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13 thoughts on Wednesday’s MLS mid-week matches

13 observations, predictions, keys, players to watch, and more on Wednesday’s slate of mid-week games.

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MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

13. Sebastian Giovinco should be back for Toronto FC’s home game against Orlando City after his month-long injury-induced absence. This is obviously huge for TFC, but not just in the ways that you would expect.

Toronto played a 4-4-2 diamond against Philadelphia on Saturday with Jordan Hamilton and Jozy Altidore starting as the forwards and Jonathan Osorio playing at the top of the midfield. Osorio is not a functioning No. 10:

That’s his passing map from the first 60 minutes of the game against the Union; he was pushed to the wing when Greg Vanney subbed in Marky Delgado. He’s not bad, but how many balls does he play that go forward in the attacking half? He struggles to create significant penetration centrally, and that’s why Altidore and Hamilton didn’t receive many balls in good attacking spots in the first two-thirds of the game.

With Giovinco on the field, the playmaking responsibilities go through him instead of Osorio, who is better as a winger or a shuttler in the diamond. The Atomic Ant collects the ball in various places and is expert at finding incisive passes through or over the top of backlines, which Osorio is not adept at doing.

Altidore, in turn, will have more space to work in attacking areas and Oso can play more of a free role doing things like this:

This is all *if* Giovinco plays, of course. He is currently listed as questionable after returning from a brief trip from Italy on Monday.

But if he does start, Orlando’s dimming playoff hopes will go down a little more.

12. Orlando lost 4-1 last week against D.C. United, and although I did not get a chance to watch that full game, I got all I really needed to know from watching the highlights:

How many times did Orlando make a mental mistake on defense? They played like my rec league team.

They do that again, Giovinco will score ninety goals and it won’t be pretty for the Lions.

11. Cyle Larin is an absolute beast who can pass, shoot, and finish like a high-level pro. I just thought that should be said.

10. I think Orlando will draw with TFC 2-2 at BMO Field. I have no tactical reasoning and smart things to say about this prediction; I’m making it solely based off the fact that this is MLS and it seems like the most likely result.

9. The other important Eastern Conference game on Wednesday is Columbus vs. D.C. The Crew are coming off a 2-0 beatdown of New England on Sunday and while they are playing on short rest, their performance on the weekend should make Crew SC fans confident heading into their crucial match at RFK.

What made them good against the Revs was how well their offense functioned in the final third, and particularly the performance of three key attackers: Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, and Ola Kamara.

Take a look at their passing map in the final third:

Wingers Finlay and Meram were inverted for the majority of the time Columbus had possession in the attacking half, allowing Kamara to run in behind and receive the ball in threatening areas. The Crew were much better at connecting passes and working efficiently high up the field, and when Kamara is pouncing on chances the way he did against New England, Crew SC can be a tough team to beat.

8. D.C. United don’t play through inverted wingers and channel-running forwards; instead, they have Marcelo facilitating play from deeper areas, Luciano Acosta doing the same in more advanced spots, and a classic-style No. 9 (Patrick Mullins) getting himself high-percentage scoring opportunities from the chances Acosta creates.

D.C. do indeed play aesthetically-pleasing soccer. As do Columbus. It should be a fun one between those two.

7. Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin are arguably the most underrated full-back tandem in MLS. They and the Crew’s pair (Harrison Afful and presumably Waylon Francis) will be another interesting dynamic in this game, which I predict will finish 2-1 in favor of United.

6. Montreal face San Jose at home on Wednesday in one of the two cross-conference matchups of the night. The Impact hung around at Red Bull Arena on the weekend before eventually giving up a goal with a half-hour left and again giving away points to an Eastern Conference foe.

The Impact have taken just 17 of the available 54 points when Didier Drogba starts this season; that’s three wins, eight draws, and seven losses with him in the lineup. It only gets much worse for Drogba and Montreal, however, as the Ivorian legend was involved in a heated dispute with two Red Bulls fans after that game.

I recommend you read the story told by one of those fans, per the Telegraph:

"We've been all over the East Coast watching Didier Drogba. We just watch his interactions with fans and things like that," (Vince) Moss told The Telegraph.

"At Philadelphia we saw fans come up to him and he was quite arrogant. We were wondering what his issue was but we left him alone.

"When he was walking off the field [on Saturday] and we hear a number of Red Bulls fans asking for his autograph and he just walked off, our question was, 'Why don't you greet the fans?'

"We were saying, 'Don't be a sore loser' - we were both saying that. We were saying, 'Why don't you sign some autographs?' But he wouldn't do it, he just walked off.

"We thought that wasn't very nice and we told him that and, as he was walking off, he basically said he did what he wanted to do. We said, 'That's not very nice' and that's when he turned around and ran up the stairs and told us to be respectful.

"We were like, 'We're respectful, there are a lot of kids round here that look up to you - can you give them your autograph, can you be a little nicer?’”

Those two fans, who are twin brothers, are both respected Army doctors who served a combined five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are both core members of the Red Bulls’ fanbase.

This entire situation effectively sums up the Impact’s form of late.

5. San Jose lost against Sporting KC last weekend, which puts them seven points out of a playoff spot. They have two games in hand on sixth-place Portland, so all is not lost, but three points in Quebec mid-week followed by another three against RSL this Saturday are absolutely necessary for them to remain alive.

The top offseason need for the Quakes is a No. 10, plain and simple. But Darwin Ceren, the defensive midfielder acquired in a trade with Orlando a few weeks ago, has shown an innate ability to hit well-timed and well-placed diagonal switches and through-balls:

That’s an ability not many MLS No. 6’s can boast of. Ceren should be a key piece for San Jose going forward.

4. Clint Dempsey will not be playing again in 2016 for the Sounders, and likely will not be able to play in the USMNT’s Hexagonal matches against Mexico and Costa Rica in November due to an irregular heartbeat. Obviously Dempsey’s health is above everything else, so keep that in mind as you read this.

In soccer terms, this injury will force both Brian Schmetzer and Jurgen Klinsmann to adjust their game-plans for a longer stretch. Klinsmann will likely have figure out how to make Altidore and Bobby Wood fit together at the top of his 4-4-2 formation, while Schmetzer will be tasked with generating production from areas beside the central channels, as Nicolas Lodeiro is really their only playmaking threat.

Can Andreas Ivanschitz and Alvaro Fernandez be productive from the wing? That’s a genuine concern for Schmetzer going into the final games of the playoff chase.

3. The Chicago Fire are the next challenger for the Sounders. On paper, this should be an easy win for Seattle. In reality, however, the Fire are an increasingly tough team to play against.

Veljko Paunovic has Chicago playing good, comprehensive attacking soccer, even if they aren’t banging in the goals. David Accam, when he plays, is arguably one of the three speediest players in MLS, and Michael de Leeuw has impressed in an attacking midfield role. They’ve been good defensively — particularly when Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell play — and Matt Polster has stepped up in defensive midfield.

The Sounders should not cruise in this game.

2. Jordan Morris.

This guy is only improving.

1. I have the Sounders winning 3-1 in a game that will be closer than the score indicates. Morris scores at least one, and Lodeiro has two assists.