Starting XI: Can LA and Real Salt Lake wage another classic war?
The Top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Can TFC take another step forward when the Red Bulls visit BMO Field?
The words “Toronto FC” and “unbeaten streak” have been linked all too rarely in recent years, yet that's exactly what the Reds carry into Saturday's clash with New York (2 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in the US). Granted, four draws and an Amway Canadian Championship win is not the most imposing run – Ryan Nelsen has nonetheless made his team tough to beat and that's encouraging. Want to show REAL progress? Knock off Thierry Henry and the talented – but depleted – Red Bulls.
The Scouting Report: Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls
10) How quickly can the league's newest DP find his way?
TFC cranked up the feel-good factor another notch on Friday as they confirmed their capture of Argentine starlet Matías Laba on a “Young Designated Player” deal. The 21-year-old central midfielder will join Nelsen's squad bearing both high expectations and daunting challenges: His talent looks immense, but he faces a steep learning curve both on and off the field.
9) What's the temperature in Montreal?
While Toronto are heating up, their rivals to the east have cooled their heels a bit after that blistering 4-0 start and haven't tasted victory in a month. This weekend the visiting Fire, who have won just one of their last six road games dating back to last season, should present a ripe target at Stade Saputo. It's the sort of game in which the Impact can show just what kind of ambitions they harbor for 2013 (4 pm ET, NBCSN, TSN/RDS).
8) Who can be an Ohio hero for slumping D.C. United?
Despite the arrival of sunny spring weather in the nation's capital, it's dark days for United, who look like a poor impersonation of the battling bunch that fell just one game short of MLS Cup a mere five months ago. The latest blow is another groin injury for Chris Pontius on the eve of D.C.'s departure for Columbus, where the Crew's burly backline will see little to fear in the Black-and-Red's anemic attack. Time for one or two – or 11 – of Ben Olsen's men to stand up and be counted (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
7) Conversely, where's Federico Higuaín?
The Crew's latest Argentinean maestro was an absolute joy to watch as he jolted his new team into life upon his midseason arrival. He's gone missing lately, though. Higuaín hasn't scored since opening day and since then he's actually racked up more yellow cards than he has goals or assists. Have MLS defenses figured him out?
6) Will Vancouver rewrite the script against Dallas?
A quirk of the schedule has presented these Western Conference contenders with back-to-back, home-and-home meetings. Last weekend FCD had their way with the Whitecaps in a 2-0 drubbing in Frisco, Texas, that wasn't as close as the scoreline would suggest. Now the Cascadians must show some life as they try to salvage their pride and build momentum from Wednesday's stunning 3-2 comeback over FC Edmonton in ACC play (6 pm ET, Univision Deportes).
5) Who can stop Jack Mac?
Several of Starting XI's MLSsoccer.com colleagues have been tossing around some strong adjectives and flattering comparisons to Philadelphia's poacher-in-chief. Heading into this weekend, let's keep it simple and just point to his league-leading scoring numbers (6 goals in 6 starts, for a scintillating average of 1.01 per game), then note that the team he's facing tomorrow (at New England, 7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) got hit for four in their last outing. Would you bet against him finding the net again?
4) And who can start Wondo?
On the flipside of the coin, few strikers are colder at the moment than last year's Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, who simply can't buy a goal right now. (It's no coincidence that his team can't seem to buy a victory, either.) Chivas USA's forward-leaning three-man back line should offer him some spaces to exploit when the Quakes visit the Goats on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), but it's up to Wondo to find his killer touch again.
3) Can Portland burnish their newfound reputation as ace travelers in KC?
Awful away performances were a gloomy theme of the Timbers' early days in MLS, so the PTFC faithful have reason to be particularly impressed by the undefeated road mark Caleb Porter has overseen thus far in his first year at the helm. Saturday night's visit to Sporting Park for a clash with the East's best (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) should pose their stiffest test of the young campaign, however.
2) How can the injury-scoured Rapids possibly pull off a result in Houston?
The Scouting Report: Houston Dynamo vs. Colorado Rapids
The Dynamo's ongoing league-record home unbeaten streak needs no introduction. But given their shorthandedness, it's quite possible that a few members of Colorado's gameday roster will when they meet the Orange at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas). Rapids boss Oscar Pareja has already shown impressive faith in the youngest members of his squad – if they can pick up points for him in Houston, it'll be more than ample repayment.
1) Will RSL vs. LA be as much fun as some of their most memorable duels of the past?
Galaxy veteran Mike Magee says his team's history with Real Salt Lake puts them “probably in our top three” in terms of rivalries, and you can expect Rio Tinto Stadium to offer up a playoff-type atmosphere on Saturday night (9 pm ET, MLSsoccer.com Stream of the Week). Javi Morales and his colleagues are showing signs of the fluid dominance of old and they will be eager to ambush the defending champs.