Starting XI: Can United, Sounders make history at home?
The 11 biggest questions heading into a weekend featuring the second leg of both Conference Championships.
11) Can Andy Dorman help restore the good old days in New England?
Revs coach Jay Heaps went back to the future this week, announcing the signing of his former teammate after Dorman’s long stint in Scotland and England. Dorman was a major cog in Steve Nicol’s perennially contending squads; however, his return creates a big of a logjam in midfield. Is someone else on the way out of town?
10) Has the Impact’s trip to Italy laid a foundation for 2013 success?
Offseason friendlies should always be evaluated in their proper context. That said, Montreal can take away a host of benefits from their fall tour. Now who’s going to take up that mantle as the club’s new head coach?
9) What lies in store for Chivas USA?
On Tuesday, in the wake of a sweeping cull of the Goats’ technical and support staff, Chivas owner Jorge Vergara held a press conference in which he announced his plans for ending what he called the “divorce” between Chivas USA and their mother club in Guadalajara. It remains to be seen how Chivas USA can actually become more Mexican while adhering to MLS roster rules.
8) Which future MLS stars will light up the NCAA Tournament?
On Thursday night, the soccer version of March Madness kicked off on campuses around the country with the first round of the 48-team tourney. It’s a fun, underrated event that’s also a proven incubator for pro talent – heroics now can lead to a trip to the podium at the SuperDraft in January.
7) It’s MLS Awards season. Who gets your votes?
An engaging and inherently subjective topic, season-ending awards get people talking, and they’re a useful way to gain perspective on what has been a memorable year across the league. Don’t forget, you can still cast your ballot for Goal of the Year and Save of the Year at MLSsoccer.com.
WATCH: DC-Houston Preview
6) Can D.C. United and Seattle overcome the weight of history on Sunday?
Only two teams in MLS annals have ever overcome a two-goal first-leg advantage like the one Houston has built over D.C., and none have achieved what the Sounders must do as they prepare to host the Galaxy down 3-0 on aggregate. These are steep odds, but similar fightbacks have unfolded in other countries – with early goals usually a key ingredient. Sunday’s teams must unsettle their visitors as quickly as possible.
5) And which ailing bodies will be available to them as they attempt to do so?
Pontius. Rosales. Saragosa. González. Those are just a few of the important D.C. and Seattle players racing against time to be fit for the second legs. It’s a widespread issue at this time of year, as Bruce Arena and Dominic Kinnear would note by pointing to their own list of walking wounded, but particularly important for the trailing sides who must take the impetus.
4) Will Houston pile up the sandbags, or try to kill off D.C. early?
The Dynamo manned the barricades for most of their conference semifinal second leg in Kansas City, where they successfully – though sometimes desperately – protected a two-goal aggregate lead. Yet striking first, perhaps with their renowned set-piece excellence, could remove a great deal of stress for them at RFK Stadium.
WATCH: Seattle-LA Preview
3) Did Robbie Keane poke a hornet’s nest with his remarks about the Sounders faithful?
Keane has played on the world’s biggest stages, and he knows what he’s doing at this point in his career. His remarks in a media conference call on Thursday about the huge, passionate CenturyLink Field crowd awaiting his team were nonetheless provocative.
“I have played in stadiums of 100,000 and 80,000 people and it goes away,” said the LA hitman. “You can switch it off [when the whistle blows].”
If there’s such a thing as “bulletin-board material” for fans, that’s it.
2) Can United draw strength from an old-school fall afternoon at a packed-out, blacked-out RFK?
Meanwhile, across the continent from Washington state, Washington, D.C., is flocking to support the Black-and-Red in the biggest match at their historic home in half a decade. It’s the oldest venue in the league by some margin, but RFK is still a special place when the stands fill up with bouncing bodies and waves of noise.
1) How can the Sounders create the goals they need without exposing themselves to LA’s vicious counterattacking?
This might be the $10,000 question for coach Sigi Schmid. His tactical tweaks in the first leg simply did not come off as SSFC were ripped open by Bruce Arena’s fast-breaking Galaxy. The problem gets even knottier this week, so Seattle’s veteran boss will need to conjure up something truly inventive to outwit the old head standing in the opposite technical area.