MLS W2W4: Temperature rising for Fire boss Paunovic; Almeyda is San Jose's magic man
Veljko Paunovic's hot seat in Chicago could become a scorcher with a loss at Sporting Kansas City, while the mystique of Matias Almeyda continues to grow in San Jose, who welcome in Real Salt Lake. Plus, Columbus will look to kick-start their attack against Seattle.
Temperature rising for Pauno in Chicago
Only one team in MLS this season is yet to win away from home, and it's not FC Cincinnati or Colorado. Sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire have proved incapable of coming home with three points from a road trip but get a 10th crack at it on Saturday at Sporting Kansas City.
Expectations were high going into the season in the Windy City, especially with the arrival of Nicolas Gaitan, but the Fire continue to stall in the Eastern Conference. If the #PaunoOut hashtag on Twitter is any indication, fan unrest is growing.
What is clear is that Chicago have never really clicked playing under the Serbian, outside of the first half of the 2017 season when it was one of the top teams in the East. Otherwise, it has been a middling experience and this season's record reflects that: 5W-7D-7L, 31 goals scored, 28 conceded. Yawn City.
Luckily for Paunovic, Wednesday's 5-1 home win over Atlanta will allow for some breathing room, but judging by Chicago's play this season -- and throughout the majority of his tenure -- it's questionable that the team will maintain that level, beginning with Saturday's visit to Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). Peter Vermes's men were humiliated at home by LAFC on Wednesday 5-1 and so a strong reaction will be expected.
Matias the magic man in San Jose
Before the season, if you had said the San Jose Earthquakes would be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Western Conference after 18 games, nobody would have believed it. Yet here they are after overcoming a four-loss start to 2019, and it's all thanks to coach Matias Almeyda.
It's amazing that the Argentine elected to come to MLS over the winter and manage one of the league's worst teams in recent seasons. Last week was another example of how he has completely turned around the Quakes, as they drilled "Cali Clasico" rivals Los Angeles Galaxy 3-0.
Despite the 3-1 loss in Minnesota on Wednesday, San Jose will be ready. Almeyda is a stickler for fitness, as that was one of the main priorities in preseason. If any team is equipped to handle playing on two days' rest, it is San Jose. Their balance and depth at all positions, plus an insatiable work rate, could well turn them into a title contender, and with a coach who knows a thing or two about winning trophies.
RSL is one of those teams battling the Quakes for a postseason berth, so three points here could well make the difference by week 34.
Columbus attack in search of kick-start
It has been a rough year in Columbus. Key injuries have stripped the Crew of some of their main attacking ingredients: namely flying full-back Milton Valenzuela and playmaker Federico Higuain. The result has been a meagre 16 goals in 19 games, only one better than last-place FC Cincinnati.
Unlike some of his struggling counterparts, Columbus boss Caleb Porter will be afforded more time to right the ship. New arrivals forward Romario Williams and winger Luis Diaz will help, but maybe, just maybe, the time is right for Columbus to make a push for the other Higuain. That is, of course, Federico's younger brother Gonzalo Higuain, 31, who is rumored to be on the way out of Juventus.
It would be a massive get for a team that normally doesn't spend big, but the allure of family could well bring the former River Plate, Real Madrid, Napoli and Chelsea man into the mix. For now, the task at hand is Saturday's home clash with Seattle (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in which both teams need something positive after poor midweek losses.
This is the time of year when Seattle start to kick things into gear, so perhaps former Portland coach Porter can learn a thing or two from his former nemesis and do the same in Columbus. Adding Gonzalo this summer might lead to a 'Nicolas Lodeiro in 2016' type of push.