Juninho’s arrival is an exciting development for a fanbase that hasn’t had much to be happy about lately. Plus what games to watch, how to watch them, and what you should keep an eye out for.
MLS kicked off last week, and there were quite a few pleasant surprises. All of the Chicago Fire, San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo — teams presumed by most to be outside of playoff contention this year — played very well. It’s just one week of games and depth issues will catch up with everyone, but it appears that Minnesota United is the only team that’s in for a long and mostly hopeless season.
Of those three above-mentioned teams, the Fire might be the most interesting, since they’ve been the worst of that group for a long period of time. But Dax McCarty was superb in his debut, and he’ll get a bit of help this week, with Juninho likely to play his first game for Chicago. The Fire were pretty good with only one real central midfielder in their first match, and might be very good with two of them.
Elsewhere, there’s one truly excellent MLS Live game and three totally decent national TV games. There’s plenty to like about MLS this week.
If you missed anything from Week 1 in MLS, catch up here.
Your national TV games (all times ET)
New York Red Bulls vs. Colorado Rapids — Saturday, 4 p.m., UniMas
Minnesota United vs. Atlanta United — Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN2
LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 7 p.m., FS1
All three of these games are very watchable. The Saturday game might not be terribly wide-open and high-scoring, but it should be well-played. The early Sunday game should feature very little defense and it would be stunning if either team failed to score. Sunday’s late game is the best balance between quality and likely entertainment value. LA and Portland both have teams good enough to go to the playoffs, but have defenses that look shaky on paper and did not impress in Week 1.
MLS Live games, ranked
- Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Montreal Impact vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7 p.m.
- New York City FC vs. D.C. United — Sunday, 2 p.m.
- Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
- Chicago Fire vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 2 p.m.
- San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — Saturday, 10 p.m.
- Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC — Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Once again, if you’re new to MLS this season, all non-national TV, out of market games can be seen online at MLS Live. It costs $80 for the whole season and features archives, highlights, and a really nice 10-minute extended highlights cut for all of the games. In-market and national TV games become available after 48 hours.
I had slight reservations about putting a Sporting game on the top of this list after they played to a 0-0 draw last week, but they played well and should be more attacking at home. Dallas is one of the best teams in the league, period. Even if it’s not high scoring, this game will be high quality.
I also had reservations about putting Montreal up high after their abysmal effort in San Jose, but by the same logic as I had for putting KC up high, I think this week should be different for them.
You no longer have to choose Fire vs. RSL or the Revs-Orlando game that was scheduled for the same timeslot, since the Revs had to postpone their match due to inclement weather. Both Union and TFC’s attacks should click a little better in Week 2, while the Fire will be interesting to watch with Juninho making his debut.
One big storyline: Can the LA Galaxy recover?
Bruce Arena’s departure for the United States men’s national team job left the LA Galaxy in a tough spot, without much time to find a replacement coach. They settled on LA Galaxy II manager Curt Onalfo, who doesn’t have an impressive MLS head coaching record. And now he’s tasked with guiding the Galaxy to the playoffs.
Based on his team’s Week 1 performance, Onalfo has a tough job in front of him. There’s no shame in losing to FC Dallas, one of the best teams in the league, but getting outplayed in your home opener is never a great look.
The good news for Onalfo is that his team’s average performance could just be down to new signings needing some time to get used to each other, and in a couple of instances, MLS in general. None of Joao Pedro, Romain Allessandrini or Jermaine Jones were particularly impressive, but they should improve with time. The Galaxy can also look forward to eventually replacing Jack McBean with Gyasi Zardes up top.
Still, questions remain about whether Onalfo can get as much out of replacement-level players as Arena did. The Galaxy regularly turned youngsters with only USL experience and MLS journeymen into solid starters under Arena.
On Sunday, LA faces another attack that’s at least as potent as FCD’s. While the Portland Timbers did have the benefit of playing an expansion team in Week 1, their five-goal haul was still impressive, and their front four is one of the league’s most talented.
We should never read too much into March results, but opening the season with two home losses could get Galaxy fans grumbling about their new-look team.
One player to watch: Juninho
Tasked with being a one-man midfield against the Crew, Dax McCarty performed admirably. But that kind of thing isn’t sustainable, so he’ll need a partner who does some good defensive work. Enter former MLS All-Star Juninho.
The Brazilian and former Galaxy star left MLS for Club Tijuana at the end of the 2015 season, and had a couple of very up-and-down tournaments in Liga MX. He was loaned to the Fire and could strike up a formidable partnership with McCarty in the Chicago midfield.
More control in the center should lead to more opportunities for new DP striker Nemanja Nikolic and attacking midfielder Michael de Leeuw to make an impact on the game. If they’re getting involved more often, Chicago’s opponents won’t be able to be as aggressive going forward, and some pressure will be taken off their questionable defense. Having Juninho in the center next to McCarty should also help slow down opposition counter attacks.
Juninho was suspended last week due to a red card picked up during his last match in Mexico, but he’s available to face RSL. Keep an eye out for how well Chicago is able to control the center of the park with Juninho in the lineup, and whether or not he’s developing chemistry with McCarty.