Starting XI: How will the Western Conference be won? And will the Colorado Rapids have a say in it?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Where does the US Open Cup rank in the plans of the tournament's six MLS survivors?
Now that upstarts Orlando City have knocked off last year's champs Sporting Kansas City, the race to the 100-year-old cup looks wide open. City and fellow lower-division contenders the Carolina Railhawks carry Cinderella dreams, while D.C., New England, Chicago, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and Portland all have reason to prioritize the hardware – and CONCACAF Champions League berth – on offer as well. But it inevitably gets tougher to keep that focus as the MLS' mid-summer grind kicks on.
10) Will this sudden brace of Timbers-FC Dallas showdowns be as fun as it looks?
The MLS Western Conference's first- and third-place teams clash at JELD-WEN Field in downtown Portland on Saturday (5 pm ET, ESPN). This matchup promises goals – based on the 47 goals the two run-and-gun squads have scored between them thus far – and also carries extra spice because they'll meet in the Open Cup quarterfinals at FC Dallas Stadium on June 26.
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9) Do the US national team truly have one foot in Brazil?
Citing their form and lofty place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings, Jonah Freedman thinks the USMNT is a whisker away from “book your flights” status for next year's World Cup, and his case will be bolstered by a win over shorthanded Honduras at RSL's Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday. Are you similarly bullish?
8) Do the Timbers really run 30 deep, as Caleb Porter says?
“Our team isn’t one through 11, it’s one through 30 and I thought tonight was a good example of that,” said Portland's coach after Wednesday's 2-0 Open Cup win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a result spearheaded by a goal and an assist from reserve midfielder Michael Nanchoff.
If PTFC really can trust their backups to maintain similar style and quality as the starters when injuries and other absences inevitably take their toll down the stretch, we'll see just how big the Porter revolution really is.
7) Are Eric Avila and Geovani Casillas leaving Chivas USA for Guadalajara, and if so, what does it mean for the Goats?
As if CUSA fans weren't already angry and frustrated about everything that's gone on this year, now they will apparently have to watch two of their team's brightest young talents head south to the mothership in Mexico. While it does have to be said that the original Chivas club have sent plenty of players to their SoCal satellite over the years – including Casillas himself – so many questions arise if this actually transpires. How can the struggling Goats replace this duo?
6) Can Vancouver's makeshift defense cope with the roaring Revs?
The Whitecaps are the midst of a backline injury crisis as they welcome New England and their seven-game unbeaten run to BC Place on Saturday (10 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Center back Carlyle Mitchell has been recalled from his loan at FC Edmonton in the hopes of patching the holes, and whoever gets the nod from coach Martin Rennie have their work cut out for them when it comes to Juan Agudelo, Lee Nguyen and the rest of the dynamic Revolution attack.
5) What will the post-Frank Yallop era look like in San Jose?
A wave of shock washed over an already-embattled San Jose Earthquakes squad when news of their head coach's departure hit a week ago. Explaining the move, club president Dave Kaval wrote that MLS “is getting far more competitive and international and we need to keep up ... the level of sophistication and management of the technical aspects of the business are going to expand.”
That portends significant changes to the Quakes MO in the months ahead. Former assistant Mark Watson (right) is stepping in to state his case on an interim basis, starting with Saturday's tough visit to Colorado (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
4) Who's going to grab the reins in Columbus?
Crew heartbeat Eddie Gaven is out with a serious knee injury. Playmaker Federico Higuain remains a thrilling but mercurial influence. And now commanding center back Gláuber is on the injury list, too, after a knee problem forced him out of Thursday's rescheduled Open Cup match in Chicago, a weather-dictated wrinkle in the Crew's schedule that has complicated their runup to this weekend's visit from the savvy Montreal Impact (7:30 pm ET Saturday, MLS LIVE/Univision Deportes). With just one league win in the last seven weeks, the boys in yellow need a hero.
3) Will Kevin Payne remember which side he's on at RFK Stadium Saturday?
It looked like old times at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Wednesday night, as Payne (right) congratulated D.C. United outside the locker rooms after their 3-1 US Open Cup win over Philadelphia. Toronto FC's president had arrived in Washington a few days ahead of his new team's league match against the United club he helped build from the ground up. On Saturday, he and another D.C. alum, TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen, will seek a victory over their old friend Ben Olsen in a clash of Eastern Conference stragglers (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
2) Can D.C. United play the Wigan Athletic role in this year's US Open Cup?
That victory at the SoccerPlex means a great deal to United. It marked their first regulation win in all competitions since March 9 and gave fresh hope to everyone around the organization amid a harrowing winless streak in MLS play. Over in England, underdogs Wigan won the prestigious FA Cup in storybook fashion, but couldn't avoid relegation from the Premier League. While last-place D.C. don't have to fear the latter fate, they can set their sights on a similar achievement in their own nation's historic cup competition.
1) Should we all be talking about the Rapids a great deal more than we are?
Shrugging off constant injury problems and tough competition out West, Oscar Pareja and his gang are 5-1-3 since the beginning of April and held league leaders FC Dallas to a 2-2 draw last time out. They remain just a hair out of the playoff places, yet they're racking up points at an identical pace to the defending MLS Cup champs LA Galaxy – and their cohesion, confidence and depth should give any opponents pause.