Starting XI: The most critical lineup decisions facing MLS coaches this weekend

Starting XI: Darren Mattocks, Vancouver Whitecaps

Photo Credit: 
USA TODAY Sports

For this week's Starting XI, we look at the most interesting lineup decisions facing MLS head coaches this week:

GOAL: Plata, Sabo combine to lethal effect

11) Sabo's best bud: Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has tried them all. First it was Robbie Findley, then Joao Plata and in the last match in Colorado it was rookie Devon Sandoval and MLS newbie Olmes García. But who's the ideal partner for Álvaro Saborío? The Costa Rican is tight with Plata, who has just one start on the year. And from the little we've seen, they make a good pair.

10) Leave your poacher on the bench? The Columbus Crew may have the speedy Dominic Oduro and the creative Federico Higuaín, but they need the opportunist who can put chances away in the box. That's where Jairo Arrieta's skill set comes in. Even if it means moving Eddie Gaven to central midfield and putting Oduro wide right, manager Robert Warzycha needs to make room for the Costa Rican marksman.

READ: Higuaín travels to Montreal, but will he be fit enough to feature vs. Impact?

9) New No. 1 in NY?: Matches like the one that New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles had last weekend are more than enough reason to give another one of the rostered goalkeepers a chance. The organization and communication abilities that veteran Kevin Hartman was known for in Dallas could help the RBNY backline with the lapses of confusion it faced in Chicago.

8) A left back at left back: The hamstring injury to Toronto's Richard Eckersley may be the excuse for TFC manager Ryan Nelsen to bring marauding Canadian national team fullback Ashtone Morgan into the lineup again. Eckersley, who is a natural right back, contributed little in the attacking third against FC Dallas (one successful cross) and with last week's right back, Darrel Russell, struggling mightily, Eckersley might be of better service to Toronto in his usual spot, vacating the left for Morgan.

READ: TFC's rash of injuries could mean more time for Luis Silva

7) Club icon riding the pine: Frenchman Sébastien Le Toux is not exactly going through his best run of form in Philadelphia and Union head coach John Hackworth did well to give him a break from the starting XI last week. The pace-and-power pairing of Conor Casey and Jack McInerney should be given at least a few more weeks to determine its potential.

6) Goals don't guarantee starting spot: Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas has often platooned Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald and Brazilian Maicon Santos at forward during the early part of 2013. Although a combination of the two could make for an interesting experiment (we've seen them together for only a handful of minutes), the speed of the goalless MacDonald may still be the best weapon against Houston even if Maicon Santos carries the hot hand (two goals vs. NY).

GOAL: Villarreal's acrobatic finish

5) Uncage the beast: This is the year that the US Under-20 national teamer should be tested as a regular starter in MLS, but Landon Donovan's return could keep Jose Villarreal off the field. Unless, that is, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena begins lining up Donovan at right midfield again. With LD's contract up at the end of the 2013 season, it's critical that the priority be given to developing Villarreal's partnership with Robbie Keane.

4) Have legs, will run: The Rapids are a different team with young winger Tony Cascio on the field. He reportedly exhibits defensive weaknesses that concern the Colorado coaching staff, but that shouldn't prevent the attack-minded Rapids from fielding one of their most lethal weapons.

3) DP tag means nothing: It's hard to believe, but the wing play of Kenny Cooper is somehow keeping youth DP Fabián Castillo off the field. Against a tired Galaxy team coming off a CONCACAF Champions League match in midweek, FC Dallas should run the defending champs ragged with Jackson and Castillo and use Cooper off the bench if they're chasing the result.

2) Which bulls will RBNY run with?: With the availability of Fabián Espíndola and Thierry Henry following injury, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke has decisions to make. We've seen Espíndola teamed up with Henry at the start of the season and the results were good. However, Henry and his old childhood friend Péguy Luyindula showed a glimpse of what they're capable of doing together on Henry's goal vs. Philadelphia. The all-French tandem should be given a good run with Espíndola becoming the menace off the bench.

1) Benching 'Caps star should be illegal: Except for rest or injury, is there a scenario where a gamebreaker like Vancouver's Darren Mattocks should ever be on the bench like he was in San Jose last weekend? That's not to say that poacher Corey Hertzog should necessarily give up his spot, but perhaps Mattocks may need to be flexible enough to play in wide attacking positions. Whatever the case, a player of his talent needs to be on the field. Always.