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MLS Talking Points: FC Cincinnati's homecoming headlines Week 3

6:14 PM EDT 3/15/19
FC Cincinnati Fans Nippert Stadium 0716016
Major League Soccer's newest expansion team prepares for its home debut, while red-hot LAFC takes a cross-country trip to face NYCFC

Major League Soccer's newest team is set to make its home debut in an environment that should immediately be one of the better ones in the league.

FC Cincinnati plays its first MLS match at Nippert Stadium on Sunday against Portland. FCC successfully filled the venue for multiple seasons in USL and while there are still plenty of questions about the team itself, there's little doubting that the crowd in Cincinnati will be memorable.

The third week of the MLS season features the return of teams that took part in the Concacaf Champions League, with Sporting Kansas City the only MLS team to survive a quarterfinal that eliminated three other MLS sides. The Houston Dynamo, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls will all be in their comfy home confines looking to refocus their attention after CCL exits.

Minnesota United will be trying to keep its momentum going with a trip to California to take on an LA Galaxy side that will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Loons can improve to 3-0-0 with a win, but Adrian Heath will surely tell his team that nothing can be taken for granted even with the Galaxy being shorthanded.

The San Jose Earthquakes will be hoping to reverse their early-season form, visiting the New York Red Bulls in search of their first point of 2019. Matias Almeyda inherited the worst team in MLS and his reconstruction project has taken some time to get going. Things won't get any easier against a Red Bulls team that will be looking to rebound after their CCL disappointment against Santos Laguna. 

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

FC Cincinnati's home debut 

A sold-out crowd of more than 32,000 is expected at Nippert Stadium for FC Cincinnati's first home match, and the atmosphere promises to be an electric one. The fanbase in Cincinnati developed a reputation as one of the best in the United States when FCC was playing in USL. Whether it was for U.S. Open Cup matches against MLS competition, or a memorable friendly against Crystal Palace that drew more than 35,000 fans, Cincinnati has turned out for the big matches. Sunday's visit from the Portland Timbers will carry extra meaning and attention.

“It’s going to be an amazing crowd,” FC Cincinnati forward Fanendo Adi told reporters about the clash between his current side and his former team, which he helped lead to an MLS Cup title in 2015. 

"We encourage them to come out and believe that we are going to take all three points," Adi said.

"We have told the players do not expect it to be easy just because we're playing at home," FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said. "We've had two difficult challenges away to start the season. The game at home is going to be very, very difficult too because, for a lot of the players, it's their first opportunity to play in front of our own fans. It'll be a new experience, but hopefully something they can learn a lot from."

Cincinnati will be taking on a Timbers side in the midst of a long road trip as its own home stadium — Providence Park — undergoes renovations. The Timbers are coming off a blowout loss to Los Angeles FC, and will be without key midfielder Diego Chara, who drew a red card in that loss.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati is coming into the match with a healthy squad, having welcomed back Greg Garza from injury last week, and having had designated player Allan Cruz make his first start since joining the team. Kenny Saief could be in line to start after his memorable debut in last week's 1-1 draw with Atlanta United, which saw him assist on Roland Lamah's late equalizer.

Koch will have some tough lineup decisions to make, especially if he starts either Garza or Saief. Starting Garza will mean sitting either Alvas Powell and sliding Mathieu Deplagne from left back, where he's started two straight matches, to his more natural right back role, or it means sitting Deplagne. As for Saief, his versatility means he could be deployed either as a winger or attacking midfielder, with Kekuta Manneh and Victor Ulloa among the players who could be rotated out of the lineup to make room for the USMNT midfielder.

The match will be a reunion for some former Portland players, as both Adi and Powell were long-time members of the Timbers before being traded to FC Cincinnati.

Match of the week: NYCFC vs. Los Angeles FC

The most impressive team in MLS through the first two weeks takes its first road trip this weekend, and it's a cross-country journey for Los Angeles FC to take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

Carlos Vela has led the way for LAFC, and will be the prime target for NYCFC to stop. Domenec Torrent's defense is coming off a successful neutralization of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta in last week's 0-0 draw with D.C. United, and will turn to left back Ben Sweat to try and slow down Vela, who is coming off a standout performance in last week's win against Portland.

