MLS notebook: Ricardo Pepi's star continues to rise. USMNT keeps World Cup qualifying hopes alive.

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Ricardo Pepi has had a decent couple weeks, hasn’t he?

After scoring twice in the U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying victory against Jamaica on Oct. 7 in Austin, he was Tuesday named the No. 1 player in MLSsoccer.com's "22 Under 22" list of rising stars in the league.

Not surprisingly, and far more important than a list ranking, it seems Pepi’s days in Major League Soccer are numbered. It was reported that some of Europe’s biggest clubs were present for the Jamaica match in Austin to scout Pepi, who has 13 goals in 17 appearances for FC Dallas this season. There are even some unconfirmed reports Pepi is closing in on a deal to move to a European club.

The coming days and weeks could end up saying a lot for the next step in the career of this already-decorated player.

FC Dallas and USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi could be on the move to a European club in the near future.
FC Dallas and USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi could be on the move to a European club in the near future.

Here is what you need to know for the weekend in MLS:

MLS game of the week

New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN): Key differences between the two clubs in the Hudson River Derby include result consistency, remaining strength of schedule and Valentine "Taty" Castellanos. Going into the October international break that ended this week, the Red Bulls posted three wins and a draw in their previous four matches, including the 1-0 win over NYCFC on Sept. 25. Entering Sunday’s match, however, the remaining six matches on the RBNY schedule prove to be tougher than their Hudson River rivals. Four of those matches are against playoff-bound teams. NYCFC should see Sunday’s clash as a possible momentum-swinger, trusting that Castellanos, its star center forward, will build upon his 13 goals scored this season.

MLS player to watch

Damir Kreilach, Real Salt Lake: Not many players in MLS are in better form than RSL’s Kreilach. Though his club’s recent results (11-11-6, 39 points, fifth place) have put a home game in the MLS playoffs at a further reach, Kreilach has scored four goals in Salt Lake’s last four outings, putting the 32-year-old Croatian in an illustrious group of six across MLS who have 13 goals to their name in 2021. RSL hosts the Colorado Rapids on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET) – a team with the third-best defense (28 goals allowed) in the league.

By the numbers

13: With last Saturday's 4-1 triumph over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Seattle Sounders clinched a postseason berth and extended their MLS record for consecutive playoff appearances to 13. This streak dates back to the team's expansion season of 2009, and ranks second among major U.S. pro sports leagues behind the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins (15), but ahead of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx (11), MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers (9), NBA's Portland Trail Blazers (8) and NFL's Kansas City Chiefs (6). The second-longest such streak in MLS history belongs to the New York Red Bulls at 11 (2010-2020), but is in jeopardy of being snapped this season. New York City FC - which is currently in a playoff position - has the next-longest active streak at five.

Seattle Sounders FC players celebrate a 4-1 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Lumen Field. The win put the Sounders into the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, extending an MLS record.
Seattle Sounders FC players celebrate a 4-1 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Lumen Field. The win put the Sounders into the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, extending an MLS record.

MLS Cup playoff picture coming into view

You might call what remains of 2021 the "business end" of the MLS season. The playoff picture is coming into focus and teams are starting to secure their respective postseason fates following the New England Revolution (now on 65 points and 20-4-5 record) clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference two weeks ago. This past week saw the Seattle Sounders (17-5-6, 57 points), the distant No. 2 in the race for the Supporters' Shield, also clinch a playoff berth. In the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City (15-6-7, 52 points) and the Colorado Rapids (14-5-9, 51 points) won’t be far behind in wrapping up their respective playoff berths. It might take a little longer to settle everything happening beneath New England in the tightly packed Eastern Conference, but at least the bottom of the table there is coming into view, too, as FC Cincinnati was the first club eliminated from playoff contention.

HANY MUKHTAR: Who is Nashville SC's MVP candidate and how good can he be?

How is USMNT doing in World Cup qualifying?

