FC Cincinnati v Inter Miami
Round six of the MLS season sees two Eastern Conference sides going at it on Sunday morning when second placed FC Cincinnati, the only unbeaten side in this Conference, play host to an Inter Miami team for whom it is all starting to go wrong.
Miami make the trip to Ohio off the back of three straight defeats and I don’t think it is a coincidence that those losses have come without midfield general Gregore on the pitch. He is done for the majority of the season so Phil Neville swiftly needs to draw up a game plan which stops sides getting at his back line so easily without the Brazilian.
That hasn’t happened as yet and don’t forget unlike European sides, MLS teams didn’t have the international break off, so Neville has only had a few days to come up with something.
What isn’t going to help Miami here is FC Cincinnati look a lot better at the back than they did last season. That is no surprise because Matt Miazga and Obinna Nwobodo have really combined to shore them up at the back.
Usually when teams buy big defensive players in MLS the salary cap denies them the chance to keep their offensive tools but good management from Cincy means that they have kept their important attacking players.
One of those, Brandon Vazquez, got off the mark for goals last week and with Brenner and Sergio Santos backing him up goals will always come naturally for Cincinnati.
Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender has been their best player so far but he is getting more and more exposed and over the course of the 90 minutes I expect the quality that Cincinnati have in attacking areas to be too much for a Miami side whose problem is far too clear for opposing coaches to see.
Columbus Crew v Real Salt Lake
There are not many matches between teams in opposite Conferences in the early hours of Sunday morning but one such contest sees Columbus Crew playing host to Real Salt Lake at Lower.com Field.
These two teams could scarcely be going into the contest off the back of much opposite results. The Crew took advantage of Atlanta internationals to thrash them 6-1 last week while Real Salt Lake were put in their place in no uncertain terms by St Louis City SC with a 4-0 beating in Salt Lake.
The loss wasn’t so much the problem for Salt Lake in that match, St Louis City are blazing a trail in MLS right now after all, but it was the performance which threw up concerns.
If we are being honest the performance stunk, especially when you consider they had two weeks to prepare for the match, and seemingly any ideas they had in the attacking department disappeared far too soon.
That was a third defeat on the trot for Real Salt Lake and they look to have a number of problems to solve before they get back on the right track. That is not the case for the Crew. They are only going to get better under Wilfried Nancy and that 6-1 win last week came without MVP candidate Lucas Zelarayan, who returns from international duty for this match.
Columbus are without Cucho Hernandez which isn’t ideal but Christian Ramirez got back among the goals on his return to MLS last week so that is very much a bonus.
Columbus have played two home matches this season and have won them with an aggregate of 8-1. I think they will have too much for an out of sorts Real Salt Lake who lack the altitude advantage that they have at home on their travels. I see nothing but a home win here.
Atlanta United v New York Red Bulls
Two of the better sides in the Eastern Conference meet at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the early hours of Sunday morning when Atlanta United play host to the New York Red Bulls.
Atlanta United were top of the table heading into last week but we saw what many pretty much knew heading into that trip to the Columbus Crew – that while this team are moving forward after the disaster of a campaign of last term, they are still reliant on certain players a little too much.
Unfortunately for the ‘Five Stripes’ two of the players they rely on most – defender Miles Robinson and MLS star Thiago Almada – were both on international duty, as were a number of other players which left the depth chart looking a little thin. The result was a 6-1 battering.
Thankfully for the Georgia side, all the internationals are back unscathed and ready to go again this week so we should see much more of the Atlanta team that looked so good in the opening four matches and can put last week behind them.
They now face a New York Red Bulls outfit who are continuing their transition under Gerhard Struber. After suffering defeat in the opening game of the season, Red Bulls are four matches unbeaten but are struggling to get their noses in front at the minute.
Performances are definitely improving for New York and there will be more to come when big money signing Dante Vanzeir is fully up and running and integrated into the team. He has come off the bench in the last four matches but was on a podcast a week or so ago suggesting he is close to being ready to start.
Whether Vanzeir starts or not the high pressing game of New York Red Bulls will generate chances against an Atlanta defence which is not averse to taking risks themselves but at the same time when the home side beat the press and get the ball into Almada the visitors could be very exposed defensively.
The tactical side of this one should be an interesting watch but I expect both teams to implement their game on the other and this one to ignite quite quickly. With the quality of attacking players on show over 2.5 goals looks extremely likely to me.
Chicago Fire v DC United
Soldier Field plays host to two Eastern Conference teams who missed out on the postseason last term but who will be eager to be there this time around when Chicago Fire take on DC United in what feels like a big match for both teams.
DC United began the season with that incredible win over Toronto FC but it has been a tale of woe since then with just one point gained from four matches, and even that felt like two points dropped.
Chicago Fire have started the season much more positively. After having the bye week in the opening round of matches they have picked up five points from the four games they have played, the latest of which being a win over Inter Miami last week in what was quite a remarkable match.
The Fire were 2-0 up before letting that advantage slip, only to thankfully from their point of view find an injury time winner to pick up the three points that they deserved.
They did that without Xherdan Shaqiri who was away on international duty. In his absence the home grown Brian Gutierrez has come up trumps in the number 10 position and it might just be that Shaqiri gets utilised in another role within the attack which will make the Fire even stronger.
DC are having no problem scoring goals this season, only once have they been shutout and that was away to Columbus Crew but they probably had the better of that one too, but keeping them out of the back of the net is proving much harder.
DC are currently averaging two goals against them per match but they might have Lewis O’Brien available for the first time this season. That should help them create more chances to win shootouts should they continue to need to.
Given how these two are trending I fully expect to see more than 2.5 goals in this one, an outcome which has landed in the last two Chicago games and three times in DC matches already this season.
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