News Live Scores
MLS

MLS Talking Points: Red Bulls visit Atlanta, LAFC battles Timbers, and more

21:21 EAT 18/05/2018
Bradley Wright Phillips Leandro Gonzalez Pirez MLS 03052018
League-leading Atlanta United faces yet another stiff test, this time from a Red Bulls side capable of making things tough on the MLS leaders

When Major League Soccer's schedule-makers put together the 2018 season, they definitely laid out a demanding early slate for Atlanta United.

The Five Stripes have endured a stretch of opponents including Los Angeles FC, New York City FC, Sporting Kansas City and most recently Orlando City, and they managed to suffer only one defeat along the way — to Sporting Kansas City — with last Sunday's win against Orlando City pushing Atlanta back to the top of the league's overall standings.

The next stiff test for Tata Martino's men will come from the New York Red Bulls, who have won three straight and have the squad to make things difficult for Atlanta. Things don't exactly get much easier for Atlanta United after that — New England, NYCFC and Portland are on the upcoming schedule — but the Red Bulls are a team capable of mounting a serious title challenge, as well as one that matches up well with the current East leaders.

While the Atlanta United-Red Bulls clash headlines MLS Week 12, the weekend features plenty of other subplots. MLS Cup champion Toronto FC will look to halt its slide down the East standings with a win against Orlando City, and must do so without suspended Sebastian Giovinco, who joins Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor and Justin Morrow on the list of unavailable standouts. Orlando City saw its six-match winning streak halted by Atlanta, and will be looking to jump back up the East standings with a win at BMO Field.

In the Western Conference, LAFC takes a break from its stadium-opening home stand to visit a streaking Portland Timbers side that has won four straight and holds a perfect 3-0 record at Providence Park this season. The match is a big one for Bob Bradley's men, as looming departures for the World Cup will soon deplete LAFC's roster.

Here is a closer look at the key talking points for MLS Week 12:


Match of the Week: Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls


Can anybody stop a full-strength Atlanta United? That's the question that still persists as the MLS leaders return home to take on a strong Red Bulls side. Last week's loss to Sporting Kansas City seemed to suggest Atlanta could be contained, but Brad Guzan's red card clearly skewed the outcome of that match, making it far from a good example of how to contain the highest-scoring team in the league.

The Red Bulls have the makeup of a team that could contain Atlanta, with their high-press system, dynamic midfield and tough defense, and their recent demolition of NYCFC showed that they are capable of shutting down a dangerous attack. That derby rout has surely been one for Martino to study as he looks to avoid the pitfalls that befell Patrick Vieira's side at Red Bull Arena.

There are a plethora of excellent individual match-ups to keep an eye on, but none will be more compelling than early MLS MVP candidate Miguel Almiron taking on U.S. national team midfielder Tyler Adams. Almiron has run wild on opposing defenses, while Adams has shown his ability to neutralize even the best of playmakers.

The match also provides a battle between two coaches considered among the best in the league, and two who have often been mentioned as ideal candidates to become the U.S. national team manager. 

The sides met twice last year, with the Red Bulls winning in Atlanta in the expansion team's inaugural match, before the teams played to a goal-less draw later in the season. Atlanta played that match without Almiron, and both teams have made key additions since 2017, with Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe joining the Atlanta attack while Kaku and Tim Parker have given the Red Bulls significant upgrades.


Match-ups to Watch


Miguel Almiron vs. Tyler Adams. These young, dynamic and tenacious midfielders will square off as opponents for the first time in a battle of two of the league's best. 

Sacha Kljestan vs. Michael Bradley. With Chris Mavinga potentially returning to the starting lineup for TFC, Bradley could return to his normal defensive midfield role, which would set up this tasty battle with his old USMNT midfield partner.

Diego Fagundez vs. Wil Trapp. These young midfielders have been doing battle against each other since entering the league in 2012, and now that rivalry should only intensify as Fagundez settles into a central role, where he'll go head-to-head with Trapp.

Matt Hedges vs. Kei Kamara. After a below par showing against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, Hedges will look to keep Kamara's goal-less drought going (Kamara hasn't scored since March).

Josef Martinez vs. Tim Parker. Martinez's speed makes him a handful for any defender, but Parker's athleticism should serve him well, as should some help from Aaron Long.

Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Michael Parkhurst. While Leandro Gonzalez Pirez might spend more time on Wright-Phillips, it will more likely be up to Parkhurst to ensure the Atlanta defense stays organized and limits his dangerous runs.

Diego Valeri vs. Benny Feilhaber.  As much as Feilhaber has taken well to his new deeper-lying midfield role, he will have his hands full trying to contain the reigning MLS MVP.

Darwin Quintero vs. Ilie Sanchez. Quintero is a handful running out of midfield, with the pace to overwhelm opposing defensive midfielders, but Sanchez is excellent at putting himself in good position, and he'll also have some help from Roger Espinoza.

Albert Rusnak vs. Alejandro Bedoya. The RSL attack runs through Rusnak, and Bedoya is smart and tenacious enough to keep the Slovakian playmaker from getting too comfortable.

Fanendo Adi vs. Laurent Ciman. Whether it's Ciman or Walker Zimmerman, LAFC will need to keep close tabs on Adi, who will be looking to end a two-match goal drought.


Week 12 Predictions


(*Best Bet)

TORONTO FC 2, Orlando City 1. No Giovinco? No Altidore? No problem. As tough as Orlando City is, if Greg Vanney can get Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga back into the lineup, TFC has the tools to halt its slide.

*NEW YORK CITY FC 3, Rapids 0. The Rapids have lost four straight, and facing a hungry NYCFC squad playing its first home match of the month isn't the place that streak will end.

TIMBERS 2, LAFC 1. Could we see a letdown from Portland after its Cascadia Derby win? Don't bet on it. Diego Valeri has a big day, while the Timbers defense keeps Carlos Vela quiet.

FC DALLAS 2, Whitecaps 0. The Whitecaps have struggled on the road, and have been leaky defensively without Stefan Marinovic in goal. FC Dallas is unbeaten at home, and should find plenty of chances.

REVOLUTION 2, Crew 1. The Revs gave Columbus all they could handle when these teams met a month ago. Brad Friedel's squad has even more confidence and should be able to end the Crew's five-match unbeaten run.

UNION 2Real Salt Lake. 0. Winning on the road in Montreal should give the Union a confidence boost against an RSL side that has been terrible on away from home this season.

EARTHQUAKES 2, D.C. United 0. After taking four points from a two-game road swing, the Earthquakes should roll comfortably against a D.C. side that has struggled on the road.

Minnesota United 1, SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2. The Loons dropped a disappointing one at home a week ago, and now face a Sporting KC side coming off a week of rest.

FIRE 2, Dynamo 1. Dax McCarty's absence with a hamstring injury will hurt the Fire, but look for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic to step up against a Dynamo side that is still a mixed bag on the road.

ATLANTA UNITED 2, Red Bulls 1. The Red Bulls definitely have the squad to grab a win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but look for the Five Stripes to prevail, with Josef Martinez leading the way.