Starting XI: Can Hackworth and the Union keep it up?

Starting XI: July 6

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

See the full Week 18 schedule and TV listings here.

11) How will Alessandro Nesta fare in MLS?

One of the classiest defenders of the modern era has found an opportunity in Major League Soccer, lending the expansion Impact another dollop of veteran savvy. Nesta’s refined understanding of the game may help him adapt to his new environment despite the inevitable limitations of 36-year-old legs, though it seems that even a World Cup winner of his caliber would be tested by the relentless physical demands of an MLS stretch run. Montreal are on a three-game losing run as they visit Columbus this weekend.

READ: Impact ink World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta

10) Is Seattle’s season approaching a fork in the road?

INSTANT REPLAY: Does Seattle have a case?

Looking decidedly off-color of late, the Sounders will host the Rapids at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night before Chivas USA visit the Starfire Sports Complex for an important US Open Cup semifinal. There’s still time to accomplish many of their 2012 goals, but SSFC’s ongoing winless streak in league play is a major irritant and rising pressure will take its toll on everyone at some point.

9) And how much more tinkering is in store in Colorado as well?

Like the Sounders’ Sigi Schmid, Oscar Pareja would appear to be mulling which – and how many – adjustments need to be made to prompt improved performances for the Mile High Club. Are the Rapids plotting to use the international roster slot and allocation money they got from Portland in exchange for right back Kosuke Kimura? Might they even swap out key members of their core?

READ: Timbers continue to fine-tune roster with Kimura's addition

8) Are the Earthquakes legit Supporters’ Shield favorites?

They’ve scored more goals than anyone in the league, and they’re three points clear of the pack in terms of overall points. Now the mindset changes a bit for freewheeling San Jose, who must adapt to the frontrunner’s role and learn how to keep hold of games like Tuesday’s surprising loss to Portland.

7) When will Omar Gonzalez be ready to go the full 90?

Bruce Arena and the Galaxy had to enjoy how quietly they sprang Gonzalez’s surprise return to match action against Philly on Wednesday, concluding his knee rehabilitation well ahead of schedule in 45 minutes of play. LA clearly benefit from his authoritative defending and the club’s season could hinge on his ability to regain full speed and fitness ASAP.

READ: Disciplinary Committee suspends Beckham for role in scuffle with Quakes

6) Can David Ferreira drag FC Dallas back from the brink?

Another long-term injury absentee, the 2010 MLS MVP has negotiated an arduous road back to health since his ankle was broken more than a year ago and he too made his 2012 debut this week. His club hasn’t won a match since tax season, so some rapid-fire attacking inspiration would be most welcome as FCD host the league-leading Quakes on Saturday.

5) Will Honduran hitmen prove to be difference-makers in New England and Houston?

Overseas observers whose ears have been pricked by Nesta’s North American arrival would do well to note that the Italian defender’s compensation won’t rank in the lofty Designated Player zone. The deal struck to bring Jerry Bengtson to the Revs certainly will, though, like that of his fellow Honduran Boniek García in Houston. Both are a promising investment in CONCACAF talent, and carry high expectations to match.

READ: Revs' preparation, persistence pays off in Bengtson transfer

WATCH: Dynamo 360, episode 3

4) Could the Dynamo stun another packed house at Livestrong Sporting Park?

Houston were soundly beaten (3-0) by Sporting Kansas City on their first-ever regular-season visit to LSP, only to produce an upset victory there in the Eastern Conference final on November 6 to book a trip to MLS Cup. The Orange could use a good result when they meet again at the venue on Saturday. These teams presently sit eight points apart in the standings, a gap caused in no small part by the Dynamo’s indifferent road record.

3) Can RSL and Portland produce another humdinger like their last meeting?

On March 31, Portland debuted their “retro” third kit against Real Salt Lake on a trademark rainy night at JELD-WEN Field, and a suitably old-school slugfest unfolded. Two highlight-reel goals from Darlington Nagbe put the home side ahead 2-1, only for Real to complete a two-goal comeback when Kyle Beckerman hit a winner deep into injury time. Hopefully something equally entertaining will take place at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.

2) Will New York’s decade-long Foxborough drought continue?

The history between the Revolution and their Gotham counterparts is as old as any in MLS, and it makes for grim reading from a Red Bulls perspective. Their team’s most recent victory at New England took place 10 years ago, a streak Dax McCarty and his teammates will look to break at Gillette Stadium on Sunday evening.

READ: Injuries force Red Bulls to rely on Conde again vs. Revs

1) Can John Hackworth and the Union keep building momentum?

When it comes to building confidence, few milestones are as effective as beating the champs at their place – which is exactly what Philadelphia did in LA on Independence Day. The team has been playing with an aura of freedom since Hackworth’s ascension to interim head coach, though a pivotal week is at hand as the club hosts conference rivals TFC and Montreal on either side of a huge US Open Cup semifinal against Sporting KC at PPL Park.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.