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MLS Talking Points: Atlanta United's slow start, Galaxy's injury woes, and more

02:56 GMT+3 09/03/2019
Frank De Boer MLS Atlanta United 03062019
The reigning MLS Cup champions are in a slump in their first weeks under new coach Frank de Boer, but is it too early to press the panic button?

The opening week of the MLS season had everything, from snow to rain and plenty of late goals. It also had a handful of teams starting the season with defeats they'll need to shake off quickly in order to avoid the dreaded season-opening slide.

Atlanta United is just one match into the regular season, but it is in a full-blown slump courtesy of recent Concacaf Champions League losses that have Atlanta fans nervous about their new coach, and wondering if a repeat MLS Cup is possible.

The LA Galaxy started off the season with a win, but making it two straight won't be easy due to several key injuries that could leave Guillermo Barros Schelotto's side short-handed against a feisty FC Dallas side looking for the first win of the Luchi Gonzalez era.

New York City FC will make its home debut on Sunday, in what will be a strange sight without David Villa in attendance. There will be one international star present though in D.C. United's Wayne Rooney, who will be looking to help D.C. build on its impressive season-opening victory against Atlanta United.

Matias Almeyda's tenure with the San Jose Earthquakes didn't begin as planned, but the Earthquakes will play host to Minnesota United hoping to avoid a second straight home defeat.

Here are some key talking points to watch for in the second week of the 2019 MLS season.

Atlanta United struggling early

How concerned should Atlanta United fans be about their team's recent results? A season-opening road loss to D.C. United by itself may not have set off alarm bells, but the team's recent Concacaf Champions League defeats to Herediano and Monterrey have raised some doubts about new head coach Frank de Boer heading into Saturday's home date against FC Cincinnati.

Is it too early to hit the panic button? Simply put, yes. Though Atlanta United is the reigning MLS champion, it is also going through the transition of adapting to a new coach, and has had to do that in the midst of a challenging travel schedule. Atlanta has already had trips to Costa Rica and Mexico, as well as a visit to Audi Field to face a D.C. United side that has given the Five Stripes fits since they first arrived in MLS two years ago.

Saturday should offer Atlanta United a respite from the recent rough patch. FC Cincinnati is playing just the second match of its MLS existence, and the expansion team looked overmatched in its debut against Seattle. Even if De Boer chooses to rest some starters to try and make a run at Monterrey in Wednesday's CCL quarterfinal second leg, Atlanta should still have sufficient firepower to send the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium home happy, or at the very least a bit relieved.

Match of the week: Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers

Only a stoppage-time Colorado Rapids equalizer kept Sunday's LAFC-Portland clash from being a battle of unblemished West powers, but that won't take away from what should be one of the more entertaining matchups of week two.

LAFC is searching for its first win against the Timbers, having settled for a draw and loss in their two meetings in 2018. The Timbers did a good job of keeping Carlos Vela under wraps the last time these teams met, but Vela also scored a goal in their first meeting in 2018.

The Timbers began the year surrendering three goals in a 3-3 draw with the Rapids in a snowstorm. The wintry conditions in Colorado make it tough to put too much blame on the Timbers defense, but while the weather at Banc of California Stadium will be clear and relatively warm, the Timbers will face another big challenge in the form of LAFC's high-flying attack.

Bob Bradley will have a tough decision to make at striker, where Christian Ramirez started in last week's win against Sporting Kansas City, but Adama Diomande came off the bench to score the winning goal. Whoever starts, LAFC will like its chances of finding a goal against the Timbers center-back tandem of Julio Cascante and Larrys Mabiala.

Zlatan-less Galaxy visit FC Dallas

Remember when some folks were up in arms over the possibility of the LA Galaxy being allowed to effectively have four designated players? Barely a week later, the Galaxy are looking at the likelihood of taking the field in Texas with just one of those DPs.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss Saturday's match against FC Dallas with an Achillies Injury suffered in the Galaxy's season-opening win against the Chicago Fire. Romain Alessandrini is also set to miss the match with a hamstring injury.

That leaves Jonathan Dos Santos as the only healthy designated player after the Galaxy parted ways with his brother Giovani a week ago.

The good news for the Galaxy is that they'll have two other players stepping in for the first time this season in newly acquired Joe Corona and Sebastian Lletget, who is returning from a hamstring injury.

Corona and Lletget should help the Galaxy field a strong midfield, but doesn't address the glaring need for a striker with Ibrahimovic sidelined and Ola Kamara having been sold to Chinese club Shenzhen.

The Galaxy announced on Friday the signing of 20-year-old forward Ethan Zubak from the club's USL affiliate, but Schelotto is more likely to turn to Chris Pontius or Uriel Antuna to fill in up top, which will leave the Galaxy at a considerable disadvantage against an FC Dallas central defense led by Matt Hedges.

Quick Kicks

Of the four MLS teams still competing in Concacaf Champions League, only one of them is getting a rest this weekend, the New York Red Bulls. What other team has a bye this weekend? Toronto FC, which schedule-makers clearly thought would still be participating in CCL at this point. TFC, however, was eliminated in the last 16 by Panamanian underdog Independiente. 

FC Cincinnati defender Greg Garza is back from injury and will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time since winning MLS Cup with Atlanta United in December, and he'll be in attendance when his former teammates receive their MLS Cup championship rings.

While Garza is expected to be healthy enough to play on Saturday, his former teammate Julian Gressel will not play. The German-born midfielder is still sidelined with the ankle injury he suffered prior to Atlanta United's CCL quarterfinal first-leg loss to Monterrey. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps continue their roster rebuild, with Iraqi left back Ali Adnan reportedly set to join the Whitecaps. Sources have confirmed to Goal that Adnan's loan from Serie A side Udinese has been finalized.

Week 2 Predictions

(*Best Bet)

FIRE 2, Orlando City 1. The Lions showed some promise in their opener, but the Fire are at home and will find scoring chances to grab their first win.

REVOLUTION 2, Crew 2. Look for plenty of scoring in this one, with Cristian Penilla and Federico Higuain the stars for their respective teams.

FC DALLAS 3, Galaxy 1. No Zlatan? No chance for the Galaxy against a tough Dallas team with an improving attack, which should punish a Galaxy defense that's still a work in progress.

Dynamo 1, IMPACT 2. The Impact will either face a tired Dynamo lineup, or one missing starters being rested for CCL play. Either way, Remi Garde's men should take the road win.

RSL 2, Whitecaps 0. Mike Petke's men make their home debut a memorable one, with Sam Johnson opening his account and Nick Rimando recording the shutout.

EARTHQUAKES 2, Minnesota United 1. Chris Wondolowski breaks the MLS scoring record at home to help the Earthquakes earn their first win.

*SOUNDERS 2, Rapids 0. Colorado comes back down to earth a bit against a tough Seattle side that should exploit the Rapids defense.

SPORTING KC 1, Union 0. Peter Vermes should rest most of his key starters, but Sporting KC's bench is still good enough to earn a hard-fought win at home.

NYCFC 2, D.C. United 1. Wayne Rooney finds the net, but NYCFC's attack shines, with Alexandru Mitrita making a memorable home debut.

ATLANTA UNITED 3, FC Cincinnati 0. Frank de Boer is sure to rest several starters, but the Five Stripes should still have enough firepower to run away from the newcomers.

LAFC 2, Timbers 1. Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi are too much for the Timbers in an entertaining match that should keep LAFC's momentum going at home.