Starting XI: Strong CCL performance sets stage for Week 2 MLS action
Week 2 is upon us, and we've got 11 more questions to hack away at...
Kudos to Houston, Seattle and LA: All three of the league's CCL knockout-round contenders are within striking distance of spots in the tournament's semifinals after close-run results this week. All face tough slogs ahead, especially the Dynamo, who must defend their 1-0 aggregate lead in the crucible that is Estadio Corona, Santos Laguna's home ground. It's not much easier for the Sounders as they contemplate how to break down Liga MX frontrunners Tigres UANL in order to level the scoreline in leg 2. But after last night's 0-0 draw in Costa Rica, the Galaxy must feel real optimism about making the deep CCL run that eluded them so cruelly last season.
The Scouting Report: Chicago vs. New England
It's probably not totally fair to condemn the Chicago defense on the sole basis of the 4-0 whupping they suffered at the hands of an imperious LA Galaxy squad last Sunday. Then again, it's up to them to prove that won't be the norm this season because veteran anchors Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich are still battling injuries and probably won't play when the Revolution come calling for a national-TV game on Saturday night.
The only team not in action on opening weekend, New England are a lesser-known quantity as they kick off the second year of coach Jay Heaps' rebuilding project. With Andy Dorman back in the fold along with the likes of Lee Nguyen, Juan Toja and Sainey Nyassi, there's no shortage of midfield options for Heaps. Up front, DP Jerry Bengtson will be asked to shoulder the chief scoring burden for now as the explosive Saër Sène works through the final stages of his rehabilitation from knee surgery.
On Thursday, Baxter devoted a full article to the prospect of a full-strength “border war” rivalry developing between the reigning MLS and Liga MX clubs, who sit 130 miles apart at either end of the greater SoCal region. They scrimmaged in Los Angeles last month, but the Xolos sent a reserve side because of their Copa Libertadores commitments the night before, and were duly defeated 6-2. While the Galaxy might contend that they've already got no shortage of regional rivals already – not to mention the leaguewide target which is applied to the back of every MLS Cup holder – this idea could be fun indeed. Someday, baby.
Toronto FC's new boss is practically building his team from the foundations up – and got a late start on the process due to his final few games as a player with Queens Park Rangers – and it showed in last week's road loss to Vancouver. The Reds face an even tougher adversary this week in the form of Sporting Kansas City, though with another week of training under their belts there should be some signs of progress. And they'll also be at home, buoyed by the support of one of their largest crowds of the season thanks to the Rogers Centre's spacious capacity.
On Colorado's Front Range, impending snowstorms like the one bearing down this weekend spark delight among skiiers, and usually a slightly less enthusiastic reaction from soccer players. But the Rapids are taking a business-as-usual approach as they mull the possibility of a foot of snow dropping on Commerce City for Philadelphia's visit. Thankfully for spectators, neither side is expected to wear all-white kits.
5) Can the Red Bulls prove they've got the legs as well as the luminaries?
The Scouting Report: San Jose vs. New York
Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Juninho Pernambuco: New York boast big names with big experience. But they've also got some big numbers in the “age” category, and the 38-year-old Juninho's calf injury (which will force him to miss Sunday's visit to San Jose) has already prompted questions about his durability. That talk can be hushed by assertive, energetic efforts from RBNY's lesser lights, especially against a direct, hard-running side like the Earthquakes.
4) Can Real Salt Lake pull off another road stunner, this time on the East Coast?
One of a few teams to rack up some early-season frequent flier mileage, RSL go from an opener in San Jose to a Week 2 test in Washington, where D.C. United will try to knock them off in their home opener at RFK Stadium. Brandon McDonald and the Black-and-Red back line had better keep track of Real hitman Álvaro Saborío and the many teammates – last week it was Joao Plata and Kyle Beckerman – who constantly seek to feed him service.
3) Will Robert Warzycha and Martin Rennie release the hounds at BC Place?
A common theme links the men in charge of Columbus and Vancouver: Both value dynamic attacking weapons, but aren't always comfortable employing forward-leaning tactics to maximize them. Neutrals will hope that Federico Higuaín, Dominic Oduro, Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh and other frontrunners will be given free rein when these teams meet in British Columbia on Saturday.
The Impact provided us all with opening weekend's biggest surprise as they defended stoutly, rode their luck and sucker-punched Seattle on their own turf for a 1-0 win. The Quebecois remained out west for the duration of the week to prepare for their visit to pulsating JELD-WEN Field, where the Timbers will probably throw the kitchen sink at them just like the Sounders did. Can Alessandro Nesta and the Impact defense hold firm under high pressure for a second straight match?
The Scouting Report: Chivas USA vs. FC Dallas
MLS Fantasy participants are already claiming one early rule of thumb for this year's competition: Bet on whoever is playing the Goats and their three-man back line. It's harsh, but only improved performances will change that conventional wisdom, starting with FC Dallas' visit to the Home Depot Center Sunday afternoon. FCD playmaker David Ferreira is capable of ravaging even the league's best defenses so Chivas coach José Luis “Chelís” Sanchéz Solá had best consider him in his tactics for this one.