Starting XI: Where will the Fire find a spark? Can LA keep pace with the Red Bulls?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Can Columbus or Toronto ease their worries with Trillium Cup success?
Two clubs with a combined 1-6-5 record since the end of March meet at BMO Field on Saturday (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE/TSN/Univision Deportes). So while this particular rivalry cup, named for the official flower of these clubs' respective home states, hasn't yet fired the imagination like others around MLS, there should be plenty of urgency and intensity on display.
10) What kind of show will Vancouver and Portland produce at glittering BC Place?
Last October, the Timbers clinched the Cascadia Cup trophy with a 1-0 road win against the Whitecaps, perhaps the only bright spot in a difficult year. In the intervening months, head coach Caleb Porter arrived and powered the club up the Western Conference standings with his expansive possession philosophy, and on Saturday neutrals will be hoping Whitecaps boss Martin Rennie opens up the throttle and lets his attacking weapons match wits with the Timbers' (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
9) How will Philadelphia recover from that mugging by LA when the Fire visit?
Those were Union coach John Hackworth's words after his team matched the Galaxy blow for blow for the first 45 minutes of Wednesday's match at PPL Park, only to be torn apart by a vintage display by Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane that led to a lopsided 4-1 final. Chicago cut a less daunting figure this weekend, though the impetus is still on Philly to show that their growing ambitions are justified.
8) What's missing in Chicago?
Like their East counterparts D.C. United, the Fire have gone from 2012 playoff qualifiers to 2013 strugglers with only a few changes to their personnel, frustrating coaches, players and fans alike. Coach Frank Klopas shuffled the deck up front last week, and sounds likely to do so again as his goal-shy team visits the Union (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) in search of revenge for Philly's smash-and-grab victory at Toyota Park a week ago.
7) Are Seattle ready to make another statement?
Credit to the Sounders for finally, emphatically banishing their early-season blues with last week's 4-0 disassembling of San Jose, the defending Supporters' Shield winners. Now the bar is being raised again as FC Dallas, the current frontrunners for this year's Shield, hit CenturyLink Field (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). If these two squads can summon their best form, expect some Saturday night pyrotechnics. Did we mention you can watch the game for free?
6) Will the sparks fly again between Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake?
Before his team's first meeting with RSL, wily Chivas boss José Luis “Chelís” Sánchez Solá tweeted that Utah was “rainy, gray, cold,” a place he would send his grandchildren as punishment when they misbehaved – sentiments he rescinded after experiencing the passionate atmosphere at Rio Tinto Stadium during Real's chaotic 1-0 victory on April 20. Since that game the Goats are 0-2-1 with nine goals conceded, so Chelís will be hoping for another turnabout when RSL visit the Home Depot Center on Sunday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
5) Can Houston start another streak at BBVA Compass Stadium?
Last Sunday, Sporting Kansas City's 1-0 win ended Houston's league-record home unbeaten streak and poked a hole in the aura of invincibility that has hung over the Dynamo's ground since its opening a year ago. The New England Revolution are the first visitors in the aftermath of that result – will they run up against a more determined Orange side, or a deflated one (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE)?
4) How can D.C. United start defending RFK again?
Among the many head-scratching elements of United's ongoing tailspin to the bottom of the league standings, one of the most dramatic is the turnabout in their home fortunes. Last season the Black-and-Red “took back” RFK Stadium with a 12-1-4 record in the regular season; in '13 they're 1-4 at the half-century-old venue. If D.C. are to rescue their season, restoration of some kind of home-field advantage is an urgent priority. And they could do so with fitting symmetry on Sunday when Sporting KC, the only visitors to win at RFK in '12, hit town (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE/Univision Deportes).
3) Can the “Rapkids” keep up their good work on Colorado's trip to San Jose?
An injury glut forced Rapids coach Oscar Pareja to turn to his youngsters over the past month or two, and things went so well – they've won four of their last six – that several of his veterans have reason to fear for their playing time as they return to health. On the other side of the coin live the Earthquakes, who have won just once since March 23 amid a substantial labor shortage of their own. All the same, their “mosh pit” style at Buck Shaw Stadium could pose problems for the Rapids on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
2) Has Jurgen Klinsmann's snub given the Galaxy a priceless boost?
Ask 10 soccer people about Landon Donovan, and you're more likely as not to hear 10 different opinions about the pensive US and LA legend. While the current US national team coach's take on LD is probably a nuanced one, his decision to leave Donovan off the latest USMNT roster suggests some degree of dissatisfaction. That could provoke the Galaxy veteran to climb back to his unstoppable peak even more quickly than he already is – bad news for his MLS opponents.
1) But do LA have enough left in the tank to take points off the hot Red Bulls?
Donovan and the Galaxy finally looked like their old selves in the second half at Philly on Wednesday, shaking off a two-game losing streak with three unanswered goals keyed by precise counterattacking. Now they wrap up their three-game, 7,000-mile road trip with a high-profile, major-market clash with New York at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon (1 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN3/ESPN Deportes). It's showtime for the two most expensively-assembled rosters in the league.