Starting XI: Can Sporting KC avoid the USOC hangover?

Starting XI: Sporting KC

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

11) Who stands to benefit from the new tiebreaker rules?

The league has confirmed a change to the way in which ties for playoff seeding would be settled at the end of the season, prioritizing goals scored, goal differential and disciplinary points over head-to-head meetings. The striking part is that it’s in that order. Scoring is now key, which is not good news for the likes of Columbus and Chivas USA, the lowest scoring teams in the league.

10) How will Sporting KC and Seattle handle their US Open Cup hangovers?

Wednesday’s marathon evening of soccer ended in delirium for Kansas City and heartbreak for the Sounders as the Open Cup final, all 120-plus minutes of it, rolled deep into the night at Livestrong Sporting Park. Both must now recover in time for important league matches on Saturday as SKC host D.C. United and Seattle visit San Jose.

9) Which MLSers will get the USMNT call for the big friendly at Estadio Azteca on Aug. 15?

It’s not a World Cup qualifier, but US-Mexico showdowns are always huge and coach Jurgen Klinsmann is challenging his squad – which will be announced on Sunday – with this visit to their historical house of horrors. His roster selection will also affect league play, with six MLS teams in action that night.

8) Will the Red Bulls respond to last week’s failure in Houston?

Thierry Henry (right) pulled no punches this week when discussing New York’s meek performance in last Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Dynamo.

“If we play the way we played against Houston at their place, we’re going to have our first defeat at home,” he said, in just one of several unvarnished comments. “That’s a fact.”

Thankfully for the Frenchman and his mates, tonight they have a chance to defend their unbeaten run at Red Bull Arena and take immediate revenge against the Orange, who have recently leapfrogged them in the Eastern Conference standings.

7) Similarly, can Vancouver rally in the second of their back-to-back games against Real Salt Lake?

The Whitecaps were well beaten by RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 27, and while Vancouver subsequently took a lengthy break from match action, the team from Utah stayed busy with a league loss to the Rapids and a tough setback in CONCACAF Champions League play. RSL got a couple of extra days off after that subpar showing in Colorado; will it be enough to keep pace with the speedy ‘Caps?

6) Who will find the winning margin in the latest Quakes-Sounders clash?

These two teams opened their season series with a controversial 1-0 Earthquakes win at CenturyLink Field in March, then scrapped through a contentious USOC quarterfinal at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium six weeks ago, a 1-0 SSFC win that San Jose coach Frank Yallop artfully described as “messy.” With both hunting the top spot in the Western Conference, Buck Shaw Stadium hosts the next chapter this weekend.

5) Who’s prepared to go to the mat for FC Dallas?

With five wins out of 24 matches this season, it might seem like they’re just playing out the string down in Frisco. But professionalism demands more and amazingly, the Hoops are actually just 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the West. Striker Blas Pérez has been a high-profile no-show because of injuries and personal matters, missing more than two months of action and spending most of that time back in Panama. Maybe Julian de Guzman and David Ferreira can make something happen this month, starting against Colorado on Saturday.

4) Who can rise from the East’s second tier to make a run at a playoff place?

There’s a bit of a class system in the East standings at present. Only five points separate the five teams in the postseason places, followed by a five-point gap between Chicago in fifth and Montreal in sixth. The Impact, Union and Crew have all shown the potential of climbing into that upper echelon and while Columbus’ bout with Toronto has been rescheduled due to the tragic death of Kirk Urso, those other two can pick up points on home soil this weekend.

3) Will Bakary Soumare’s Union debut come against his former team this weekend?

Fire fans remember the big Malian defender well from his dominating stint in Chicago prior to moving overseas, and they could see him across the field in Philly colors at PPL Park on Sunday evening. The good news for Soumare (right, with Union fans) is that he logged 90 minutes for the Union’s reserve team in Montreal. The bad news: They lost 5-1.

2) Can Shalrie Joseph help Chivas USA produce another SuperClásico upset of LA?

The Goats’ 1-0 win over the Galaxy on May 19 ended a nearly five-year winless skid against their hallway rivals, but the usual trend returned in last month’s 3-1 victory for LA. When they meet again at the Home Depot Center on Sunday, Chivas will have the chance to debut their new weapon in the midfield.

1) Will the Galaxy’s traditional derby dominance restore their confidence after a wobbly week?

Bruce Arena and his men saw a five-game league unbeaten streak shudder to a halt with that 4-0 thumping Seattle gave them on Sunday, a setback which followed on the heels of a stinging, if meaningless, 5-1 friendly loss to Real Madrid. Chivas USA still lurk just seven points behind them in the standings, with four games in hand, and their CCL slate is about to begin.