MLS weekend preview: Seattle Sounders remain unbeaten, Columbus Crew open Lower.com Field

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As we hit the Fourth of July weekend, the Major League Soccer season is nearly one-third complete and a lone undefeated club remains in the Seattle Sounders.

The Sounders (7-0-4) - who have reached four of the last five MLS Cups, winning two - are pacing the league on 25 points, with Sporting Kansas City and New England Revolution close behind on 23 points apiece.

Seattle’s also the league leader in goal differential (plus-13) and joint leader in goals conceded with just seven (Orlando and Columbus also have seven goals against).

Seattle will look to remain undefeated in an Independence Day matchup against the Colorado Rapids (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+), the fourth-place team in the West.

Raul Ruidiaz (right) celebrates with Seattle Sounders teammates Josh Atencio and Brad Smith after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Lumen Field.
Raul Ruidiaz (right) celebrates with Seattle Sounders teammates Josh Atencio and Brad Smith after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Lumen Field.

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

MLS game of the week

Orlando City SC vs. New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Orlando City has caught fire this summer, winning its past three matches by a total score of 10-3, keeping its second place position in the Eastern Conference. On Saturday, the Lions host a New York Red Bulls team that’s earned four out of a possible nine points, including a home win against sixth-place Nashville SC and a tough draw on the road to Atlanta United. Orlando forwards Nani and Tesho Akindele, respectively, rank in the top three in goals and assists. Saturday is a rematch of RBNY’s 2-1 win on May 29, when Caden Clark and Cristian Cásseres Jr. scored.

MLS player to watch

Gonzalo Higuaín, Inter Miami CF: Inter Miami has lost its last four matches, but its star center forward has scored three goals in the process. Higuaín is the key to Miami’s offense and will have to continue his successful scoring on Saturday against CF Montreal. The Canadian side has won both meetings between the two sides, with its recent victory coming on May 12. If Miami lose, it will tie the franchise record of five consecutive losses.

Gonzalo Higuain has scored five goals in nine games played this season.
Gonzalo Higuain has scored five goals in nine games played this season.

MLS news and notes

Columbus Crew set to open Lower.com Field: It was only on June 19 that Columbus Crew bid farewell to Crew Stadium in its final match at the venue against Chicago Fire FC. The club’s turned the page quickly on its older, historic soccer cathedral and on Tuesday staged a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand new Lower.com Field. The event included remarks from club ownership, state-wide elected politicians, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. The 20,000-capacity venue will host its first game Saturday in a marquee matchup pitting Columbus, the defending MLS Cup champions, against the current Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). Lower.com Field is the third and final new MLS venue to open during the 2021 season after Q2 Stadium and TQL Stadium opened previously in Austin and Cincinnati, respectively.

Skills Challenge to return for 2021 MLS All-Star Game festivities: After not staging the MLS All-Star Game in 2020, the festivities are returning for the revamped, MLS-versus-Liga MX All-Star Game format (Aug. 25). Also returning is the All-Star Skills Challenge, which will pit eight MLS All-Stars against eight of Liga MX’s skilled representatives (9 p.m. ET, FS1). Included in the competition will be the shooting challenge, touch challenge, cross and volley challenge, passing challenge, and the always-popular crossbar challenge, which was a big hit at the 2019 MLS All-Star Game in Orlando.

MORE: Mexican national team stars to team up again at MLS all-star event

Secondary transfer window looming: Do you love all manner of transfer rumors and personnel speculation? What about pre-contracts and agent-driven innuendo as teams scramble to complete their rosters ahead of pushing for the playoffs into the late summer and autumn? Then the opening of the secondary transfer window in MLS on July 7 is your time of year. Every club wants more goals, to solidify their backlines, and so on, and this is the last chance they’ll have to do it ahead of the playoff races heating and tightening up.

Charlotte SC continue roster build by signing U.S. youth international: At this stage in 2022 expansion side Charlotte SC’s roster build, the news is trickling in. The major mechanisms through which they’ll compile most of their players will play out over the winter. For now, it’s a signing here and there, and the latest of that is the acquisition of 18-year-old left back and USMNT prospect Adam Armour. Armour arrives from middle-rung, second-division German side FC Nurnberg. Armour is a native of North Carolina and a product of the North Carolina FC academy system.

