Western Conference powers have ruled the early part of the 2019 MLS season, and this weekend will see four of them square off against each other in a pair of showcase clashes that headline MLS Week eight.
Los Angeles FC fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Wednesday, suffering a 1-0 road loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, but they remain the top team in the league heading into Sunday's marquee match against the undefeated Seattle Sounders, the second place team in the league standings.
Friday night will feature the other West headliner, with the streaking LA Galaxy playing host to the surprisingly unbeaten Houston Dynamo, the same team that knocked off the Galaxy in the 2018 MLS regular season finale to keep them out of the playoffs.
Another memorable reunion headlines MLS Week 8, with Caleb Porter facing off against the Portland Timbers for the first time since leaving the club after the 2017 season. Porter's Columbus Crew are chasing D.C. United for first place in the East while the Timbers have fallen on hard times since last season's surprising run to the MLS Cup final.
Here are some key talking points for the eighth week of the 2019 MLS season.
Red-hot Galaxy offer Dynamo toughest test of 2019
Only two undefeated teams are still standing in MLS and few would have pegged the Houston Dynamo to be one of those, especially after a forgettable 2018 season. The outstanding play of Honduran winger Alberth Elis, along with a very favorable early schedule has the Dynamo sporting a 4-0-1 record.
The first tough league test of the season awaits on Friday though, with the Dynamo visiting the LA Galaxy, who enter the contest on a four-match winning streak and featuring a red-hot Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Galaxy surely haven't forgotten how they lost to the Dynamo in the final match of the regular season, surrendering a 2-0 lead to suffer a 3-2 defeat that kept them out of the 2018 playoffs.
The Dynamo defense hasn't faced a challenge this season like the one they're about to face, at least not in MLS play. They have yet to record a shutout in 2019, and must try to halt Ibrahimovic's run of goal-scoring form.
The Galaxy will need to try and contain Elis, who has been one of the league's best players of the early season. Jorgen Skjelvik has played well for the Galaxy at left back this season, but he hasn't faced a challenge quite like Elis. Working in the Galaxy's favor is the likely availability of newly-acquired Costa Rican defender Giancarlo Gonzalez, who is familiar with Elis from their national team clashes.
Can the Dynamo contain Zlatan? The veteran center back tandem of Maynor Figueroa and Aljaz Struna has been solid for Wilmer Cabrera, but they will face an Ibrahimovic who has been boosted by the improved play of the Galaxy midfield, which has found a new gear since the arrival of Joe Corona.
Match of the week: Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders
Los Angeles FC has been the best team in MLS this season, Wednesday's stumble in Vancouver notwithstanding. But the team that has been on their trail from the start has been the unbeaten Seattle Sounders, who visit Banc of California Stadium with a chance to assert their claim to being considered the best in MLS.
Bob Bradley rotated his squad against the Whitecaps, resting starters Walker Zimmerman, Steven Beitashour, Jordan Harvey and Mark-Anthony Kaye. That can excuse their first loss of the season but doesn't completely explain the uncharacteristic struggles of the LAFC attack, which still had Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi in the lineup.
Seattle enters the match with a rest edge, not having played a midweek match. The Sounders defense has been strong in 2019, but last week Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC exposed some cracks and it will be up to LAFC striker Christian Ramirez to try and help exploit them.
The Sounders will also be looking to test LAFC's defense, with Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz potentially set to return from the ankle injury that sidelined him for two matches. Will Bruin has done a solid job in his absence, but Ruidiaz has the mobility to cause problems for the LAFC tandem of Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura.
Carlos Vela will look to continue his MVP-caliber campaign by going after Sounders left back Brad Smith, who has been one of the best in MLS at his position so far this season. Smith's attacking forays have caused problems for opponents, but he'll need to be on his game defensively to keep Vela from having the freedom to go at Seattle's center backs.
The battle between Nicolas Lodeiro and Eduard Atuesta will be one of the best of the match, along with Diego Rossi's clash with Kelvin Leerdam.
Porter and Timbers meet again
When Caleb Porter left his position as Portland Timbers head coach after five seasons, it was expected he would find himself facing his former team eventually.
The reunion will come on Saturday, when Porter leads the Crew against the winless Timbers. The Timbers enjoyed a solid first season after Porter’s departure, with new coach Gio Savarese helping lead them to the 2018 MLS Cup final. Pulling off an encore has been much tougher, with Portland currently winless and struggling badly in the midst of a lengthy road stretch to start the season.
Porter won’t be showing his former team any mercy, not with the Crew trying to push for first place in the East, and not after enduring a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact a week ago. Porter has helped the Crew get off to an impressive start to the 2019 season, helping Columbus make a smooth transition to life after Gregg Berhalter.
Week 8 Predictions
FC CINCINNATI 2, Real Salt Lake 0. Alan Koch’s side has hit a slump, but a return home and visit from perennial road strugglers RSL should offer Cincinnati a respite.
TORONTO FC 3, Minnesota United 1. Can the Loons contain Jozy Altidore? Not with Ike Opara sidelined they can’t. TFC rebounds from the loss to Seattle with an Altidore-inspired romp.
LA GALAXY 2, Dynamo 0. The Dynamo are undefeated, but this is by far their toughest test to date, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues his torrid scoring pace while the Galaxy contain Alberth Elis.
FIRE 3, Rapids 1. Don’t expect the Rapids to halt their losing slide on the road against the Fire. Look for Nico Gaitan to have his breakout performance for his new team, while Colorado’s defensive woes continue.
UNION 1, Impact 1. The Montreal defense has posted three straight shutouts to help the Impact cope without Ignacio Piatti and Remi Garde’s men will make things difficult for the Union attack. Not difficult enough for the road win, but for a draw.
ORLANDO CITY 2, Whitecaps 1. Vancouver enjoyed a big win against LAFC on Wednesday, but a road trip across the continent will test the Whitecaps, especially against a rested Lions squad. Sacha Kljestan gets the better of former teammates Felipe Martins.
ATLANTA UNITED 3, FC Dallas 1. The Five Stripes are due for a big home win and find a talented but inexperienced FC Dallas side primed for the beating. Ezequiel Barco puts together another strong showing as Atlanta’s midfield dominates.
CREW 3, Timbers 2. Caleb Porter faces his former team and finds the Timbers slumping badly. The Crew are coming off a frustrating shutout loss to Montreal, but their attack should find chances against Portland’s struggling defense. Gyasi Zardes nets a double.
Revolution 1, RED BULLS 2. Kaku is suspended and the Red Bulls defense has been uncharacteristically wobbly, but the Revs have been a mess, even at home. Bradley Wright-Phillips helps his team snap its slide.
Earthquakes 0, SPORTING KC 2. With the Concacaf Champions League in the rear view mirror Sporting KC takes aim at racking up points and San Jose’s defense is very vulnerable. Johnny Russell nets a double and the SKC defense posts a confidence-rebuilding shutout.
D.C. UNITED 2, NYCFC 1. These teams always battle each other in close clashes, but will show its superior quality, led by Luciano Acosta.
LAFC 2, Sounders 1. Seattle’s entering as the rested team, but LAFC is at home and should be fired up after Wednesday’s loss to Vancouver. Christian Ramirez steps up to pick up the slack as the Sounders try to limit Carlos Vela but finds other threats to cause them trouble.