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What to watch for: MLS Week 6

Now that MLS is back in full swing and its internationals have a solid week of club play behind them, some intriguing conference battles await.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Seattle Sounders FC Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Three’s Company

The Chicago Fire’s addition of Bastian Schweinsteiger was met by skeptical looks by many (and also by me). I didn’t know if he would be a big enough name to give Chicago a bump in ticket sales or generate any more interest at all in the Chicago sports scene, I didn’t know how much gas in the tank he had after essentially being a non-entity at Manchester United over the past couple seasons, and I didn’t know how he fit into their midfield. Common sense says you play your Designated Player wherever he plays best, but the Schwein has always been a central midfielder, sometimes as a marauding 6, sometimes playing more of a trequartista further up the field, and sometimes thundering from box to box as a number 8. And respect to Schwiensteiger: he’s one of the best players of his generation. But Chicago’s greatest strength was already in their midfield duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho, and throwing three guys into center midfield who all play almost the same position seemed like trouble.

And then they did this.

Drawing 2-2 down a man isn’t ideal, but it also certainly isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Schweinsteiger also could have had more than one assist if not for Luis Solignac’s wastefulness. It remains to be seen if Chicago can turn themselves into a real team for the first time in a long time, but returns on their new Designated Player aren’t nearly as dire as originally thought.

Let’s Get Real

Real Salt Lake have the dubious title of giving Minnesota United their first MLS win after last week’s 4-2 defeat, but I’d keep my eye on Utah this weekend. Mike Petke is back in his first MLS coaching gig since being unceremoniously dumped by the New York Red Bulls, and while RSL are still dealing with an unholy rash of injuries, reinforcements are coming back into the squad as well. Joao Plata played a welcome 30 minutes against Minnesota, and Jordan Allen also seems to be close to being game-ready again as well. Petke will need to sort out his defensive options and patchwork a team onto the field, but RSL still has some exciting dynamic players to work with, and I can’t wait for the guy that headed up the 2013-2014 Red Bulls to start working with a healthy RSL squad.

Player to Watch: Kekuta Manneh

Manneh’s trade was surprising for a couple reasons. First, I didn’t think Vancouver would want to part with him. Second, I have no idea where he fits in the Crew’s system, which is what makes his incorporation into this Crew squad all the more interesting. Berhalter could choose to replace any of his three attacking midfielders with Manneh, or none of them at all. Justin Meram has consistently and somewhat quietly been the Crew’s best attacking midfielder for the better part of the last year and a half. Ethan Finlay has seen his production dwindle from a career year in 2015, but he still has speed for days on the opposite wing and provides a nice counter balance for Meram’s tendency to cut inside from the left. And Federico Higuain may have lost a step or two, but he’s been the man stirring the drink for Columbus for a long time now. Does Manneh crack this lineup? And where?

Games to Watch

In the battle of new additions, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s Chicago Fire take on Kekuta Manneh’s Columbus Crew (which is an odd sentence to write still). I’m curious to see if this Fire team holds up against stiffer competition that a depleted Montreal Impact side, and I want to see Gregg Berhalter throw out his shiny new toy at some point.

Elsewhere in the league, Atlanta United have another tough road game in Toronto without leading scorer Josef Martinez. They managed to pick up a valuable road point in Seattle last week; now we’ll see if they can do that same in their own conference.

Poorly Executed MLS Photoshop of the Week

This one is a bit belated due to the international schedule, but it still stands.

Let Leo the Lion’s blank death stare haunt your dreams.