If you don’t consider yourself to be a soccer fan, this might be a good time to jump on the bandwagon: This weekend, plenty of Texans will be tuning in for some key matches in men’s Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League.
Jimmy Maas, KUT’s go-to soccer person, got us up-to-speed ahead of the big matches:
MLS: Austin FC vs. Los Angeles FC (7 p.m. Friday, Q2 Stadium in Austin)
These are the top two ranked teams in the MLS Western – and there’s a lot on the line for Austin.
Tonight’s game is sort of a push-comes-to-shove moment for Austin FC as it tries to work its way back toward contention for the top spot in the Western Conference, Maas said – and if it does make the top spot, it gets a bye in the playoffs. As is, Austin FC should probably make the playoffs easily, he said.
“This is an Austin team that has turned around from its expansion year last year. They are tied with L.A. in goals scored this season; both of those teams top the entire league,” Maas said. “They were going neck-and-neck in the beginning of the season. They’ve kind of hit a little rut here since July 4th, kind of middling around like 500, but, you know, still in contention for a spot. And this is a good chance for them to put their foot forward and maybe get back on with the last seven or eight games left in the season to make it into the top spot in the Western Conference.”
MLS: FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake (8 p.m. Saturday, Toyota Stadium in Frisco)
FC Dallas, which is ranked No. 3 in the Western Conference, has generated a lot of soccer talent through its development academy, and in some ways it’s sort of its own mini U.S. men’s national team, Maas said.
“And that’s after exporting talents like Weston McKennie and Ricardo Pepi to the European club. So they still are just chock full of it, but that hasn’t necessarily given it a place among MLS elites on the field,” he said. “Dallas has played every year the league has existed, and yet it’s only got one supporters shield to show for it, and that happened six years ago.
“So Dallas is in third place right now; they’re chasing LA FC and Austin. They have the fewest remaining games, though, and they’re in a cluster of three teams that are within four points of each other. Generally in soccer – or football, if you prefer – you get three points in the standings for a win and one for a tie. So they’re kind of tightly clustered with another group. They could create some space in that group with a win against one of those other teams, Real Salt Lake, on Saturday.”
There is a possibility that Dallas and Austin could face off for the Western Conference title, depending on playoff standings and matchups – “but there’s a lot of soccer to be played between here and then,” Mass said.
NWSL: Houston Dash vs. Washington Spirit (7:30 p.m. Saturday, PNC Stadium in Houston)
Third-ranked Houston hosts Washington, which just let go of its coach this week.
Washington is “searching for an identity on that team. It’s been a couple of years of scandal and other problems in Washington,” Maas said. “Meanwhile, Houston has sort of kept under the radar this season. They’ve worked their way into third place, and they’re in a solid playoff position as we move into the fall.”
So is Houston is looking like the favorite this week, despite coming off a loss to San Diego Wave FC?
“Right now, I wouldn’t put the mortgage on it. But, you know, if you got a spare a couple of bucks, maybe,” Maas said. “A lot of teams have been losing to the San Diego Wave, by the way.”