Starting XI: Can Houston Dynamo hold serve at BBVA, tie Real Salt Lake's home record?
The top 11 questions heading into this weekend…
11) When will Landon Donovan take the field for LA?
One of the greatest US players of his generation has returned to training this week after a four-month hiatus from the sport, and he didn't look half bad in the brief segment of Galaxy training that was open to the media in Washington on Thursday. Donovan himself gave the impression that he won't see game action until next month, but don't be surprised if he earns a few minutes at Toronto FC, who should be amped up as the defending champions visit for the season opener at BMO Field.
10) Will MLS fans hate on LD, or hail him?
Donovan still polarizes opinion like few others in the league, with some scorning his break from the game and others praising him for it. He's done more than enough for MLS, the US national team and the sport in general to deserve respect from fans all over. But he's also very likely still one of the most dangerous players on the continent, so expect a few jeers – which is really a sign of respect, isn't it?
9) Which winless teams will get it right this weekend?
Only two teams have yet to taste defeat this season (Montreal and LA) but five are still seeking their first league victories of 2013 (Seattle, Portland, Colorado, New York and Chicago). The Fire are idle and will have to wait another week for their next chance, while the other four are eager to notch the important three points that will allow everyone around their organizations to breathe a bit easier in the days ahead.
8) Can the Union and FC Dallas build winning streaks?
Meanwhile, things are looking up in Philly and Big D, where some offseason tinkering has paid off in promising fashion so far. A few good results have set up the opportunity for the Union and FCD to carve out a run of form as both teams hit the road for challenging but beatable foes in the form of New York and New England, respectively.
7) How will FCD coach Schellas Hyndman set his team up at New England?
The weekend forecast in Foxborough, Mass., calls for temperatures around 50 degrees and light winds of 10 miles per hour or so, a far cry from the chilling, howling winds that made it hard for the Revolution and Sporting KC to put together any kind of rhythm in last week's 0-0 draw at Gillette Stadium. Will Hyndman play it safe on the road, or let Fabián Castillo, David Ferreira & Co. open up and play a bit against a Revs team which is probably game to follow suit?
6) Can Chivas USA keep this party going?
From Week 1 thumping to top-three in the Western Conference standings, it's been a long, steady climb for José Luis “El Chelís” Sánchez Solá and his motley crew. They've been accused of being overly physical, committing the most fouls in MLS by far, yet another stat leaps out when it comes to the Goats: eight goals on just 13 shots on goal. That's bone-chilling efficiency, and Vancouver – who have just four goals from their 13 SOG – had best respect the Chivas counterattack when they visit the Home Depot Center.
5) What's the solution in Colorado?
An 0-3-1 start has put the Rapids on edge and sadly for Oscar Pareja and his squad, the devastating injury news keeps piling up at an even faster rate than the losses. Jaime Castrillón, Martín Rivero, Matt Pickens, Pablo Mastroeni, Edson Buddle and now defender Diego Calderón have been sidelined, and even steady-eddie Drew Moor is unavailable for two games due to last week's red card against LA. Pareja is under pressure, and he knows it. He'll need to work magic as the slick-passing Timbers hit Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday.
4) Can Real Salt Lake restore their Rio Tinto Stadium supremacy?
It wasn't so long ago that RSL's home was the most imposing fortress in the league, site of a record unbeaten streak and a place opponents dreaded visiting. Seattle visit the lofty venue on Saturday in need of a victory – and with the memory of their stunning 2012 playoff triumph at the RioT fresh in their minds. It portends a memorable night on the Wasatch Front.
3) What will unfold when brothers from another mother meet in Houston?
Both literally and figuratively, the Earthquakes were the Dynamo before there was a Dynamo. The original San Jose franchise changed their name and colors when they moved to Texas, but the DNA remains quite similar to the Quakes: tough, hard-working teams reliant on width, power and canny finishing. San Jose coach Frank Yallop has done yeoman's work thus far with an injury-plagued roster, and his task is tougher than ever as the Quakes try to break Houston's 33-game unbeaten streak at BBVA Compass Stadium (which stands just one game short of Real Salt Lake's all-time MLS record).
2) Are the Red Bulls in trouble?
“We're looking for a bit of Mother Luck to come,” said RBNY head coach Mike Petke this week, alluding to the snake-bit finishing and untimely breakdowns which have left his squad in a nervy spot as the Union visit Red Bull Arena tomorrow. The atmosphere in New York tends to be more pressurized than elsewhere and as a first-year coach, Petke can really use a good home result to quiet the doubters.
1) Sporting pressure vs. Montreal counters: Who will win?
This weekend's most anticipated clash might be the visit of the upstart Impact to established Eastern Conference powers Sporting Kansas City. It looks like a fascinating contrast of tactics and formations, and should tell us much about how the East will shape up this spring.