a problem. On a positive note, Porter indicated that homegrown signing Marco Farfan -- the first-ever homegrown player in club history -- will make his debut at left-back in place of Vytas.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.