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Five Aside
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 By Arch Bell

Can NYCFC cope without David Villa? ESPN FC's MLS Week 28 predictions

The international break is done and dusted so it's back to a full slate of MLS action this weekend. ESPN FC's fearless MLS writers offer up their picks for five of the weekend's key matches.

New York City FC vs. Portland Timbers: Saturday's NYCFC-Portland clash promises to be entertaining. MLS leading scorer David Villa (19 goals) picked up an injury on international duty with Spain and missed Wednesday night's 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City. But even without El Guaje, NYCFC showed they have enough in other places, particularly midfield, to get the job done.

Portland shook off their midsummer slump and have picked up 14 of the last 21 possible points. The difference has been the play of Darlington Nagbe. During Portland's summer swoon, Nagbe's influence in matches was negligible, but things kicked back on for the Timbers when Nagbe recovered his level (sound familiar USMNT fans?). To win, Portland will need the good Nagbe to show up.

Arch Bell: Draw
Jeff Carlisle: NYCFC
Matt Pentz: NYCFC
Graham Parker: Draw

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls: This one has playoff preview written all over it. Third place Chicago host the fifth-place Red Bulls in a tasty one on Saturday. During the international break the Fire quietly halted their four-match losing streak with a 1-0 victory up in Montreal. Are the Fire back? Not quite, but the returns of full-backs Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent helps a lot and their performances against the Red Bulls could dictate how this one turns out.

The Red Bulls are intriguing. They could only rue their misfortune in not putting away 10-man FC Dallas last week in a 2-2 draw, but coach Jesse Marsch clearly has this team playing better, with midfielder Sacha Kljestan firing on all cylinders. After a pair of performances -- last week in Dallas and the 1-1 draw vs. NYCFC-- in which they perhaps deserved more, the Red Bulls will feel like they are due.

Arch Bell: Red Bulls
Jeff Carlisle: Draw
Matt Pentz: Draw
Graham Parker: Draw

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake: Out west, things are getting very interesting among the top eight teams, who are separated by just seven points. Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are right in the thick of it. RSL come roaring into Saturday's encounter in BC Place, having struck for four goals in their previous two outings: 4-1 vs. Colorado and 4-0 over San Jose. Luis Silva has been on fire, scoring three goals in that stretch while the chemistry continues to improve between Jefferson Savarino and Albert Rusnak. Vancouver will be a far more difficult test. The 'Caps have their own attacking core that is starting to gel in the form of Yordy Reyna, Cristian Techera and Fredy Montero, but the heavy minutes logged by defender Kendall Waston and winger Christian Bolanos over the international break could factor.

Luis Silva
RSL are suddenly charging but can Luis Silva and Co. keep up the momentum against Western Conference rival Vancouver?

Arch Bell: Real Salt Lake
Jeff Carlisle: Vancouver
Matt Pentz: Draw
Graham Parker: Vancouver

Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas: Sunday will be a special day for Atlanta United as they will play the first soccer match inside the sparkling new jewel that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium. No doubt Atlanta will get a major boost from the 42,500 in attendance for the landmark occasion, but there are still 90 minutes to be played and Gerardo "Tata" Martino's men have to deal with an FC Dallas team that has gone from dominant to desperate over the summer.

Still, Oscar Pareja's men showed some character in gutting out a 2-2 draw despite being down to 10 men versus the Red Bulls. The Texan side is a hard one to figure out, but as long as midfield maestro Mauro Diaz is on the field, they are a threat.

Arch Bell: Draw
Jeff Carlisle: Atlanta
Matt Pentz: Atlanta
Graham Parker: Atlanta

Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy: The Galaxy's slide in 2017 has been well-chronicled, while Seattle's uptick this summer -- 11 games unbeaten -- has them atop the Western Conference, so this should be an easy three points for the hosts, right? Not necessarily. There are signs of life, albeit very faint, from Los Angeles after a 3-0 win over Colorado last weekend. Granted, it was against the beleaguered Rapids, but the return of Romain Alessandrini from injury was a lift, midfielder Jermaine Jones showed his 2016 form and Gyasi Zardes actually scored a goal, his first of the season. Seattle is still very much the favorite here, but there will be some tired legs in a team that was busy over the international break, namely Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Roman Torres.

Arch Bell: Galaxy
Jeff Carlisle: Seattle
Matt Pentz: Seattle
Graham Parker: Seattle

Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

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