Starting XI: Playoff race, Wondo watch rule final weekend

Starting XI: Week 33

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

MLS on TV: Tripleheader on NBC networks | LA-SEA on ESPN

11) Will Wondo reel in Rocket Roy’s record?

Here we are: One game left in Chris Wondolowski’s phenomenal season, and Roy Lassiter’s MLS scoring record, the historic mark many thought untouchable, is within his reach. One goal at Portland on Saturday afternoon matches it, two would break it. Can he seize the moment?

LISTEN: Lassiter talks Wondo and his 1996 season on ExtraTime Radio

10) And what kind of resistance can Portland possibly mount?

While neutrals across the league are rooting for the Earthquakes’ leading man to bag his 27th strike of the year, the Timbers, still basking in the glow of their Cascadia Cup triumph, must do their best to deny him. Sending centerbacks Eric Brunner and Futty Danso off for surgeries this week complicates that task.

9) How will the MLS survivors fare in CONCACAF Champions League?

Call it progress: The league has sent just as many clubs into the CCL quarterfinal round as Mexico (three). Stern tests await LA, Seattle and Houston in the two-legged knockout round next year, however.

8) Who will be the playoff X-factors?

CONCACAF contests have given that trio, as well as Real Salt Lake, a small but noteworthy advantage over the other seven MLS Cup playoff entrants: fresh experience with do-or-die situations. It can be difficult to guess who will grab the spotlight, as the likes of Mike Magee and Ned Grabavoy have shown in postseasons past.

7) Battle of the Midway: Who’s your pick?

WATCH: Fire preview crucial matchup with D.C.

D.C. United visit the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday, and a simple message applies to both teams: Win this game, dodge playing another next Wednesday. Neither side wants to slip into the Knockout Round, so neither wants to be left dependent on results in Philadelphia and Colorado.

6) Will L’Impact complete a season sweep of the Revs?

Expansion teams can often take heart from small victories. If the recent news of a postseason tour of Italy wasn’t encouraging enough for Montreal, a win at Stade Saputo on Saturday would mean three out of three against their cross-border counterparts and give the Impact the top seed in next year’s Amway Canadian Championship.

5) Can Houston bear the Colorado chill?

Quiet, snow-encrusted stadiums are usually a holiday-season image around MLS, but in Colorado it can happen in October, too, and so it did at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this week. Saturday’s sun may melt away most of it but nighttime lows below freezing will test the Dynamo’s focus as they seek the vital three points which they should – on paper, at least – take from the Rapids.

4) Will Philly get serious about playing the spoiler?

Many fans of teams who’ve long been removed from the playoff picture are looking hard for signs of rebirth, of hope for next season. The Union offered a tantalizing pinch of that in the second half of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Sporting KC, but couldn’t dig out a result against the conference’s best team. How about knocking off their near-neighbors from New York at PPL Park on Saturday?

3) How edgy will Sunday’s Seattle-LA match be?

These are two busy, weary squads whose playoff places are essentially secure, offering the possibility of modest game plans at the Home Depot Center on Sunday. But there’s no love lost there – it seems unlikely that heat and antagonism won’t swirl around this national-TV clash and potential Western Conference Championship preview.

2) Will home-field advantage even matter in the RSL-Sounders series?

Seattle were the higher seed when these two met in the conference semifinals a year ago, but Real built a 3-0 aggregate lead at home in leg one and dearly, barely held onto it after some desperate defending in a 2-0 loss at CLink. Expect it to be skin-tight again this time.

1) For Vancouver, does the key to LA lie in Salt Lake?

Martin Rennie has his work cut out for him. His team has won just one of its last nine games, a stretch dating back to mid-August, and it’s hard to find anyone outside of British Columbia who is giving the Whitecaps a ghost of a chance in the Knockout Round next Thursday in LA. A confidence-building three points at Rio Tinto Stadium is a tall order, but it’d be the best possible remedy for the Caps.