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MLS Talking Points: Rooney and Nani face off, Zlatan returns to headline Week Five

6:28 AM MYT 30/03/2019
Wayne Rooney Nani MLS 2019
The long-time Manchester United teammates square off in a key Eastern Conference clash, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns from injury for the LA Galaxy

Reunions, debuts and returns headline a busy week of action in Major League Soccer.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic appears ready to return to action after missing three weeks with an Achilles' injury. Fellow Manchester United alumni Wayne Rooney and Nani are set to renew acquaintances as opponents in an official match for the first time after spending seven years as teammates at Old Trafford.

Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire are welcoming the highly-anticipated arrivals of new playmakers, with Nico Gaitan set to debut for the Fire and Alejandro Pozuelo set to make his first appearance for TFC.

FC Cincinnati will be looking to make some history this weekend. A victory against the Philadelphia Union will give FC Cincinnati the best start to the season of any MLS expansion team in league history. The Union will be looking to halt Cincy's three-match unbeaten run by building off last week's impressive win against the Columbus Crew.

With all that in mind, here are some key talking points for the fifth week of the 2019 MLS season.


Long-time teammates, friends Rooney and Nani square off


After seven seasons as teammates at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney and Nani will line up as club opponents for the first time when Rooney's D.C. United takes on Nani's Orlando City down in Florida on Sunday.

Rooney has his team off to an outstanding start to the season, building off the momentum gathered from his arrival last summer. D.C. United is in first place in the Eastern Conference, and will look to remain unbeaten by beating an Orlando City side riding last week's surprising road win against the New York Red Bulls.

Nani has made an immediate impact since joining the Lions, giving the team some much-needed attacking punch. He will have his hands full breaking down a tough D.C. United defense that has posted three straight shutouts to start the season.


Match of the week: Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United 


An underrated rivalry built on the foundation of their memorable 2017 MLS playoff clash, the Columbus Crew and Atlanta United renew acquaintances for the first time in 2019 and the early-season match already has plenty of implications.

The reigning MLS Cup champions are in a slump, and head to MAPFRE Stadium in need of a victory. Frank de Boer's side will be without injured standout Gonzalo 'Pity' Martinez, who suffered a hamstring injury while on international duty with Argentina, but should enter the Eastern Conference clash well rested after having a bye week during the international break.

The Crew had no such luxury and suffered a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union while playing without Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp, along with injured standout goalkeeper Zack Steffen. They'll face an Atlanta United side still looking for its first win of the MLS season, and the first road win of the de Boer era in all competitions.

There will be plenty of juicy match-ups on display, including Trapp against Barco, Jonathan Mensah against Josef Martinez and Gyasi Zardes battling Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.


Quick Kicks


Zlatan Ibrahimovic resumed full training with the LA Galaxy this week, returning to action after missing two matches with an Achilles injury. He is expected to play in the Galaxy's home match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

The Montreal Impact are off to an impressive start to the season, but keeping that early run going won't be easy without star winger Ignacio Piatti, who will miss Saturday's trip to Sporting Kansas City with a knee injury.

The New York Red Bulls should have a full-strength defense for the first time this season, with Kemar Lawrence ready to return to the starting lineup after a knee injury had previously kept him sidelined. Lawrence recently played 90 minutes for Jamaica and was at full strength at Red Bulls training. The Best XI defender was a key figure for the best defense in MLS, and his return, along with Aaron Long's return from international duty, should help the Red Bulls as they travel to take on the Chicago Fire.


Week 5 Predictions


(*Best Bet)

TORONTO FC 2, NYCFC 1. Jozy Altidore is back at full strength and proves to be too much for NYCFC's defense to handle.

Fire 1, RED BULLS 2. With Aaron Long and Kaku back from international duty, the Red Bulls rebound from last week's loss by beating the Fire to spoil Nico Gaitan's MLS debut.

REVOLUTION 2, Minnesota United 1. The Revs are off to a poor start to the season, but Juan Caicedo and Carles Gil lead Brad Friedel's side to a sorely-needed victory.

SPORTING KC 2, Impact 0. Peter Vermes is sure to rest some key starters ahead of Concacaf Champions League, but the Impact will still struggle, especially without Ignacio Piatti.

*Earthquakes 0, LAFC 3. This California derby could be a tricky one for Bob Bradley's men, but Carlos Vela runs wild and Christian Ramirez has himself a game as well.

FC Cincinnati 0, UNION 2. The home crowd at Nippert Stadium will be rocking, but will be in for a rude awakening as the Union pull off the slight surprise courtesy of a Marco Fabian double.

Crew 2, Atlanta United 2. The absence of injured star Pity Martinez will make things tough for Atlanta on the road, but Jozef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco provide enough firepower to earn a road point.

RAPIDS 2, Dynamo 0. Kei Kamara has big game against his former team to give the Rapids a much-needed home victory.

REAL SALT LAKE 2, FC Dallas 1. On a day where homegrown players will be showcased, it will be RSL's kids who impress the most, led by Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon.

Whitecaps 1, SOUNDERS 3. Can anyone stop the Sounders attack? Don't expect the Whitecaps to do it, not with Raul Ruidiaz continuing his red-hot start, and not with Victor Rodriguez continuing to create.

Orlando City 1, D.C. UNITED 2. Wayne Rooney gets the better of his old buddy Nani to give D.C. a big road win to stay atop the Eastern Conference.

GALAXY 3, Timbers 1. Portland's nightmare road trip to start the season continues, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic marking his return to action with a pair of goals.