The New England Revolution is comfortably pacing the entirety of MLS now and for the foreseeable future.
It’s easy to look at the 10-point gap between New England and the Seattle Sounders, and tune out the Supporters’ Shield race. It’s even easier to turn the page on any challenge for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but there’s a solid jockeying act taking place in the West as MLS turns for the final third of the regular season.
The top four Western Conference sides are separated by just six points, with the Sounders (12-4-6, 42 points) out in front. However, the Colorado Rapids (12-4-5, 41 points) are just a point back and have a game in-hand on Seattle. Sporting Kansas City (11-5-7) is just a point back of the Rapids, too.
The other top contender in the West is the Los Angeles Galaxy, which is on 36 points via its 11-8-3 record. Minnesota United (31 points), Portland Timbers (30 points) and Real Salt Lake (30 points) seem to form a kind of second-tier among the clubs currently holding playoff spots in the West, but Vancouver (29 points) and Los Angeles FC (27 points) are close behind.
Don’t sleep on the West’s best as we careen toward Decision Day on Nov. 7.
Here is what you need to know for the weekend in MLS:
MLS game of the week
Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision/TUDN and Twitter): The wave is turning up in Colorado. Since a 1-0 road win on July 31 against Austin FC, the Rapids have gone seven matches unbeaten, including a 2-1 victory over the Galaxy on the road last month. The Galaxy, however, were without star center forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández (calf) in that match. Colorado forwards Jonathan Lewis and Andre Shinyashiki scored. Midseason additions like Mark-Anthony Kaye and Dominique Badji have made their presence felt, bolstering a Rapids attack that needs not much of the ball to find success in front of goal. The Galaxy could be without Hernández again Saturday, but are coming off of a 3-3 thriller in the El Tráfico derby against LAFC.
MLS player to watch
Jeremy Ebobisse, San Jose Earthquakes: August was a month of transition and adjustment for Ebobisse. The former Portland Timbers forward was abruptly traded to the San Jose Earthquakes on Aug. 4 for almost $1.2 million in general allocation money. He’s since scored his first goal for the Quakes in their 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy on Aug. 20. Ebobisse could help a Quakes side who have scored the second-least amount of goals in the Western Conference this season (24).
By the numbers
20: With a win over the San Jose Earthquakes last week, the Colorado Rapids are 6-3-2 (20 points) on the road this season, continuing last season’s road success and taking it to another level. In 2018 and 2019 combined, the Rapids had just 26 road points. The last time the Rapids won six games on the road was 2011.
MLS news and notes
MLS playoff game on Thanksgiving Day: In addition to the normal heaping helping of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and American football on Thanksgiving Day, MLS will hold one of its playoff games on the holiday this year. This will be the first time ever that an MLS game will be played on Thanksgiving Day. The league announced its 2021 playoff schedule on Thursday, with the 14-team playoff starting with the first round being held Nov. 20-23. The conference semifinals – including the Thanksgiving game – will be held Nov. 25-30. The conference finals are slated for Dec. 4-5. MLS Cup will be played on Dec. 11.
FC Dallas wunderkind bails out USMNT: Facing a dreadful start to its campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, the U.S. men’s national team got a massive boost from its youngest player. Making his first USMNT appearance and start, the 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi – who plays professionally for FC Dallas – scored the go-ahead goal and added an assist in the United States’ huge 4-1 win over Honduras on Wednesday night. The victory salvaged this first window of qualifiers for the U.S., which tied in its first two games.
New England gets boost from Carles Gil return: One of the scariest things about the rampant season the New England Revolution are putting together is that Carles Gil, a bona fide MVP candidate earlier this season, missed the club’s August matches with a sports hernia injury (and New England supporters were rightfully quick to point this out). New England scarcely missed a beat in August and remains 10 points clear of Seattle Sounders in the race for the Supporters Shield, the regular-season title in MLS. Now, the Revolution have their star playmaker back. After not making an appearance for the Revs since July 31, Gil returned to the lineup last weekend and went 24 minutes off the bench in a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union. Even as Gil failed to play for New England throughout August, his MVP candidacy is still intact. He remains the runaway league leader in assists (15), as well as in key passes (75). Oh, and New England is 14 points clear of Orlando City SC in the Eastern Conference on a 16-4-4 record.
Revolution’s run of one-goal wins: The Revolution are MLS front-runners, and are doing so with a statistical anomaly. Of their 16 wins so far this season, 13 have come by a single goal. That total already matches a single-season league record, tying the 2013 San Jose Earthquakes, 2016 Colorado Rapids and 2006 FC Dallas.
Revs’ Adam Buksa delivers for Poland: In MLS play this season, Buksa has scored 10 goals for the league-leading Revolution. He took that production to another level in Poland’s three World Cup qualifiers over the last week. Twice starting up top alongside Bayern Munich’s goal-scoring maestro Robert Lewandowski, Buksa had four goals for Poland, including a hat trick against San Marino.
