Starting XI: With three weeks left, it's all about the playoffs

Starting XI: Houston v Columbus

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

MLS TV Listings: Where to watch all the action in Week 31

11) When will an MLS club make pink the new black?

A brief sartorial note: Kudos for MLS and other pro sports leagues for supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month with splashes of pink in October. Though with orange, canary yellow, “rave green” and other colors having helped define fanbases around the league, here’s hoping that someday a club really gets bold and makes it one of their signature hues, like Italy’s Palermo.

10) Are the Red Bulls really able to block out the front-office turnover taking place just before Saturday’s huge clash with Chicago?

Thierry Henry and co. are saying all the right things in the wake of Tuesday’s sudden change atop the RBNY power structure. There’s no disguising their doubt and bewilderment about the timing of the Eric Solér’s dismissal from the club’s general manager and sporting director positions, though. Their performance tomorrow (3:30 pm ET, NBC Sports, TSN2/RDN2 in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) will speak volumes.

9) Can the Fire fix their sudden slowdown?

From winning seven of eight games to losing two in a row, Chicago is entering this weekend’s marquee Eastern Conference showdown with issues of its own. Momentum can be crucial at this stage of the season and the Men in Red clearly know they need to find theirs again, and quickly.

8) Will D.C. United extend their post-DeRo success?

If you’d have told Black-and-Red fans that they’d go 3-0-1 in the immediate wake of attacking livewire Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending injury, there would’ve been a great deal less angst in their ranks over the past month. As we’ve said before, United’s schedule is fairly friendly, but they’re still reeling in the playoff spot that eluded them a year ago. Now it’s time to win some more road games, starting in Toronto on Saturday (1 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

7) Are John Hackworth and the Union finding the recipe?

As far as late-season consolation prizes go, Wednesday’s 3-1 road trouncing of the Fire is a pretty nice one for Philly coach John Hackworth and his men. As they welcome New England to PPL Park this weekend (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they should consider the past examples of MLS Cup contenders who built their foundations at the tail end of tough years like this one.

6) Can the Galaxy replace A.J. DeLaGarza?

Just ask Omar Gonzalez: Bad, bad things happened to LA the last time they lost a quiet but crucial defender to a knee injury. LA haven’t lost a league match in exactly two months, yet they must now prove that DeLaGarza’s loss does not open up an exploitable gap in their backline, starting with a testing visit from Real Salt Lake (9 pm ET, NBC Sports, TSN2 in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

5) Will FC Dallas keep the pressure on Vancouver by beating Chivas USA?

It figures to be “must-win” for both FCD and the Whitecaps from here on out as they race for the West’s final playoff spot, though like Vancouver on Wednesday, the Texans may find gloomy Chivas to be an inviting source of three points at the Home Depot Center on Sunday evening (7 pm ET, Galavision).

4) Can Montreal keep hope alive in hostile Houston?

If Dallas think their backs are against the wall, they should consider the Impact’s position. To snatch the East’s final postseason berth, the Quebec club needs to win out and hope that both Columbus and Houston don’t win another game. And that unlikely path starts tomorrow night at BBVA Compass Stadium (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), where the Dynamo have yet to lose a league game.

3) Houston and Columbus: Who blinks first?

What’s more likely than a sensational Impact swoop: the Crew and Dynamo will continue to jostle neck and neck til the very end. The Orange have the more favorable schedule, but must also handle their CONCACAF Champions League slate and close the regular season with a potentially tricky trip to the thin, chilly air of Colorado. Columbus host conference-leading Sporting KC on Sunday (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

2) Who, if anyone, is stopping Wondo and the Earthquakes from seizing triple hardware before the playoffs have even begun?

Three-time Player of the Month winner, runaway scoring leader, odds-on league MVP candidate, clear favorites for the Supporters’ Shield: San Jose would seem to have everything in their favor at the moment. That said, coach Frank Yallop needs to prepare his team to dispatch the Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) without looking ahead to next week’s big grudge match against LA.

1) Are the Timbers poised enough to enter a cacophonous CLink and claim the Cascadia Cup in their ancient enemy’s front yard?

The Sounders have far outpaced their most hated rivals in the standings this year, but Portland still have a chance to win a trophy at their expense, and on their soil, no less. And this will unfold on a national-TV broadcast on Sunday night (9 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2 in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), in front of a CenturyLink Field crowd big enough to make some NFL teams jealous. Don't blink, Timbers.