AYO AKINOLA: Toronto FC star switches affiliation from USMNT to Canada

By the numbers

54: The New England Revolution's Carles Gil put together his eighth and ninth games this season with at least five key passes. No other player in MLS has had more than three games with at least five key passes. Gil's 54 key passes leads the next player on that list, Atlanta's Brooks Lennon, by 22. Going back to 2011 when MLS began tracking key passes, Gil is on pace to shatter Diego Valeri's season record of 116 key passes set in 2018. There's a reason Gil's the likely leading MVP candidate right now.

MLS rankings: Top 10 power poll

1. Seattle Sounders - The Sounders are now unbeaten through their first 11 games. Is it too soon for "no MLS team has ever finished a season undefeated" talk?

2. New England Revolution - After seeing their winning streak snapped at five games with last week's loss to FC Dallas, the Revs go to Columbus where they haven't won since a 2014 playoff game. This time, however, the game will be played in a fresh building, as the Crew are christening a new stadium.

3. Sporting Kansas City - Daniel Sallói (seven goals) and Alan Pulido (six) both are chasing their opponent Sunday - the LA Galaxy's Chicharito (10) - in the MLS Golden Boot standings.

4. Orlando City SC - Orlando now has won three straight since the international break and trail first-place New England by just two points (with one fewer game played) in the Eastern Conference standings.

5. Philadelphia Union - After an exciting back-and-forth draw against the Chicago Fire last week, the Union now are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak in league games.

6. Los Angeles Galaxy - With 10 goals in 10 games, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is on pace to match the single-season record set by former El Tri teammate Carlos Vela (34 goals in 34 games).

7. New York City FC - NYCFC won for the third time in four games thanks to a stunning late-game comeback win against DC United last week.

New York City FC midfielder Keaton Parks (55) leaps into the arms of teammates while celebrating his goal against D.C. United at Red Bull Arena.
New York City FC midfielder Keaton Parks (55) leaps into the arms of teammates while celebrating his goal against D.C. United at Red Bull Arena.

8. Columbus Crew - Gyasi Zardes scored the final two goals at Historic Crew Stadium. Will he also find the back of the net when the team opens new Lower.com Field on Saturday?

9. Nashville SC - A five-game homestand continues with a measuring-stick showdown with the Philadelphia Union, a team Nashville will be meeting for the very first time.

10. Colorado Rapids - The Rapids' litmus test continues against the undefeated Seattle Sounders on the Fourth of July in Commerce, Colo. A tough three-game stretch started with a loss to Sporting KC last week. Following the July 4 game, the Rapids play a Minnesota United squad that's riding a six-game unbeaten streak.

Moving in: New York City FC, Nashville SC

Dropping out: Portland Timbers (previously: 9), Real Salt Lake (10)

Others receiving votes: New York Red Bulls, Minnesota United

USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Mike Craven, Austin American-Statesman; 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. Odds according to BetMGM)

Thursday

Austin FC vs. Portland Timbers, 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

  • Odds: ATX (+110), Tie (+230), POR (+230)

Saturday

Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  • Odds: CLB (+115), Tie (+240), NE (+210)

DC United vs. Toronto FC, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: DC (-125), Tie (+260), TOR (+310)

CF Montreal vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: MTL (+130), Tie (+230), MIA (+190)

Orlando City SC vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: ORL (-130), Tie (+275), RBNY (+300)

Chicago Fire vs. Atlanta United, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: CHI (+100), Tie (+250), ATL (+240)

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: MIN (-160), Tie (+290), SJ (+375)

Nashville SC vs. Philadelphia Union, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: NSH (+100), Tie (+210), PHI (+290)

Houston Dynamo vs. FC Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: HOU (-110), Tie (+250), CIN (+270)

Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles FC, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: RSL (+180), Tie (+270), LAFC (+120)

Sunday

FC Dallas vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: DAL (-135), Tie (+260), VAN (+325)

Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: COL (+115), Tie (+275), SEA (+185)

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

  • Odds: LA (+150), Tie (+260), SKC (+150)

Gannett may earn revenue from audience referrals to betting services. Newsrooms are independent of this relationship and there is no influence on news coverage.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS games this weekend: How to watch on TV, streaming info, odds