Pivotal stretch for LAFC: Los Angeles FC – a preseason MLS Cup favorite – has had a disappointing 2021 season, and currently sits three points outside of the Western Conference’s seventh and final playoff spot. That spot is currently occupied by Real Salt Lake, who LAFC hosts on Sunday. Before the month is over, LAFC will have played the Portland Timbers – who also are three points ahead – twice. Included in the next five games are road trips against two teams sitting outside of the playoff picture: Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes. A potential season-saving stretch of games concludes with the renewal of the El Tráfico rivalry against the LA Galaxy on Oct. 3 in Carson, California.
Philadelphia Union eyeing Concacaf Champions League turnaround: By the time you read next week’s edition of the MLS notebook, the last MLS club alive in Concacaf Champions League action – the Philadelphia Union – will know if they’re advancing to the final of the competition. The Union on Sept. 15 (9 p.m. ET) will look to turnaround a 2-0 deficit against Club America at Subaru Park in the second leg of the semifinal round. In a colorful pre-match news conference in which Union head coach Jim Curtin likened Club América supporters to Dallas Cowboys fans. Curtin also said, “we have to be aggressive very early in the game, get that first goal, and then from there, anything can happen.” Philadelphia has no match this coming weekend and will enter the semifinal second leg with 12 days of rest and preparation.
Valentin Castellanos named MLS player of the month for August: New York City FC is gaining momentum in the Eastern Conference and much of the club’s recent success can be attributed to Valentin Castellanos, who was named Player of the Month for August in MLS. Castellanos scored four goals and notched two assists in August, and was involved in all of NYCFC’s scores last month. NYCFC finished August with a 2-0-2 record, and currently sit fourth in the East on a 10-7-4 overall record. It should be noted NYCFC lost its most recent match in a 3-1 defeat against Nashville SC. The game was played Sept. 3 but Castellanos scored again, knocking home a consolation goal in the 90th minute of the game.
MLS Disciplinary Committee issues fines to Moralez, McCarty in NYCFC-Nashville match: Speaking of that NYCFC-Nashville match, that game highlighted the MLS Disciplinary Committee’s weekly review of officiating decisions as two fines were levied for a late-first half fracas at Nissan Stadium. Center referee Timothy Ford showed Dax McCarty and Maxi Moralez straight red cards after a tackle involving the aforementioned players resulted in an ugly incident in which other players entered the field from the bench area. McCarty, whose appeal of the red card was denied, and Moralez were both fined by the committee.
MLS rankings: Top 10 power poll
1. New England Revolution: The Revs (52 points with 10 games left to play) are within striking distance of the league record for most points in a season (71), set by Los Angeles FC in 2019.
2. Seattle Sounders: Seattle has a big week ahead of it. After facing a tough Minnesota United team on Saturday, the Sounders host Santos Laguna in a Leagues Cup semifinal on Tuesday.
3. Sporting Kansas City: SKC will attempt to get back in the win column Saturday at home against Chicago Fire FC after being on the wrong end of a stunning 4-0 drubbing to an LAFC team that was playing a number of backups.
4. Colorado Rapids: The surprise team of the 2021 MLS season finally gets its national TV showcase Saturday when it hosts the LA Galaxy.
5. Nashville SC: After a statement win over New York City FC last week, Nashville travels north of the border to play a CF Montreal team that is riding a four-game undefeated streak.
6. Orlando City SC: Orlando has vaulted into a tie for second place – with Nashville SC – in the Eastern Conference thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run, which the team will put on the line against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday night.
7. New York City FC: NYCFC will look to rebound from last week’s humbling 3-1 defeat to Nashville SC, but get a tough road assignment against the leaders in the Supporters’ Shield race, the New England Revolution.
8. Los Angeles Galaxy: The Galaxy return after a week off to play a red-hot Rapids team that has gone seven straight without a loss, including five wins in that span.
9. Minnesota United: Minnesota and Seattle – the 2020 Western Conference finalists – are meeting for the third time this season, with the home team winning the previous two. The location for Saturday’s showdown? Seattle’s Lumen Field.
10. Philadelphia Union: The Union gets the weekend off ahead of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal Leg 2 matchup with Club América at Subaru Park on Wednesday. The Union enter the game down 2-0 on aggregate.
Others receiving votes: DC United, Club de Foot Montréal
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.
MLS schedule: What are this weekend’s games?
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City SC, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 3:30 p.m. ET (Univision/TUDN, Twitter)
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
New England Revolution vs. New York City FC, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
New York Red Bulls vs. DC United, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
FC Cincinnati vs. Toronto FC, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Inter Miami CF vs. Columbus Crew, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
CF Montreal vs. Nashville SC, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Houston Dynamo vs. Austin FC, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Sporting Kansas City vs. Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS notebook: Western Conference playoff race could get wild
Source: Yahoo Sports