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) The transfer window is now open. Who’s making moves?
The short answer is almost everyone, given the scarcity of truly dominant, complete teams at the moment. No one is quite willing to say that they’ve got it all figured out at this stage of the season, though some, such as D.C., San Jose and RSL, seem more concerned with minor tweaks than major additions. Others like Montreal and Columbus are ready to go big (i.e. Designated Player signings) when the opportunity is right.
10) Will Friday’s Fire-Sporting match turn into a Midwestern version of Friday Night Fights?
PREVIEW: SKC and Fire clash on NBCSN
Sporting Kansas City can play some gorgeous attacking soccer. Opposing fans will also note that they routinely find ways to mix it up as well, with a bruising physicality that is a natural byproduct of their high-pressure style. They open this MLS weekend with a game against the Chicago Fire, no shrinking violets themselves. The two clubs have racked up a combined 55 bookings thus far this year.
9) Can the Sounders right the ship in New England?
Seven weeks and seven league games have passed since Seattle’s last MLS victory, prompting general manager Adrian Hanauer to lay down a marker.
“This is not Seattle Sounders soccer and we’re not going to tolerate it unless it changes,” Hanauer said. “Certainly the last few weeks has made us much more willing to explore some major changes in the organization.”
That almost lends Saturday’s trip to Gillette Stadium – where the Revolution have lost just once all season – the air of a must-win.
8) Meanwhile, have two straight gut-punch losses shifted the landscape in Salt Lake?
If you thought Hanauer was upset, consider the gnashing of teeth – and subsequent personnel moves – in Utah following Real Salt Lake’s late 2-1 loss to San Jose last Saturday, the Claret-and-Cobalt’s third consecutive home setback. RSL cut Chris Estridge and Cody Arnoux and acquired defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe this week, opening up a roster spot that seems likely to be utilized soon. Like Seattle, Real need a result and will be closely watched on their visit to Columbus.
7) Will RFK Stadium be rocking like 1996 when Montreal hit town?
Despite last week’s Atlantic Cup loss to New York, D.C. United still occupy prime real estate in the Eastern Conference standings and the club are expecting their biggest crowd of the season for Saturday night’s tangle with the Impact, their only home league game in June or July. Sounds like just the sort of occasion to get D.C. danger man Dwayne De Rosario even more fired up than usual.
HIGHLIGHTS: TFC dismantle Impact
6) Can Paul Mariner continue Toronto FC’s renaissance against the Red Bulls?
Wednesday’s convincing “401 Derby” defeat of Montreal means that Toronto FC are 2-1-2 in their last five, which is downright dynamite relative to the season as a whole and just happens to match the recent form of first-place-chasing New York. New boss Mariner will start to look like a miracle worker if his team takes three points off Hans Backe’s side at BMO Field.
5) Have Philadelphia and LA turned the proverbial corner?
Instinct suggests that both the Galaxy and Union have been underachieving relative to their talent levels, and events of the past week gave credence to that idea as both secured dominating wins over quality opposition. They’ll face off against one another on Independence Day, but must first make daunting jaunts into loud, hostile venues (LA play San Jose at a sold-out Stanford Stadium and Philly visit Houston) this weekend.
4) And can Bakary Soumare’s arrival prompt a climb up the table for the Union?
The league’s recent evolution has been so rapid that many fans may have little memory of Soumare’s first stint here, even though it was just four years ago that he was an MLS Best XI selection with the Fire. Philly hope his defensive quality can help them make up ground in the standings, and with three of next month’s five league games at home, they’ll seemingly have some decent opportunities to do so.
3) When will TH14 be back in the Red Bulls’ starting lineup?
Thierry Henry returned to match action last week, playing 21 minutes as a substitute against United. The French megastar has only started one game in the past two months, however. While his colleagues have held down the fort rather well in his absence, a fit and in-form Henry could shift New York into another gear.
2) Can Portland build on their Cascadia Cup triumph?
Sunday’s emotional victory against Seattle was just the fourth “W” of the year for the Timbers, but its value to their fans is practically immeasurable. Now Kris Boyd and his teammates head to Colorado, where they will look to vanquish the 2012 road hex that has kept them winless in six games away from JELD-WEN Field.
PREVIEW: California Clasico on ESPN2
1) Will the Earthquakes stage another late show in this edition of the California Clasico?
Saturday evening’s MLS slate will conclude with San Jose vs. LA, a long-running rivalry match appealing enough to fill a special-occasion venue, Stanford Stadium, nearly five times the size of the Quakes’ usual home at Buck Shaw Stadium. Former Galaxy man Alan Gordon stunned his old team with a stoppage-time winner when these teams met at The Home Depot Center last month, capping a three-goal comeback. Don’t bet against more drama unfolding on this go-around as well.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.