Major League Soccer is in full swing. Jason Davis highlights the matches you can't miss as the season rolls into Week 14.
Atlanta with no shortage of young MLS stars
While most of the games this weekend are affected on some level by the upcoming international break, the Vancouver Whitecaps match against Atlanta United should be a full-strength affair -- minus a few notable players with lingering injuries.
Atlanta is again riding high after wowing its big home crowd in a 3-1 win over NYCFC last weekend. The emergence of Miguel Almiron continued in that match and appears to be unabated. The Paraguayan international has five goals in his past two matches, including a hat trick against Houston on May 20.
As good as Almiron has been, it might be his less-flashy German teammate who deserves the most praise and attention at the moment. Julian Gressel scored his second goal of the year against NYCFC, but it's more his heady, mature midfield play that is drawing plaudits for Atlanta. He's a star in the making.
Vancouver has Matias Laba back -- a relief for Carl Robinson to be sure -- but they'll need the attack to get into gear to beat Atlanta. Last week against D.C. United, the Whitecaps failed to create any real danger and were beaten when Jose Ortiz dove in the box. Fredy Montero's scoring hasn't been nearly consistent enough. The Colombian has four goals on the year, but none in his past five appearances.
Weary NYCFC hosts resurgent Philadelphia
Philadelphia's advantage over NYCFC as they travel to Yankee Stadium on Saturday comes down to rest. While the New York team was playing out an energetic, emotional 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution on Wednesday night in the Bronx, the Union were down the road in Philadelphia preparing for the big Eastern Conference showdown.
Philly will feel better about its form than its opponents, but it's not as good as it was before last week. After reeling off four straight wins and pulling themselves off the bottom of the standings, the Union suffered a disappointing road loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The attack that had pushed them to those four wins deserted them, and what chances they did create were gobbled up by RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
The Union will have one significant absence against New York. Alejandro Bedoya is away with the U.S. national team, likely pushing Warren Creavalle into the lineup in his place.
New York, meanwhile, will again be without the emerging Yangel Herrera. The man he replaced as a starter, Andrea Pirlo, is recovering from an injury and could be back in the lineup. Pirlo's age and Herrera's stellar play have made the Italian a surprising omission in recent weeks.
As usual, the man to watch for on the New York side is reigning MVP David Villa. He set up a goal in Wednesday's draw and remains one of the most dangerous players in the league in the opponent's defensive third. His connection with youngster Jack Harrison is delivering goal and giving Harrison a boost as he develops.
MLS legacies bid farewell to RFK
The two most successful MLS clubs in the league's history meet up for a interconference clash at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The two teams are headed in decidedly opposite directions. The Galaxy arrive in the nation's capital with a three-game winning streak in tow, while United have lost four of their past five matches. The only respite for the hosts was a controversial 1-0 win away to Vancouver last weekend, when they won on an extremely contentious penalty call. That match did little to build confidence for Ben Olsen's team.
The Galaxy's remarkable turnaround has to be credited to the strings pulled by first-year coach Curt Onalfo, who freed up Giovani dos Santos and prompted a response from leaders such as Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme.
There's some nostalgia at play in this one, since this is the last time the Galaxy will play United at RFK Stadium. The D.C. team will open a brand new stadium next year, so the final date with a fellow MLS original is something of an occasion. United probably can't wait to leave RFK behind, however, and not just because the building is falling down. Olsen's squad hasn't won in its past three at home and failed to score a goal in that span.
LA's winning run has seen the resurgence of Dos Santos in the attack, and Onalfo will again lean on the Mexican international before he leaves to join his national team next week. Dos Santos shares the burden to create chances with Romain Alessandrini and Gyasi Zardes. Alessandrini, in particular, has been excellent this season and will be a player of concern for the left side of United's formation.