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) Will the Houston Dynamo christen BBVA Compass Stadium with a win?
PREVIEW: Houston hosts D.C. on NBCSN
This weekend brings the latest in a long line of delirious MLS stadium openings as the Orange break in their eagerly awaited new home in front of a national TV audience (Saturday, 4:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network). After opening their season with a seven-game road trip, the Dynamo are ready for some home cooking and their fans can’t wait to give it to them.
10) Or will Ben Olsen’s increasingly confident D.C. United squad quiet the opening-day crowd?
Like high school homecoming games, these matches often end badly for the visitors. But BBVA can’t be any worse for United than its predecessor, Robertson Stadium, where the Black-and-Red ran up an 0-6-1 all-time record. The biggest wild card: former Dynamo star Dwayne De Rosario, who loves – loves – to score against his old teams.
9) Are the Impact ready to make a statement as the Galaxy visit Montreal?
They just crashed out of the Amway Canadian Championship at the hands of Toronto FC, but Jesse Marsch’s bunch are 3-1-1 in their last five league matches and have shown cohesion and combativeness along the way. Some even think they’re a playoff team. They can state their case by beating the defending champs in front of another overflow crowd at Olympic Stadium.
8) Can injury-riddled FC Dallas dig out a result in Columbus?
Two of the league’s most injury-hit clubs meet at Crew Stadium on Saturday evening, and with both FCD and the Crew winless in five, there should be no shortage of eagerness to grab the three points. Then again, the same was said when Columbus hosted the struggling Timbers last week, and a scrappy 0-0 draw was the result. Brek Shea’s involvement may prove pivotal for the visitors from Texas.
7) Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake: Who’s ready to grab the initiative out west?
Two top title contenders clash at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in Saturday’s nightcap, and the winner – should there be one – will sit alone atop both the Western Conference and overall league standings for at least a day, depending on how San Jose fare against Chivas USA on Sunday. Both the Sounders and RSL are in the midst of promising unbeaten streaks and their ball-hawking styles should make for a compelling spectacle.
6) Will Nick Rimando be back at full speed in the RSL nets?
Real Salt Lake’s veteran shotstopper sat out his team’s 0-0 midweek draw in Chicago because of a shoulder injury, and though understudy Kyle Reynish earned a clean sheet in his fifth-ever MLS start, coach Jason Kreis would surely love to have Rimando for this huge match in Seattle. A bit further upfield, it will be fascinating to watch the Sounders strike tandem of Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson work to carve out space against Nat Borchers, Jámison Olave and the rest of the RSL backline.
5) Can Sporting Kansas City rebound?
How quickly things can change in MLS: Seems like yesterday Sporting were the undisputed cream of the crop, owners of an undefeated record and a massive cushion in the standings. Two straight losses to teams in the bottom half of the table have pegged them back substantially and the gutsy Red Bulls are breathing down their necks, making this weekend’s trip to Chicago an important barometer for Peter Vermes and his charges.
4) How are the Red Bulls pulling this off?
WATCH: McCarty dominant vs. Houston
No Thierry Henry, no Rafa Márquez, injuries across the squad – RBNY have made light of all that, reeling off three gritty 1-0 wins as Hans Backe’s oft-overlooked reserves have seized the day.
“It is cynical. It’s gross. We’re not impersonating Barcelona,” defender Tyler Ruthven told Metro New York this week. “We’re not playing beautiful stuff, but we’ve got a very limited squad right now. We’ve gotten nine points from these three games when most people expected we’d get zero.”
3) And will it continue in Philly?
Given what Ruthven said, New York’s I-95 rivalry match with the goal-shy Union is shaping up as something of a grinder. On the other hand, two highly antagonistic sets of supporters in the PPL Park stands will add some extra edge to this one and that atmosphere may foster a higher tempo than either Backe or Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak would like. Either way, it won’t be an occasion for the faint-hearted.
2) Are the Whitecaps back to their best?
Wednesday night’s 3-1 ACC romp over FC Edmonton highlighted the wealth of weapons at Vancouver coach Martin Rennie’s disposal. When everyone is fit and clicking, few sides are more fun to watch, or harder to defend, especially now that speedy rookie Darren Mattocks has returned. They’re lurking just a few steps behind the West’s power elite and will have three points in mind for this week’s trip to New England.
WATCH: Wondo wins MLS Player of the Week
1) How will Chivas USA handle Earthquakes hitman Chris Wondolowski?
The Goats love the road (0-5 at home, 3-1 away), but Sunday’s tangle at San Jose looks daunting. Wondo is red-hot at the moment and unlike past years, the Quakes have surrounded him with dangerous teammates who make it difficult to focus on just one threat. Ninety-plus minutes of leadership and focus will be required from defender Heath Pearce and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy if Chivas are to avoid a fourth straight loss.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.