The NYCFC attack remains a work in progress, with a search still ongoing for a starting-caliber striker. Romanian winger Alexandru Mitrita showed some good signs last week, but both he and Maxi Moralez will continue to be hamstrung by NYCFC's lack of a strong striker presence.

Looking for a matchup to keep tabs on? LAFC's Diego Rossi versus NYCFC's Anton Tinnerholm will be the best of the bunch.

Almeyda returns to Red Bull Arena 

The last time Matias Almeyda visited Red Bull Arena, he broke the hearts of New York Red Bulls fans when he led Chivas Guadalajara to a CCL semifinal victory on the way to an eventual triumph over Toronto FC in the final. One year later, Almeyda is back, only with a far weaker team and far more modest goals.

Almeyda's San Jose Earthquakes are off to a rough start, having lost their first two matches at home. They must now face a Red Bulls team that led MLS in home victories in 2018, and a team still smarting from an embarrassing CCL quarterfinal loss to Santos Laguna on Tuesday.

"They're a very tough team, a group that has played together a long time, with a system of play that's very important," Almeyda said on Wednesday. "With respect to pressuring, and counterattacking, and the aerial game. They also have a lot of options on the bench, so we'll see what team we face, but it's a tough rival."

Almeyda admitted that he is considering some lineup changes to try and turn around the Earthquakes' poor early results, with central defense a particularly vulnerable part of the squad. Florian Jungwirth sat out last week's loss, but his return could help solidify San Jose's back line as it prepares to try and stop Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Week 3 Predictions

(*Best Bet)

Fire 1, SOUNDERS 3. Seattle is on a roll, and even though Nico Gaitan's arrival should offer Chicago a boost, the Fire's defense remains far too vulnerable.

CREW 2, FC Dallas 1. Gyasi Zardes and Matt Hedges should engage in a very good battle, but it will be Federico Higuain who does the damage for the Crew in a key win.

DYNAMO 1, Whitecaps 0. Wilmer Cabrera can take heart in how his defense held up against Tigres in CCL play, and stopping a Vancouver attack still figuring things out should be much easier.

RED BULLS 2, Earthquakes 0. Bradley Wright-Phillips nets a pair while Chris Wondolowski continues to wait for his chance to tie Landon Donovan's MLS career goals record.

ORLANDO CITY 2, Impact 1. Dom Dwyer will be looking to send a message after failing to be called up by the USMNT, which will be playing in Orlando next week.

D.C. UNITED 3, Real Salt Lake 1. Wayne Rooney breaks loose for a double on a day when RSL's tradition of regular-season road struggles continues.

GALAXY 2, Minnesota United 1. All signs point to the Loons knocking off the shorthanded Galaxy, but look for a bit of a surprise, with Sebastian Lletget and Joe Corona leading LA to a mild upset.

NYCFC 1, LOS ANGELES FC 2. Carlos Vela is playing too well to be stopped, while Christian Ramirez finds the net before joining the USMNT.

FC CINCINNATI 2, Timbers 1. Diego Chara's absence is going to hurt the Timbers, while Cincinnati rides the energy of a sold-out Nippert Stadium crowd. Fanendo Adi burns his former team with a double. 

*ATLANTA UNITED 3, Union 0. Frank de Boer has taken plenty of flak after his shaky start to his Atlanta tenure, but a big win against the Union could be the beginning of things calming down for the champions.

TORONTO FC 2, Revolution 1. The Revs could match up well against TFC's slow defense but we'll give the nod to Toronto at home, with Terrence Boyd and Jonathan Osorio starring. 

RAPIDS 2, Sporting KC 1. This definitely feels like a trap game for SKC: a trip to play at altitude after a big emotional CCL win on Thursday. Kei Kamara has a big day against one of his many former teams.