Talk about busy schedules.
In the 16-day period from September 14 to 29, the Seattle Sounders – another serious contender to reach the MLS Cup – will have played five games. This series of matches includes both the Leagues Cup semi-final (a 1-0 win over Santos Laguna on September 14) and the final (a 3-2 loss to Leon on Wednesday night in Las Vegas).
That busy slate includes Sunday’s massive road showdown against Western Conference leaders, Sporting Kansas City, and concludes with another road game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday.
How Seattle manages this stretch — it lost to Real Salt Lake last Saturday — could determine whether it ends west when the regular season is over.
Here’s what you need to know for the weekend in MLS:
MLS game of the week
Sporting Kansas City vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 7:30 PM ET on FS1): The Western Conference leader will be decided in this game, as Sporting Kansas City currently holds a one point lead over the Seattle Sounders in the standings. SKC has had home field advantage at Children’s Mercy Park since the end of this series and remained unbeaten in their last five vs. Seattle and won five of those games. This is the first of two high-octane match-ups between the two clubs in the coming month, as they will meet again on October 23 in Seattle.
MLS player to watch
Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: Under new coach Gonzalo Pineda, Atlanta is moving up the Eastern Conference standings at the end of the season. Atlanta has won three in a row and seven of the last eight. Martinez has scored three goals in the last two games and will have to continue that production on Saturday against a Philadelphia Union team battling Atlanta for coveted playoff spots.
By the numbers
15: As the post-season approaches, teams have been noticeably more aggressive on offense this week with 15 teams scoring three or more goals in a match. In half of the last week’s 24 games, at least one team has scored three or more goals. San Jose and Atlanta scored at least three goals in both games, while MLS set a record with 87 goals in the week of September 14-19. Eight of those teams are within three points of the final playoff spot in each conference.
MLS news and notes
Coming in 2023: Superb Leagues Cup in World Cup Style: MLS and Liga MX announced on Tuesday that the Leagues Cup competition between the two leagues will be expanded from 2023. Leagues Cup will include every team from the two leagues – with each regular season league game interrupted for a month – with 47 teams (29 from MLS and 18 from Liga MX) playing in a World Cup-style group stage before advancing to the knockout rounds. In addition to the prize money, the winner automatically earns a place in the Concacaf Champions League round of 16. Second and third places earn places in the opening round of the Champions League. The current incarnation of the Leagues Cup has eight teams.
FC Dallas goes back to the drawing board for head coaching: The fifth MLS head coach resignation from the 2021 season arrived this week as Luchi Gonzalez was removed from FC Dallas after about three years in charge of the club. A steady stream of domestic talent cultivated within the organization, and most recently the arrival of Ricardo Pepi, failed to mold into a consistent product for Gonzalez, whose FC Dallas finished 11th in the Western Conference with 27 points and a 6-11 – 9 record at the time of his departure. For now, Dallas leads its main rivals in the standings — in-state foes Houston Dynamo and Austin FC are 12th and 13th in the West, respectively. That usually signals something positive for which Texan club is leading that trio, but not in 2021 with those teams making up the bottom three sides of the West. The death knell for Gonzalez was a 3-2 loss to Houston last weekend, which left Dallas 3-0 an hour into the game.
NYCFC signs 14-year-old defender Christian McFarlane to homegrown deal: Signing teenagers to MLS contracts is becoming more and more common – even expected, especially in the football realm. But Christian McFarlane and New York City FC made headlines late last week when NYCFC made McFarlane the third-youngest player in MLS history to sign a first-team deal at age 14. “He is at an earlier stage in his development than our previous Academy signings and will initially continue to train and play with our U-17 team, but we are delighted that he has committed to becoming a professional at this young age.” to be,” said NYCFC. Director David Lee said in a statement: “There is a development plan for him for the coming years and we look forward to supporting his development to maximize his potential.” McFarlane became NYCFC’s sixth academy product to sign a first-team contract.
Seattle Sounders’ Shield push picks up an injury: The Seattle Sounders are firmly in the running for Western Conference supremacy, as well as the Supporters Shield, which is awarded to the regular season champion in the MLS. However, the Seattle bid suffered a significant injury that will last an untold period after Nicolas Lodeiro’s right knee arthroscopy. The procedure was successfully completed in Chicago on Monday after Lodeiro’s aggravating “an injury from earlier this season during training last week and out of Real Salt Lake’s game on Saturday,” the club said in a press release. Lodeiro had surgery on the same knee in May. In the meantime, New England Revolution (17-4-5, 56 points) is still in control of the Shield race as they are 10 points ahead of Sporting Kansas City (13-5-7, 46 points) with Seattle ( 13-5-6) 11 points back.
MLS Ranking: Top 10 Power Poll
1. New England Revolution: The Revolution’s quest for the Supporters’ Shield continues on Saturday against an Orlando City team that knocked it out in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
2. Seattle Sounders: After the Leagues Cup final, the Sounders’ schedule remains hectic with key Western Conference games on the road against Sporting KC on Sunday and at home against the Colorado Rapids on October 3, with a ramp on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes.
3. Sporty Kansas City: SKC, coming off a big 4-0 win over Minnesota United last Wednesday, will be well rested and home for the big showdown against Seattle on Sunday.
4. Colorado Rapids: With 10 games, the Rapids are running the second longest unbeaten run in the team’s history (longest: 15 games during the 2016 season).
5. Nashville SC: Nashville won’t make it to New England’s top spot, but this team has a great shot at becoming the playoffs number 2 in the Eastern Conference. That would be a nice achievement for the sophomore year expansion team.
6. New York City FC: In a scheduling quirk, NYCFC is getting a home-and-home series this week against their rivals, the New York Red Bulls.
7. Los Angeles Galaxy: After falling 3-0 against Minnesota United Last Saturday, the Galaxy has a big chance to rack up three points when they take on an Austin FC team that has lost five games in a row.
8. Portland Wood: Portland earned a huge 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC on Sunday, and may waive a new Western Conference playoff, hopeful when it hosts Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
9. Orlando City SC: Orlando hasn’t won since Labor Day weekend and faces the daunting task of trying to get a result on the road against the Eastern Conference team taking off, the Revolution.
10: Atlanta United: Fast-growing Atlanta has a big game on Saturday as it faces the Philadelphia Union in a clash of teams on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Move in: Atlanta United
Dropping out: Philadelphia Union (formerly: 9)
Others who receive votes: Philadelphia Union, Club de Foot Montreal, Minnesota United
USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Drake Hills, The Tennessee; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch; Jim Reineking, USA TODAY.
MLS Schedule: What Are This Weekend’s Matches?
Philadelphia Union vs. Atlanta United, 3:30 p.m. ET (Univision/TUDN, Twitter)
New England Revolution vs. Orlando City SC, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Columbus Crew vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 PM ET (ESPN+)
DC United vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 PM ET (ESPN+)
Colorado Rapids vs. Toronto FC, 8pm ET (ESPN+)
Minnesota United vs. Houston Dynamo, 8pm ET (ESPN+)
New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Los Angeles FC, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Vancouver White Caps vs. FC Dallas, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Chicago Fire FC vs. Nashville SC, 1:00 PM ET (ESPN+)
Sporting Kansas City vs. Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Austin FC vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS Notebook: Seattle Sounders, Sporting KC in Sunday’s big game