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MLS Talking Points: Zlatan hitting New York and Texas Derby headline Week 10

00:41 BST 04/05/2019
Zlatan Ibrahimovic LA Galaxy 2019
The Swede's first MLS trip to the Big Apple should see a packed Red Bull Arena, while Houston and FC Dallas face off in a battle of upstarts

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first visit to New York with the LA Galaxy and the Texas Derby headline an MLS Week 10 slate chock full of subplots and storylines.

The Swedish star leads the streaking Galaxy to Red Bull Arena, where the New York Red Bulls will try to halt LA's seven-match unbeaten streak, and where Ibrahimovic's arrival is expected to draw a full house to a stadium the Red Bulls have struggled to fill.

FC Dallas heads to Houston to take on the Dynamo in a battle of two of the league's pleasant surprises. The Dynamo have won four straight MLS games at BBVA Compass Stadium, but they face an FC Dallas side that has won two of its past three road games.

Osvaldo Alonso and surging Minnesota United play host to the Seattle Sounders in Alonso's first meeting with his former club since leaving the Sounders this winter. Cristian Roldan's rescinded red card suspension means he and Alonso will get to do battle in a classic teacher-versus-pupil showdown.

The Colorado Rapids bid farewell to head coach Anthony Hudson on Tuesday, and Conor Casey will look to lead the Rapids to their first win of the year against a Vancouver Whitecaps side also desperate for points.

Those are some of the storylines to follow this weekend. Here are some key talking points for the 10th week of the 2019 MLS season. 

The Zlatan Effect Hits New York

Since arriving in MLS a year ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has drawn large crowds on the road to see him play wherever he and the LA Galaxy go. That traveling phenomenon makes its way to the New York market for the first time with Saturday's afternoon clash against the New York Red Bulls.

A potential sell-out crowd of around 20,000 is expected to fill Red Bull Arena to watch the struggling Red Bulls attempt to slow down Ibrahimovic and a Galaxy side that has yet to lose in 2019 when he is in the lineup. The Red Bulls have struggled to fill their building this season, but that shouldn't be a problem on Saturday.

“Red Bull Arena is a great place to play and when it’s full, in my opinion, it’s one of the top places in the league to play. If it means that Zlatan has to come into town for that to be the case I’m OK with that," Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said.

"I remember in 2014 Arsenal came and it was filled to beyond capacity. The energy inside the stadium was electric. It was an away game, and it was a really fun experience, so if it ends up being the case that when we play LA it ends up being full everybody’s going to be really up for it and excited about it because when that stadium is full it’s an incredible place to be."

The Red Bulls recently reduced the capacity of Red Bull Arena from around 25,000 to 20,000, using tarps to cover large sections of the stadium's upper deck. Those tarps will remain in place despite the fact the Galaxy's arrival on Saturday is going to push demand for tickets to what will likely be their highest level of the season.

Ibrahimovic has had that effect on Galaxy road games since his arrival a year ago, with the Galaxy's trip to Vancouver earlier this season another example of his box-office appeal boosting crowd sizes. In fact, last year the Galaxy's trip to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Revolution wound up being one of the most well-attended games of the season for the Revs (36,573), drawing nearly double New England's usual average attendance. Ibrahimovic didn't actually play in the match, or even travel to New England for the match, but that information was not made public until the day of the game.

Ibrahimovic will be at Red Bull Arena on Saturday though, and it's a safe bet he will be looking to make a big statement in his lone trip to the New York area in 2019.

Match of the week: Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas

The league's Texas Derby had lost its luster in recent years due to the reality that it's been eight years since both the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas were serious contenders. But as the two sides prepare to face off at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, they do so as two of the league's pleasant surprises in 2019.

The Dynamo have built on last year's U.S. Open Cup title and enjoyed a strong start to the season, posting a 5-1-1 record. Houston seems to be the lone MLS participant in the Concacaf Champions League this year that actually seemed to benefit from taking part in the latter stages of the competition. Wilmer Cabrera's men have capitalized on an improved defense and the stellar form of Honduran speedster Alberth Elis to be among the top teams in the West.

FC Dallas is an even bigger surprise, with expectations being low heading into 2019 for a team expected to endure growing pains through a youth movement and the adaptation of first-year coach Luchi Gonzalez. Instead of struggling, FC Dallas has thrived under Gonzalez, with youngsters such as Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira playing well in extended minutes.

The Dynamo-Dallas clash will feature some enticing individual match-ups, including Mauro Manotas battling Matt Hedges and an improved Ryan Hollingshead against Elis, who has been one of the best players in the league this season. FC Dallas will be without Pomykal, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Quick Kicks

Anthony Hudson's departure from Colorado wasn't much of a surprise considering he looked like the head coach most likely to be fired first in 2019, but now that the Rapids have cut him loose the real question is which head coach will be next? New England's Brad Friedel is the logical choice given the Revs' continued struggles, but the coach to keep an eye on is FC Cincinnati boss Alan Koch.

