Starting XI: Playoff race in full swing during busy Week 29
The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Can the Red Bulls bounce back?
Wednesday’s eagerly anticipated clash between New York and Eastern Conference frontrunners Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena fizzled a bit, due mostly to the hosts’ no-show in the first half en route to a 2-0 loss. Coach Hans Backe’s tactics simply did not work and now he must engineer a positive response when RBNY visit New England on Saturday night (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
HIGHLIGHTS: Union dominate but United victorious
10) How about Philadelphia?
The Union got off to a better start than D.C. United on Thursday night, then went on to outpace their guests in nearly every statistical category. None of that mattered when former Philly striker Lionard Pajoy burned them for the winner, however. At least on Sunday afternoon they’ll have another chance to play spoiler, when Houston visit PPL Park (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
9) Can struggling Chivas USA find motivation in that role, too?
It’s not easy being a Goat these days. League scoring leader Chris Wondolowski has scored as many goals this year as Robin Fraser’s entire bunch and collective confidence is clearly at a low ebb. Yet with five of their final six games against playoff contenders, they can still be influential, starting at D.C. on Sunday night (7 pm ET, Galavision).
8) Is a “win ugly” approach sufficient to carry United into the postseason?
The proverbial sexy football has always been a priority for the capital club – just perhaps not right this second, as they chase after their first postseason berth in half a decade. Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee sprain has required a tactical rejiggering and while Branko Boskovic hasn’t quite seized the reins in his stead. Resourcefulness elsewhere has pushed D.C. to 2-0 since DeRo’s loss.
7) Will Sporting handle their dicey trip to Quebec?
Tag a fluorescent warning sign shouting “TRAP GAME” in two-foot letters on this one. SKC are a confident team fresh off one big win, and possibly eyeing the need for another one when second-place Chicago hit town next week. But the Impact, who have proven themselves deadly at home, lie in wait at Stade Saputo on Saturday (1 pm ET, TSN/RDS/watch LIVE online).
WATCH: Mwanga and Wilkinson on SJ draw
6) Was that tussle in San Jose a mirage, or are Portland improving?
The Timbers stunned everyone by pushing the league-leading Earthquakes to the very limit on Wednesday, though Gavin Wilkinson & Co. should be disappointed that their 2-0 lead turned into a 2-2 draw in the final minutes. It doesn’t get any easier with Saturday’s clash at Real Salt Lake (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
5) Can RSL still make their move?
If troubled Portland want a long-term role model, they could do worse than this weekend’s opponents, who are close to clinching their fifth straight postseason trip. Their early years as a league basket case are long gone and with influential defender Jámison Olave back from injury, Real remain a leading threat regardless of which playoff seed they earn.
4) Are the Crew prepared to keep pace?
Forgive the cliché, but every remaining match is effectively a playoff game for the East’s top echelon. With only nine points separating first place from sixth (a 21-point gap in the West), there’s time for lots of upheaval and Columbus are the latest victims, pushed out of the postseason places thanks to United’s win over Philly. Saturday presents a tough trip to face Chicago at Toyota Park (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
3) Who will lead the line for Toronto at the Home Depot Center?
Ryan Johnson might have reason to feel nervous about spearheading the TFC attack, given the injury troubles which have plagued his predecessors, Danny Koevermans and Eric Hassli, this season. All the same, the big Jamaican will likely be central to the Reds’ hopes of upsetting the defending MLS Cup champions, with Luis Silva and Quincy Amarikwa also in the mix up front on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS2 in Canada, MLS Live in US).
WATCH: 'Caps relish return home
2) Will Vancouver sort themselves out in time?
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie is a levelheaded sort, and he’s preaching calm despite the fact that his team’s five-game losing streak – and overall fade since his midseason roster shuffling – has shrunk the gap between Vancouver and sixth-place FC Dallas to just one point. If listless Colorado isn’t defeated at BC Place on Sunday (7:30 pm, watch LIVE online), panic buttons may need to be pushed.
1) Can San Jose knock off Seattle at CenturyLink Field – again?
What a fun rivalry this matchup has become. The physical Earthquakes manage to inspire the kind of loathing that the Sounders usually only feel about Cascadia Cup clashes, and SSFC will be eager to avenge the Quakes’ twin one-goal league victories earlier this season. A win this weekend at the CLink is mandatory if Seattle are to have any chance of closing San Jose’s nine-point lead in the West.