Schweini ready for Fire bow, Seattle Sounders host newcomer Atlanta
With the international break behind us, Major League Soccer has a full weekend of action. Jason Davis breaks down the matches you won't want to miss.
Atlanta to prove they belong against Seattle?
The marquee matchup takes pace on Friday night and pits the defending MLS Cup champion against the new kids on the block. Atlanta United chugs into the Pacific Northwest coming off its first-ever home win but without its leading scorer. Both teams could be impacted by the international break, with players who played for their countries on Tuesday night across the Americas facing a short turnaround.
Five-goal Josef Martinez will be missing through injury for Atlanta, while his potential replacement Kenwyne Jones, as well as Miguel Almiron and Carlos Carmona, are all dealing with the rigors of play and travel.
Seattle will have Clint Dempsey, who scored four goals in two games for the U.S., plus Roman Torres, Nicolas Lodeiro and Joevin Jones, though Brian Schmetzer could choose to give one or more of them the week off after similarly busy schedules. Jordan Morris left the U.S. national team camp with an ankle injury, and is also questionable for the game.
Despite the possibility that some big names could be missing, Atlanta will seek to prove its worth. The expansion club's 11 goals leads the league, but 10 of those tallies came against the porous defense of Minnesota United and a 10-man Chicago Fire team.
Martinez or not, United needs to show the rest of MLS they can ping the ball around the park and create chances when leaning on depth. In front of a vocal home crowd, meanwhile, the Sounders will be amped up to show the upstarts that the elite is not so simple to break into.
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Schweinsteiger could debut vs. Montreal
There are more than a few reasons to check in on the Fire's date with Montreal on Saturday but one stands well above the others: The possible Chicago debut of newly-signed midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Rumors that trickled through the mill for months finally proved real when the former Germany international signed a one-year contract worth a reported $4.5 million last week. Though the Fire already have Dax McCarty and Juninho in their midfield -- both of whom demand to be in the starting lineup whenever healthy -- the idea is that Schweinsteiger can add a missing element to the rebuild project underway at the direction of Veljko Paunovic.
Schweinsteiger just arrived on Wednesday, so any time he gets on the field against Montreal should be viewed as a bonus. It's difficult to expect a 31-year-old player with a lot of miles on his legs to step directly into the fray and the World Cup winner simply can't have an understanding with his teammates from one or two training sessions.
Meanwhile, the Impact arrive without one of their best players. Ignacio Piatti is out with hip and groin issues, and to make matters worse, both Patrice Bernier and Laurent Ciman are questionable with their own knocks. That's a lot of veteran leadership that could be missing. Montreal is also dealing with the travel issues of full-back Ambroise Oyongo, who was stranded in Brussels for a few days this week after international duty with Cameroon.
High-powered attacks go head-to-head
Columbus vs. Orlando is all about entertainment possibilities, with both clubs featuring aggressive attacks and two of the best finishers in the league. Crew SC's home win over Portland last weekend gives them momentum coming into a game against an Orlando team that has played just twice so far in 2017.
The Florida club are making do without Kaka, who is still a few weeks away from a return from the hamstring injury he picked up in Week 1. So far, both Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas have managed to carry the attacking load. Every chance to watch Larin needs to be cherished; the talented Canadian is the subject of rampant transfer rumors and there's a good chance he could be sold at some point this summer. If Orlando gets an offer they simply can't turn down, games before Larin's departure take on extra meaning.
Columbus has its own weapons. Both Ola Kamara and Justin Meram scored last week and they should be the focal point of the attack again. Federico Higuain continues to man the No. 10 spot but hasn't been as effective as hoped underneath Kamara.
A new possible wrinkle emerged for this game late Thursday when Columbus announced the acquisition of 22-year-old Kekuta Manneh from the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for Tony Tchani and allocation money. There's no obvious spot on the field for Manneh, but don't put it past Gregg Berhalter to deploy his new game-changing asset at some point on Saturday afternoon.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.