Starting XI: Health concerns paramount as playoffs loom
The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Can anyone stop Federico Higuain?
Almost exactly eight years after Christian Gomez arrived in the nation’s capital and inspired D.C. United to the MLS Cup 2004 title, the league’s latest Argentine sensation is prompting visions of a similar late run in Columbus. Four games into his MLS tenure, he’s averaging around a goal and an assist every 90 minutes. On Saturday night in Columbus, in-form Montreal get the next crack at him (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live)
10) Will the Union provide the proper wedding gift for John Hackworth?
A clumsy analogy, perhaps, though it’s hard to think of many better ones. The soft-spoken Hackworth paid a few more dues when Philly tried him out in something of an “engagement period” as interim coach after Peter Nowak’s dismissal, and this week he earned permanent status. A win over uneven New England (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live) would be the optimal way to celebrate.
9) And how do the Timbers rank and file handle the next two months?
Meanwhile, across the continent, Portland finally confirmed their capture of NCAA wunderkind Caleb Porter, albeit not effective until the end of the college season. He’s pledged to focus solely on his Akron Zips until then, but the Timbers' current squad had better believe that their future boss will be signed on to MLS Live to keenly watch every remaining game of theirs, starting Friday night against Colorado (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
8) Do Sporting have enough firepower to reach their intended destination?
Teal Bunbury (right) is out for the season. Bobby Convey and Jacob Peterson are returning to health, but consistently injury-prone. If C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara can consider themselves odds-on starters in KC, who is left to fill coach Peter Vermes’ third attacking slot? Graham Zusi has been pushed forward of late, but that may have destabilized the midfield balance. Vermes may need to audition some of his reserves against Toronto on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live)
7) Can the Fire persevere without Marco Pappa?
With the Guatemalan’s departure for Heerenveen originally set for the winter transfer window, Chicago coach Frank Klopas has had time to mull life without his dynamic winger, and apparently decided that facing the situation now in order to gain a transfer fee from the Dutch club was a decent trade-off. He could yet be missed in the playoff chase, however.
6) Can Houston, LA and Seattle recover in time?
Playing on barely three days’ rest, as this trio must all do this weekend, is tough enough. Add the extensive international travel itineraries required by their CONCACAF Champions League duties this week and it becomes even trickier.
5) How can D.C. United end their Rio Tinto rut?
The Black-and-Red have won just one in their last five, let a late lead slip away at home against their biggest rivals on Wednesday and are 0-5-1 all-time at Real Salt Lake’s home ground, which they visit Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS Live). And coach Ben Olsen is one of several fighting off a cold bug making its way around the locker room. Time for the tough to get going in D.C.
4) Is everything setting up swimmingly for the Sounders?
Depth, balance, unity, goals – Seattle are showing off their best qualities at the moment, most recently with a professionally-taken CCL win over Caledonia AIA in distant Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday night. After turning the page on their US Open Cup final setback, Sigi Schmid and his men have positioned themselves to compete on all remaining fronts.
3) What does the future hold for Chivas USA?
This week’s news out of Guadalajara: The California-based Goats are now 100 percent attached to their southern mother club, which could mean anything, really, when it comes to organizational and personnel changes ahead – or lack thereof. The mindset of Jorge Vergara (right) and the rest of the new decision-makers remains to be seen. And on Sunday, the team visit the league leaders in San Jose (9 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
2) Are the Whitecaps really going to ring the changes in a huge match against LA?
Martin Rennie says he’ll be resting a few regulars at the Home Depot Center on Saturday (10 pm ET, MLS Live), including ageless wonder Y.P. Lee, the 35-year-old right back who has heretofore played every minute this season. Given that a win would pull the ‘Caps level in the standings with the Galaxy, this has raised some eyebrows out west.
1) What does the next week have in store for Landon Donovan?
A hamstring tweaked on US national team duty has limited LD of late. Now both club and country face crucial matches in the coming weeks, and with full match fitness not assured, he and his coaches may have to decide where he’ll allot his minutes.