MLS Weekend Preview: International window forces clubs to compensate for absent stars


Spare a thought for Orlando City coach Adrian Heath as he prepares for the trip to Monday on Saturday.

Brek Shea — one of the club’s marquee signings during the winter — spent his Friday morning gliding around the training field perched behind Stadion Letzigrund ahead of the U.S. men’s national team friendly against Switzerland on Tuesday (live, 12:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go).

Shea’s absence for the trek to Quebec will sting, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Heath must compensate for six other players away on international duty this weekend and figure out how five further players picked up injuries to rule them out against the Impact.

The scenario means Heath will take a threadbare squad up to Canada in a bid to respond to the last-second defeat to Vancouver last weekend. It is the sort of scenario coaches find in their nightmares. And it stems from the decision to play through this particular international window.

MLS accommodates FIFA dates when it can, but the realities of the situation — from the potential revenue hit from sliding games into midweek through the scheduling complications with the venues — often thrust players and teams into difficult predicaments.

At this point, there are no easy solutions to the situation. It means Heath and his colleagues must once again find a way to muddle through this weekend, even if it means trying to stitch together a competitive side with the pieces on hand.

New England Revolution — San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, 3:00p.m. ET

Revolution coach Jay Heaps welcomes José Gonçalves back from a one-match ban, while the return of Jermaine Jones (sports hernia surgery) to the Boston area offers a necessary morale boost. The home side must improve upon an impotent display in the 0-0 draw against Montréal last Saturday in order to register its first goal of the season and sweep aside an Earthquakes side with an increasing sense of belief after consecutive victories.

Montréal Impact — Orlando City, Saturday, 4:00p.m. ET (TSN3)

Heath is in the midst of trying to cobble together a reasonable starting XI. The structural work carried out during preseason should help at bit, at least. Orlando City tempers its ambitions prudently and trusts Kaka to provide a moment of magic. It is perhaps the only way forward here given the laundry list of absentees. Montréal must lean on Ignacio Piatti to crack open the visitors and pull apart that dogged shape.

New York City FC — Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:00p.m. ET

NYCFC ground out a point in Commerce City last weekend to keep the unbeaten streak alive. Jason Kreis will expect his players to exhibit more dominion over the ball at Yankee Stadium, particularly with Mix Diskerud omitted from the U.S. squad this time around. Their work on the ball places considerable responsibility on the retooled Sporting midfield — currently stripped of the influential Roger Espinoza (Honduras) — to close quickly and reliably without leaving gaps to exploit.

D.C. United — LA Galaxy, Saturday, 7:00p.m. ET

United could have hardly picked a better time to play the Galaxy with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes both away on international duty. Any help is welcome as United tries to sort out its own house. Ben Olsen doled out a deservedly harsh assessment of the performance in the 2-0 defeat at New York Red Bulls last weekend. He will demand an empathic response from his players to place United back on the proper track.

Columbus Crew SC — New York Red Bulls, Saturday, 7:30p.m. ET

Keep a close watch on the wide areas as these two possession-oriented sides tangle at MAPFRE Stadium. Lloyd Sam impressed last weekend by cutting inside reliably and slicing through D.C. United’s static midfield. He will face a more difficult task this time out with Crew SC’s reliable trio in central midfield to gum up the works. One point to monitor for the hosts: Can this group find its usual cadence in possession with Wil Trapp away with the U.S. under-23 side?

Vancouver Whitecaps — Portland Timbers, Saturday, 8:00p.m. ET (TSN1)

These two rivals kick off the Cascadia Cup festivities at B.C. Place. These matches always supply plenty of intrigue, though the testy fare can often weigh things down from the run of play. Vancouver must cope without Diego Gonzalez and Kekuta Manneh after they received supplementary discipline this week. Portland will hope to exploit those absences to garner a first win of the season.

Houston Dynamo — Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 8:30p.m. ET

Dynamo coach Owen Coyle continues to place his side in reasonable positions to pick up points, though Giles Barnes’ Jamaica call-up complicates matters. There is a blueprint in place here ahead of this trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park: keep the shape organized and wait for a moment to punish the Rapids when they get anxious. The home side desperately needs a win after failing to secure maximum points last weekend, but it must maintain its composure in order to snatch it.

FC Dallas — Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 8:30p.m. ET

If only two of the three or four best teams in the Western Conference boasted all of their best players. FC Dallas must host Sounders FC without Blas Perez (Panama), while Seattle must visit Frisco without Clint Dempsey (right hamstring strain). Both teams function differently without their primary attacking threats. The key for Seattle in this fixture: finding a way to limit FCD’s ability to break quickly and reduce the exposure in central defense. If FCD can rely on Fabian Castillo to dash through the lines quickly, then Seattle — particularly with an overall vulnerability to pace — might struggle to deal with the repercussions.

Chicago Fire — Philadelphia Union, Sunday, 5:00p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)

Both teams desperately required some form of positive reinforcement after indifferent starts to the season. Philadelphia midfielder Zach Pfeffer starts his two-match suspension here after his dismissal in the 2-0 home defeat to FC Dallas a weekend ago, while Chicago must cope without expensive imports David Accam (Ghana) and Shaun Maloney (Scotland). Expect both teams to struggle to find their rhythm over the course if this affair, if the first three weeks provide a reliable indicator of the issues in both camps.

Real Salt Lake — Toronto FC, Sunday, 7:00p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes)

TFC recalled Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton and Ashtone Morgan from TFC II on Friday to bolster their ranks ahead of the trip to Sunday. Their presence — plus Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the Italy squad — increases the options at Greg Vanney’s disposal, but the Reds will miss Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow (one-match suspension after appeal for the dismissal in Columbus failed) dearly. RSL must start brightly to overcome the absences of Luis Gil and Alvaro Saborio and place TFC under pressure from the outset. If the home side can obtain control of the game, then it could create enough opportunities to collect the points.