Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the weekend

Eric Hassli starting XI

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The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.

11) Who got the best of Thursday’s blockbuster trades?

Agudelo for Pierce and “future considerations,” Califf for Lahoud and that notorious quantity known as allocation money: There was plenty of cross-country hustle and flow happening across MLS on Thursday, with Chivas USA at the epicenter. The smoke won’t clear for a while yet in terms of winners and losers, though if this kind of deal-making keeps up, the summer transfer window could be a riveting soap opera.

10) Which of the new Goats will see the field – and perhaps make a difference on Saturday night?

WATCH: SuperClásico on ESPN

Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser doesn’t seem the type to encourage newcomers to skip in line. But his squad is winless in four and they’re about to play their HDC hallway rivals the LA Galaxy, who have dominated the SuperClásico throughout its brief history, which might just prompt him to consider a bold move like starting Califf or Agudelo.

9) What’s next for Peter Nowak?

The Union boss has run his club with an iron fist as Philadelphia’s roster has gotten younger this season, a process that continued this week as Califf, one of the last of the Union originals, departed. It hasn’t improved results, however, and after a genuinely promising run last year, the club’s fans are not eager to check the current standings. Philly’s Polish gaffer knows as well as anyone that results must turn around, and quickly. Three points should be the goal for this week’s trip to struggling FC Dallas.

READ: Califf "dumbfounded" by Philly trade

8) Where, when and how will Heath Pearce fit in with the Red Bulls?

Credit to New York – who, fairly or not, possess a reputation for looking abroad to solve roster problems – for making a move within the league to bolster their shorthanded backline, even if it came at the expense of an exciting, young, homegrown attacker. Facing feisty Montreal this weekend, should Pearce slot straight into a back four which has allowed just two goals during their current four-game winning streak?

7) Is Cascadia ready for the first local battle of the year?

Rivalry games are always fun, especially in the fierce confines of the Pac Northwest – and even more so when there’s as much proximity in the standings as on the map. The Whitecaps sit one place and five points behind Seattle as they welcome Sounders FC to BC Place this weekend.

6) Are Houston ready to “do a Sporting” and scamper up the Eastern Conference standings?

BBVA Compass Stadium is finally open, and now the Dynamo hope to replicate Sporting Kansas City’s dash to first place in the East after their debut at Livestrong Sporting Park last June. And that means racking up points away from the new home, too: SKC went 4-1-3 on the road after moving into LSP. This week, a spry Revolution squad lies in wait for Houston at Gillette Stadium.

5) Can Lee Nguyen dominate against someone other than the team that spurned him?

Last week Nguyen stuck it to his former employers from Vancouver, scoring two and setting up another in about as pointed an individual display as you’ll ever see. Longtime observers will tell you that the Texan’s talent has never been in doubt, but his ability to assert himself over sustained periods of match action has. The Revs need him to play angry every week.

READ: Revs end award drought, Nguyen named Player of the Week

4) Who’ll dig one out when streaky Sporting visit inconsistent Colorado?

The Rapids seem to be lurching from genius to anonymity on a weekly basis as they carve out their identity, while Kansas City prefer to reel off both wins and losses in bunches. Given the attacking talent on offer, neutrals will hope that both coaches turn their dogs loose on DSG Park’s roomy field and let this game flow.

3) When will Toronto FC finally end their long league “nightmare”?

Though they’ve actually held their own in non-league tournaments, when it comes to MLS, it’s gotten a little more grisly every week on the shores of Lake Ontario, where TFC (0-8 in league play, minus-12 goal differential) are stumbling towards historic levels of ineptitude.

“It really does feel like a nightmare,” midfielder Eric Avila said after last week’s home loss to D.C. United. “It’s really hard. After the game you just want to go and cry and hide.”

The Reds need some inspiration for their Saturday visit to D.C. They’ve won just once in six trips to RFK Stadium.

2) Who will gird the Fire defense in Arne Friedrich’s absence?

Just when Chicago’s German acquisition seemed to be settling into a leadership role at the heart of the back line, he pulled a hamstring that will keep him out of this week’s trip to Portland and probably a few more of the club’s four games in the next two weeks. The savvy movement of Timbers frontman Kris Boyd will require close attention at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday.

READ: Anibaba's versatility key to holding together Fire defense

1) Will the Earthquakes take care of business at home against Columbus, and what can they offer your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager squad?

 San Jose’s blistering run has cooled off a bit lately, so taking points from the Crew’s visit is a must if they want to maintain their strong position in the West race. Starters Jon Busch, Steven Lenhart and Justin Morrow have Ohio ties that may give this week’s game an edge – and all three represent strong production and good value should you need to make changes to your fantasy lineup in the near future.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.