The USMNT closed the October World Cup qualifying window with a crucial win over Costa Rica in Columbus on Wednesday night. The team rebounded from what was an absolutely dreadful performance in Panama on Sunday to complete the three-game window with six points. This is good enough to put the USMNT into second place in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying standings, three points behind Mexico - the USMNT's next opponent on Nov. 12 in Cincinnati - and one point ahead of Canada. The top three teams automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while the fourth-place team must compete in an inter-continental playoff.

ANALYSIS: USMNT gets necessary win as Mexico match looms

Brenden Aaronson (11) controls the ball during the USMNT's win over Costa Rica at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Wednesday night.
Brenden Aaronson (11) controls the ball during the USMNT's win over Costa Rica at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Wednesday night.

Phil Neville fined after calling for investigation

Following a 1-0 away loss to New York Red Bulls on Saturday, Phil Neville made it very clear in his post-match comments that he’s frustrated with the way he perceives refereeing decisions to be handled in matches involving his team. "There has to be a massive investigation into the decisions given against Inter Miami,” Neville said as part of his rant on MLS officiating. Thing is, MLS doesn’t allow players, coaches or club officials to publicly criticize such things, so Neville was fined an undisclosed amount for his remarks.

MLS, MGM team up for reality series

MLS is getting its own version of "Hard Knocks" ... kinda. MGM Television and Mark Burnett have teamed up with MLS and the league's 2022 expansion team, Charlotte FC, for a reality series "Welcome To The Team." The series will provide a glimpse of a group of players' journeys to join the league's newest team. "With unparalleled access to top athletes trying to earn a spot on a major league sports team, 'Welcome To The Team' will be the definitive sports competition series," Burnett said in a statement released by the league.

MLS rankings: Top 10 power poll

1. New England Revolution: The Revs' five-game march to attempt to break the league's single-season points record starts Saturday against the lowly Chicago Fire.

2. Seattle Sounders: With a 13th consecutive playoff appearance clinched, the Sounders have distanced themselves from the pack in the Western Conference.

3. Sporting Kansas City: SKC's only hope to win the Western Conference would be an uncharacteristic collapse by the Sounders down the stretch.

4. Nashville SC: Nashville - which has tied in its previous three and in a league-high 14 games this season - could have done itself some favors in securing the second-place spot in the East behind New England by converting some of those draws into wins.

5. Colorado Rapids: The Rapids pulled out a huge 3-1 road win against Minnesota United to rebound from their first loss in 13 games.

6. Portland Timbers: The Timbers could solidify their spot in the Western Conference playoff race if they can manage to get a road win over the sixth-place LA Galaxy on Saturday.

7. Philadelphia Union: A five-game unbeaten run that includes four victories has pushed the Union into position to pressure Nashville SC for the second-place spot in the East.

8. Orlando City SC: Coming off a big win over DC United on Oct. 2, Orlando now gets to face off against the team with the league's worst record, FC Cincinnati.

9. New York City FC: On Sunday, NYCFC renews its Hudson River Derby rivalry with the Red Bulls, who come in hot, riding a six-game unbeaten run that includes four wins (including one against NYCFC).

10. DC United: DC has a big one against Nashville on Saturday. The last time these two teams met, DC United was clobbered 5-2 at Nissan Stadium.

Moving in: DC United

Dropping out: Club de Foot Montréal (previously: 10)

Others receiving votes: Club de Foot Montréal, Los Angeles Galaxy

USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Drake Hills, The Tennessean; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch; Jim Reineking, USA TODAY.

MLS schedule: What are this weekend's games?

(ABC/ESPN games available to be streamed on Watch ESPN; FOX games on FOX Sports Live. Games also available on fuboTV.)

Saturday

  • CF Montreal vs. Philadelphia Union, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Los Angeles FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 3:30 p.m. ET (Univision/TUDN, Twitter)

  • Columbus Crew vs. Inter Miami CF, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • DC United vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Austin FC vs. Minnesota United, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Sunday

  • New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  • Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS notebook: Ricardo Pepi's star continues to rise