Starting XI: Stakes are high as rivalries take center stage in Major League Soccer this weekend
The top 11 questions heading into this weekend…
11) Can anyone in MLS stop Herculez Gomez and Santos Laguna?
He's certainly found a comfortable and successful home in the Mexican league. But as he showed in Santos' assured defeat of Houston in Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, the US international seems to find an extra gear when he plays teams from his homeland, where his career wound its way through spotty stints in LA, Kansas City and Colorado as well as the minor leagues. And based on his tweets on Thursday, Gomez is already looking forward to tormenting Seattle in the CCL semifinals.
10) Will Landon Donovan make it back in time to take part in CCL?
His Galaxy dispatched Herediano with minimal fuss, and move on to face the tournament's defending champions Monterrey in the semis, which fall right at the beginning of his scheduled return to team training. If LD can get sharp in time – which would require plenty of extra work and focus – he could be a series-changing addition against Los Rayados.
9) How will Montreal set up shop at home?
L'Impact have lit up the league in the first two weeks of year two in MLS, showing some of the top defend-and-counter chops in recent memory. Their outlook will probably change this weekend as they host Toronto FC in their home opener under the roof at quirky Stade Olympique, though, because TFC are unlikely to go at them with the same gusto that Seattle and Portland did out west. Montreal, who went 10-4-3 at home last season, will need to show that they can do more than sucker-punch on a colorful day in Quebec.
8) Will it snow at Red Bull Arena?
No, there's no fluffy stuff in the Saturday forecast for Harrison, N.J. But things tend to get weird when the Red Bulls and D.C. United clash for the Atlantic Cup – witness the unforgettable “snow day” at RBA in the 2012 playoffs – and the lusty hatred their fans hold for one another ensures that their meetings are never boring.
7) Can the Revs keep up this joga bonito stuff?
Steve Nicol's great New England teams of the 2000s had some excellent players, yet tactically they were known as a bruising, straightforward bunch. Now one of that era's toughest tacklers is the Revolution head coach, and Jay Heaps has thrown us a curve by collecting a crew of attacking technicians who showed off some delightful combination play in last week's well-taken road win in Chicago. The Philadelphia Union will have to knock them out of their rhythm at PPL Park on Saturday.
6) Who rules the Midwest?
Though it doesn't get as much press as the well-known enmities on the coasts and down in Texas, Chicago and SKC have been battling one another for many years and there's no love lost, with both sides cranking up the trash talk in advance of this weekend's duel at Sporting Park. And with shaky starts to both teams' seasons, the points on offer have become even more important.
5) Will Wondo work out his early-season wobble?
As a reigning Golden Boot winner, league MVP and newly minted Designated Player, life should be rosy for Chris Wondolowski. His normal coldbloodedness in front of goal has been elusive over San Jose's first two matches of 2013, however. How often does the stat sheet show eight shots and no goals for Wondo, as it did in the Earthquakes' opening-weekend loss to Real Salt Lake? He'll be eager to sniff out the net in Columbus as the Crew welcome the Quakes for their home opener.
4) Who gets the howitzer?
Trophies are all well and good, but everything is bigger in Texas, where FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo have made an 18th-century replica cannon called “El Capitán” the embodiment of their cross-state rivalry. Houston hold possession at the moment, so FCD must beat them in Frisco on Sunday afternoon in order to obtain the artillery.
3) Can Chivas USA party like it's 2007?
SoCal's SuperClasico has been pretty one-sided in favor of the Galaxy lately, so it's easy to forget that there was a time not so long ago when the Goats were the kings of the Home Depot Center. Chivas' strength humbled LA and propelled the “hallway rivalry” to new heights, a state of affairs coach José Luis Sánchez Solá and his men will try to restore on Sunday when the teams kick off the first of at least three meetings this year.
2) Will the bad blood boil up again in Salt Lake?
Relative to similar face-offs elsewhere, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake got a late start on their regional showdown, but they made up for lost time with some genuinely ill-tempered tangles in high-stakes situations. There's a culture clash up in the Rocky Mountains that makes their cup that much more meaningful, so amid the weekend's packed schedule, don't sleep on this one.
1) Who sets the tone in the latest edition of the Cascadia Cup?
A mind-boggling lineup of Saturday matches wraps up at a packed CenturyLink Field in Seattle Saturday night for the Timbers' visit to the Sounders. These two shades of green just don't coexist well at all and with a huge traveling contingent headed north from Oregon, the pageantry and intensity figures to be off the charts.