New York City FC have an interesting ambiguity on their hands. They have a midfield stacked with talent, but are currently without a way to effectively fit them together (sound familiar?).
Patrick Viera has two of the best players in the world over the past decade in Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, but both are aging, injury-prone and unable to contribute consistently on an offensive or defensive level. But when they are healthy, he has to play them due to their DP status. There really isn't much of a choice there. Outside of those two, he has explosive young attacker Kwadwo Poku at his disposal, World Cup veteran Mix Diskerud in the, well, mix, and the Mulleted Maestro Tommy McNamara is available as well.
All of these players are very good, obviously. But while they provide offensive ability–NYCFC scored four goals in Chicago–they lack defensive coverage. NYC gave up three goals against the Fire as well, and with a backline missing experience together, they have seen a need for a defensive midfielder arise.
You can explore this topic more in depth over at Hudson River Blue, but this is something Viera needs to address. If not, the goals will keep leaking past Josh Saunders.
What to watch for this weekend
–Columbus Crew look to bounce back: The Crew lost to the Portland Timbers on a Sunday on ESPN by the score of 2-1 in their second straight competitive game. This time, though, it was not for the MLS Cup.
Instead, it was for the chance to get off to a good start to the season, and that is not something they were able to do. One of the main reasons for that was the Timbers' defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. The Argentine gave them problems in December, and he did the same in Portland last week with his high motor and constant physicality that drove Kei Kamara crazy. As always, he was all over the field and consistently halted Crew attacks.
But Columbus now have a very inviting opportunity to rebound in their second game of the year. They face the Philadelphia Union at home Saturday evening, and not only are the Union one of the worst clubs in MLS to start with, they recently saw starting defensive midfielder Maurice Edu go down with a long-term injury. Kamara will have a field day against whoever starts in Edu's place.
Watch for a fairly large margin of victory for the Crew. The Union don't have a capable replacement for their captain, at least not yet.
—FC Dallas aim to win without Fabian Castillo: There was good news and bad news for FC Dallas from their season opener against the Union. They won convincingly, by a score of 2-0, with Mauro Diaz solidifying his MVP case, but they also saw star winger Fabian Castillo go down with a groin injury, which will sideline him for at least two weeks.
Starting in his place will most likely be either Tesho Akindele or Mauro Rosales, but we could also see someone like Atiba Harris be pushed into the midfield. Neither are close to Castillo's quality, however, and Dallas will certainly see a drop in offensive production. Diaz, Michael Barrios and Maximiliano Urruti will have to step up.
FCD face the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. In theory, they should beat their Texan rivals, but in derbies like these, you never know what can happen.
—San Jose's quest to stop Portland: The Portland Timbers haven't lost a match since October 3rd of 2015, including playoffs. No one has been able to solve them.
Their next challenger is the San Jose Earthquakes, who fell just short of going up against the Timbers in the postseason last year. The Quakes managed a victory last week against the offensively-challenged Colorado Rapids, in part thanks to a Chris Wondolowski header goal. He, and fellow striker Quincy Amarikwa, are their best chance at upsetting Portland.
The aforementioned-Chara will be tasked with preventing the two forwards from combining, and with trying to keep Wondo in check. It's a tough job for one man, and that's why he will need help from center-backs Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, as well as his central midfield counter-parts. If San Jose's pairing up top manages to consistently drag defenders out of position and involve other attackers, they could get some shots on Adam Kwarsey's goal.
Another glimmer of hope for the hosts is that Fatai Alashe could return from a nagging injury. His presence in defensive midfield would be huge.
Players to watch
—Mike Magee (LA Galaxy): As you all know by now, Mike Magee is better than Giovani dos Santos.
Actually, that's not true. At all. But if you knew nothing about either of them and you watched the Galaxy's win over D.C. United last week, that's the impression you would have. The former MLS MVP with the Chicago Fire contributed to all four of LA's goals in their 4-1 victory over DCU, and seems likely to get another opportunity at forward because of dos Santos's injury.
It's unlikely that Magee will ever be able to take the Mexican's job permanently for obvious reasons, but he could really put some pressure on Bruce Arena with another good performance against the Rapids.
—Gideon Baah (New York Red Bulls): Although the Red Bulls suffered a tough loss at home to Toronto FC in week one, they can take some solace in the fact that new center-back signing Gideon Baah impressed in his debut. The Ghanaian stood his ground against Sebastian Giovinco and distributed nicely, but will have to do it again against a different opponent on Saturday.
Baah and the Red Bulls face their second straight Canadian side, the Montreal Impact, and will have to control Ignacio Piatti, who took basically all of the attacking load on his shoulders without Didier Drogba there. Piatti scored two goals and had an assist in a win over Vancouver last week, proving to the league that he is a threat on his own. Baah will have to play a big part in stopping him for NYRB.
If he and the backline fail to handle the Argentine speedster, they could be looking at zero points in two games to start their Supporters' Shield-defending campaign.
—Matt Polster (Chicago Fire): The Fire were a defensive disaster last week. They gave up four goals to NYCFC at home and constantly made crucial mistakes that resulted in goals. This week, they will have to contain Orlando City SC's Cyle Larin, who scored two goals in second half stoppage time to defeat Real Salt Lake in their most recent match.
One key to improving from last week will be Polster, the 22-year old central midfielder who spent time at full-back last season. He will have to patrol the area in front of the defense as a number-six and keep an eye on the Canadian Larin, who will play as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1.
The Fire's backline will need him to be on his game against somebody like Larin. If not, their defense will continue to be a tire fire.