Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the weekend
The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Is goal-line technology coming to MLS this summer?
Commissioner Don Garber turned heads around the world yesterday when he expressed MLS’ eagerness to be a test league – starting as early as July – for this innovation, which seems to be ready for use but has been soft-pedaled by FIFA thus far. The International Football Association Board still has to sign off and other stumbling blocks remain, but a midseason adoption would put MLS at the forefront of a very hot topic.
10) 7-0: How long can Sporting keep this up?
Momentum is a useful commodity in MLS, and Kansas City has it in abundance right now. SKC have already opened up an 11-point lead over their closest pursuer in the Eastern Conference and while many have wondered if their physical approach can be sustained over the long, hot summer, Wednesday’s 3-1 win in Vancouver showed that they don’t have to play their best to secure victories.
9) Are Portland in any condition to ambush them on Saturday?
After a testing midweek match on artificial turf, the East’s frontrunners have a quick turnaround before facing the Timbers in their second match of a Pac-Northwest road swing. Given the ambiance at JELD-WEN Field, this one should have “banana peel” written all over it, but PTFC are on a four-game losing skid and will need to fix their shaky backline right away if they want to spring the upset.
8) Can Houston maintain their road-warrior ways in Columbus?
Similar to KC last season, the Dynamo’s new stadium has sentenced them to a seven-game, season-opening road swing. Unlike Sporting, they’ve handled theirs with aplomb so far, keeping things tight at the back and hanging right in the midst of the East pack even with orchestrator Brad Davis missing time because of injury. The Crew will need to conjure up some attacking ingenuity to unsettle Houston’s cohesive rearguard.
7) How long can the Fire wait for Chris Rolfe?
NBC Sports Preview: TOR vs CHI
The Fire showed that they could pull off a bit of last-minute acquisition magic as the MLS transfer window closed earlier this week, bringing one of their old favorites back from Europe to add a new dimension to their front line. Rolfe, however, rolled his ankle during his first week in training and won't play against Toronto FC on Saturday. Frank Klopas & Co. will have to play the waiting game at least another week.
6) Will Torsten Frings be back?
There might not be an MLS club more dependent on one player than TFC. The Reds stunned the continent with a CONCACAF Champions League defeat of the Galaxy with the veteran German anchoring the squad, then dipped into an 0-5 tailspin after his hamstring gave out in Seattle on First Kick weekend. His team desperately needs him to steady the ship, or at least change their luck.
5) How can Martin Rennie reverse Vancouver’s troubling trend line?
Rennie’s Whitecaps didn’t allow a single goal in their first four games, only for that undefeated start to suddenly give way to back-to-back 3-1 defeats. The form chart is alarming: two wins, followed by two draws, then two losses. Vancouver’s many offensive weapons will be of limited use if the backline breakdowns continue against FC Dallas.
4) Can the Earthquakes reel in RSL at Buck Shaw Stadium?
Real Salt Lake just lost a tough road game to league-leading Sporting, and this week they must visit San Jose, their closest pursuer in the West. It’s a timely test for Jason Kreis and his men, who need to rebound quickly if they want to stay close in the Supporters’ Shield race. Meanwhile, the ascendant Quakes have reasons to believe they can go toe-to-toe with their guests, though the loss of Shea Salinas (injury) and Marvin Chavez (suspension) stings.
3) Will David Beckham finally light up Dick’s Sporting Goods Park?
In past years Becks and the Galaxy have disappointed – and even aggravated – some fans in Denver, as he’s missed four of LA’s five visits in his MLS career (though the Englishman made a street-clothes cameo at the 2007 All-Star Game at DSGP when he first hit these shores). His one match appearance was a 4-0 thrashing by the Rapids in 2008. The venue’s mile-high altitude and spacious field should test him and his mending hamstring, as will the movement of Colorado’s active midfield.
2) Who will draw blood in the first chapter of the Atlantic Cup rivalry?
Other regional showdowns have cropped up to challenge its long-running status as the most passionate rivalry in the league, but New York-D.C. is still the granddaddy of them all. On Sunday the old enemies cross swords at RFK Stadium for the first of three 2012 meetings. D.C. are hoping central defender Emiliano Dudar’s hamstring has healed enough to lead the Black-and-Red’s resistance to the Red Bulls’ explosive front-line duo, Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry.
1) Could Juan Pablo Ángel’s return kick Chivas USA into a higher gear – and boost your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager campaign?
This week’s fantasy round has already begun, but keep an eye on JPA this weekend. With three wins from just four goals, the Goats have done more with less this year, and now their most illustrious striker hopes to make his long-awaited comeback from a preseason concussion against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. If the veteran Colombian can knock the rust off quickly, he – and perhaps a teammate or two – may become valuable assets.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.