It may sound crazy to think Koch is in trouble given it was just a month ago that Cincinnati was flirting with the best start by an expansion team in MLS history, but the first-year MLS team has seen its form deteriorate steadily, and Koch's recent comments about the team's need for more players sounds like a coach who knows the walls are starting to close in. FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding has a reputation as an impulsive operator, one who won't be afraid to shake things up if he feels like FC Cincinnati has hit a wall. In other words, if Cincinnati doesn't start improving, Koch could be gone before June.

The Philadelphia Union were hit with an unexpected roster blow on Friday with the news that Jamaican striker Cory Burke will be unavailable for at least three months due to visa issues that will prevent him from re-entering the United States. The Union lose Burke at the same time they learned back-up goalkeeper Matt Freese will be sidelined 4-6 weeks with an oblique injury after he recently stepped in for injured starter Andre Blake. Despite the recent personnel issues, including an emergency appendectomy for U.S. Under-20 defender Mark McKenzie, the Union are still in first place in the Eastern Conference heading into their home match against New England on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire have been in need of left back help since the abrupt retirement of Brandon Vincent and the loss of academy product Andrew Gutman to Scottish club Celtic, but they will be hoping Francisco Calvo can be the answer after acquiring him via trade on Friday. Calvo's time with Minnesota United was marked by inconsistent play and breakdowns that helped keep the Loons among the league's worst defenses. Calvo has shown during his time with the Costa Rican national team that he can be a high-level defender, but he will need to avoid the bad habits he showed in Minnesota if the Fire are going to see a defensive improvement from the acquisition.

Week 10 Predictions

(*Best Bet)

RAPIDS 2, Whitecaps 1. Never underestimate a coaching change's ability to motivate a team. The Rapids have the players to be better than they've been in 2019, and they will be out to show that against a Whitecaps side that has struggled to generate goals.

Red Bulls 0, GALAXY 2. No Kaku and likely no Bradley Wright-Phillips means the Red Bulls will struggle for chances, and will allow the Galaxy to devote more resources to feeding Ibrahimovic, who should find a goal or two.

DYNAMO 2, FC Dallas 1. The Dynamo attack does rely a lot on Alberth Elis, but this is a game for Memo Rodriguez and Tomas Martinez to capitalize on the attention paid to Elis and Mauro Manotas.

Orlando City 2, Toronto FC 2. TFC's defense hasn't been able to stop anybody in recent weeks, but we'll give Greg Vanney's squad a chance to grab a point in Orlando, with Alejandro Pozuelo saving the day.

IMPACT 2, NYCFC 0. Montreal's defense has been sharp, and should be able to contain NYCFC's Heber and Maxi Moralez, while Maxi Urruti finds the net for the Impact.

UNION 3, Revolution 1. Injuries and other setbacks have left the Union shorthanded, but they're playing with real confidence and should roll over a Revs team that hasn't put together a good road game all season.

D.C. UNITED 2, Crew 0. The Crew have gone ice cold, and aren't likely to find many chances against D.C., while Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta should generate chances against a Crew defense that has looked more vulnerable in recent weeks.

Minnesota United 1, SOUNDERS 2. Raul Ruidiaz has made the trip to Minnesota, and if the Peruvian striker is healthy enough to start, the Sounders have the attack to stop the Loons' recent string of shutouts.

REAL SALT LAKE 2, Timbers 1. Portland has started to look more like the MLS Cup finalists we remember, but visits to Rio Tinto Stadium are never easy, and RSL has been showing some good flashes lately. Jefferson Savarino steps up with a big performance to top the Timbers.

EARTHQUAKES 4, FC Cincinnati 1. The Cincinnati attack has been non-existent in recent weeks and its defense has looked vulnerable and could be ripped apart by a San Jose side that is starting to adapt well to Matias Almeyda's system. Cristian Espinoza has a field day.

*LAFC 3, Fire 1. What do you get when you combine a Vela and Fire? You get LAFC lighting up Chicago's suspect defense, even with newly acquired Francisco Calvo.

Sporting KC 1, ATLANTA UNITED 2. The Sporting KC attack may have gotten the wake-up call it needed last week, but injuries are mounting, leaving Peter Vermes with a patchwork squad missing some key figures in Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza and Gerso Fernandes. Atlanta United didn't exactly look convincing a week ago against Colorado, but that win might spark something, and Darlington Nagbe's recent good form should continue.