MLS Talking Points: Loons take on Red Bulls in biggest test to date

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Brace Hemmelgarn
Minnesota United's two-game winning streak is on the line at Red Bull Arena against a tough New York side

The international FIFA window has most leagues around the world on break this weekend, but not MLS, which has half the league in action.

Many of the 12 teams playing this weekend are dealing with international call-ups and absences that will test their depth. Teams like the LA Galaxy, Minnesota United and New York Red Bulls have key players absent, which could let some younger talents shine.

The MLS spotlight was taken over by Zlatan Ibrahimovic this week, with his official signing with the Galaxy grabbing all the headlines. The Swedish star won't be with the Galaxy for their trip to Vancouver. Neither will a half dozen other key Galaxy players, leaving Sigi Schmid severely shorthanded as they try to snap Vancouver's 10-match home unbeaten streak.

New York City FC is the only 3-0-0 team in MLS, but that perfect record will be on the line when Patrick Vieira's men travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution. Brad Friedel and Viera saw plenty of each other as players, but now face off as coaches for the first time.

Here is a closer look at the key talking points for MLS Week 4:


MATCH OF THE WEEK: New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United


GFX GOTW MLS Week 4

Minnesota United has been one of the surprises of the early part of the season, with consecutive victories having the Loons looking primed to exceed expectations.

A closer look at the opponents in those victories — winless Orlando City and the Chicago Fire — suggests that we might want to pump the breaks on anointing Minnesota United as a playoff contender just yet. That said, a win on Saturday against the Red Bulls would force us all to take Adrian Heath's team more seriously. The Red Bulls are a tough team to beat at home  — they're unbeaten in their past nine regular season matches at Red Bull Arena — and Jesse Marsch's squad will be looking to make up for last week's lackluster 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.

Tyler Adams is with the U.S. national team, which should give Marsch an opportunity to tap into his considerable midfield depth. Alejandro Romero Gamarra will be a big key to Saturday's match, with his creativity and mobility a handful to deal with. For Minnesota United, it will Miguel Ibarra likely pulling the strings in central midfield as the Loons continue to work on trying to replace injured standout Kevin Molino.

Christian Ramirez has shown himself to be a handful for opposing defenses, but the Red Bulls tandem of Tim Parker and Aaron Long are shaping up to be one of the league's best.

Working in Minnesota's favor is the absence of Red Bulls left back Kemar Lawrence, who is with the Jamaican national team. Veteran Connor Lade will play in his place, and will face the difficult challenge of defending Ethan Finlay, who has been in good form this season.

The match will also offer a homecoming for Loons rookie Mason Toye. The first-round draft pick was once a member of the New York Red Bulls academy and lived in New Jersey before spending a season playing at Indiana University. He has played in two matches so far for the Loons, registering an assist. Given Abu Danladi's injury status, Toye stands a good chance of seeing the field not too far from his childhood home.


QUICK KICKS


Chris Durkin MLS DC United 06132017

Before the season began, Chris Durkin was looking at a logjam of midfielders standing in the way of him seeing playing time for D.C. United. A rash of injuries, and an international call-up have left D.C. without several of those same midfielders, and now Durkin could earn his first MLS start on Saturday against Columbus. The U.S. Under-20 midfielder has played in all three of D.C. United's matches, and he could find himself being matched up against Federico Higuain. If he does well, Durkin could see more playing time.

The Colorado Rapids could see newly-acquired forward Joe Mason make his MLS debut. The former Wolves forward has been signed to pick up the goal-scoring slack in an attack that needs a reliable double-digit goal-scorer. 

Lee Nguyen has yet to play for New England this season, after missing part of the preseason holding out, but Brad Friedel could be hard-pressed to keep him on the bench against a team as stacked as NYCFC, a team Nguyen has enjoyed success against. The Revs have turned to Diego Fagundez in the playmaker role, while Ecuadorian newcomer Cristian Penilla has slotted into the starting lineup on the left wing. The Revs are entertaining trade offers for Nguyen, and if he doesn't see the field on Saturday it would add to the growing belief that his days in New England will soon be over. 


MATCHUPS TO WATCH


Fanendo Adi Matt Hedges MLS 04292017

Fanendo Adi vs. Matt Hedges. Portland's big forward has had plenty of battles with Hedges before, but he'll need to find the net if the Timbers are going to leave Texas with points.

Luciano Acosta vs. Artur. With Wil Trapp on international duty, Artur will have his hands full dealing with Acosta, who is fresh off scoring a big equalizer last week for D.C.

Christian Ramirez vs. Tim Parker. Whether it's Parker or Long, or both, the Red Bulls defense will need to keep tabs on the elusive Ramirez.

Gyasi Zardes vs. Steve Birnbaum. These long-time adversaries renew acquaintances in a rivalry that goes back to the college days, and most recently included them being U.S. teammates.

Diego Valeri vs. Carlos Gruezo. The reigning MLS MVP hasn't gotten rolling yet this season, and Gruezo is the kind of fast and physical force who could make things difficult for him in their latest battle.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra vs. Ibson. The man known as 'Kaku' is due for a breakout game, and it could come against the Loons if Ibson doesn't keep tabs on him.

Diego Fagundez vs. Yangel Herrera. There are few MLS players off to better starts in 2018 than Herrera, but he'll have a good challenge containing the elusive Fagundez.

Kelyn Rowe vs. Ben Sweat. Much like Herrera, Sweat is off to an outstanding start to 2018, but Rowe's ability to roam centrally as well as on the right wing will make him a tough assignment.

Jack Price vs. Ilie Sanchez. Sporting KC has been letting up goals at a much higher rate than last year, and if that's going to stop against Colorado then Sanchez will need to keep Price under wraps. 

Alphonso Davies vs. Rolf Feltscher. Davies has settled in well as one of Vancouver's key attacking weapons, but Feltscher is a formidable right back with the quality to make things difficult for the Canadian sensation.


WEEK 4 PREDICTIONS


Maximilliano Moralez NYCFC 05282017

Revolution 0, NYCFC 2. With or without David Villa, NYCFC should find success against the Revs' defense while the New England attack struggles to break down Patrick Vieira's back line.

FC DALLAS 2, Timbers 1. Maxi Urruti has some fun against his old team, while Giovanni Savarese is left still searching for his first win as Timbers coach.

CREW 2, D.C. United 0. Gyasi Zardes continues to enjoy himself in the Crew attack, while Logan Ketterer takes advantage of the opportunity in place of U.S. callup Zack Steffen..

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RED BULLS 2, Minnesota United 0. Bradley Wright-Phillips has been unstoppable this month and the Loons won't be able to stop him either.

Rapids 1, SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2. The match will be decided in midfield, where Sporting KC has the edge. SKC's defense should tighten up after some leaky performances.

WHITECAPS 3, Galaxy 0. This one could get ugly, as the Whitecaps overwhelm the Galaxy's patchwork lineup.

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