Starting XI: Is this the week Wondo breaks out of slump?
The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
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11) What do the league’s internationals have left in the tank?
Dozens of MLS players represented their respective countries in midweek, and in addition to their match exertions, some required long, rapid round trips to rejoin their clubs. A few traveled as far afield as Albania, Estonia and Costa Rica. Coaches have only a day or two to gauge their internationals’ fatigue levels before making lineup decisions for their weekend matches.
10) How will Seattle respond to their rough week?
The Sounders hadn’t lost a meaningful match since mid-June, so it stung all the worse when they lost their three-year-long US Open Cup title defense via penalty-kick shootout in Kansas City, then fell to San Jose on an injury-time goal three days later. They can cap their mourning when Vancouver hit town for a huge Cascadia Cup tangle on Saturday.
9) On Wednesday, Portland finally scored a couple of goals away from home. Now can they scare up a road win?
With a gruesome minus-18 goal differential and only four goals scored away from JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers haven’t been an export industry this year. This week they tallied two goals in Toronto, yet it didn’t prevent them from feeling frustrated despite snatching a late leveler to rescue a 2-2 draw. They’ll need to do better in New York, where the Red Bulls are an impressive 8-0-3, on Sunday.
8) Can FC Dallas really mount a playoff charge?
The hole they’ve dug for themselves is substantial and the numbers standing in their way are daunting. All the same, now that playmaker David Ferreira’s motor is humming again, FCD seem to be up for the fight.
“I think we’re getting a little bit of our swag that we felt like we had going into the season,” said midfielder Andrew Jacobson after Wednesday’s massive win in Vancouver. Dallas have traveled straight to Salt Lake City for another big one, against RSL on Saturday night. A victory at Rio Tinto Stadium would surely turn some heads.
7) Danny Cruz and Lionard Pajoy: Who will make their former team pay on Sunday?
Thursday’s trade between I-95 rivals D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union came out of nowhere and left many observers wondering if there was more to it than met the eye. Interestingly enough, the clubs meet at RFK Stadium this weekend where regional bragging rights will be on the line – and for these two, perhaps a bit of personal pride as well.
6) Are Sporting back on track for the conference title?
A 7-0 start to the season gave the impression that Sporting Kansas City would run away with the top spot in the Eastern Conference in 2012. Their summer form looked a bit patchier, but August has begun gloriously with a post-Open Cup upswing that may reflect this emotional bunch’s return to good vibes. SKC hope to keep smiling through this weekend’s visit to Toronto.
5) Who will grab the reins in midfield when Chicago and New England meet at Toyota Park?
This matchup will look quite different without the involvement of Logan Pause (rib injuries) and Shalrie Joseph (traded to Chivas USA), these teams’ respective standard-bearers for most of the past decade. Mike Videira or Daniel Paladini will try to fill the captain’s shoes for the Fire, while things are going poorly enough in Revs Land for coach Jay Heaps to advertise his intention to shuffle the lineup.
4) Which crab can escape the barrel when Chivas USA call on Colorado?
Children around the country are preparing to go back to school, which on MLS calendars means that if you haven’t done so yet, it’s high time to make your playoff charge. There’s no time like the present for these listless squads, both of whom need to deny their Western Conference neighbors points almost as badly as they need to gather them for themselves.
3) When will Wondo break his slump?
Exactly one month ago, MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski rifled a penalty kick past FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman for what looked like his fourth goal in two games, only for referee Kevin Stott to order a retake due to Justin Morrow’s encroachment. Hartman saved Wondo’s second bid and though the Earthquakes won that game, their star striker hasn’t found the net since. He’ll try to break his four-game drought and find that elusive 18th goal of the season Saturday afternoon in Montreal.
2) Can l’Impact keep pace with the Quakes?
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Another Jeykll-and-Hyde team, Montreal are a ghastly 2-10-1 on the road yet at Stade Saputo they have ambushed some very good teams, a trend Jesse Marsch’s team will look to replicate as the Supporters’ Shield frontrunners make their maiden voyage to French Quebec. IMFC have won four of their last five, all victories earned at home.
1) Will the Crew debut their new Argentine at BBVA Compass Stadium?
A Designated Player, the brother of a Real Madrid star, immediately compared to a legendary Boca Juniors product and MLS Cup winner upon arrival: hopefully new Crew playmaker Federico Higuaín is comfortable with high expectations. Eternally gritty Columbus benefited greatly from a sprinkling of Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s genius a few years ago, so perhaps they’ll recapture the formula, starting with Higuaín’s likely debut against the Dynamo this weekend.