Starting XI: What's happening in Houston? Are the Timbers actually underachieving? Who will claim the SuperClasico?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Is the U-20 World Cup “Mission: Impossible” for Tab Ramos' US squad?
There's plenty of MLS representation on the US U-20 side which opens its World Cup campaign against mighty Spain in Turkey on Friday afternoon. But being drawn into a vicious Group A gang which also includes France and Ghana presents a very tall task for Ramos' side, who surprised some pundits simply by qualifying for this event in the impressive fashion that they did.
10) Can Mark Watson bring the Earthquakes roaring back?
San Jose ended a five-game winless skid in all competitions with last weekend's win at Colorado as the Quakes and their interim boss turned the page on the Frank Yallop era with a well-taken road result. This weekend brings another trip as they visit RFK Stadium in the nation's capital for a clash with D.C. United. Watson and D.C. boss Ben Olsen are both hard-nosed competitors who will demand the same from their players on Saturday night (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
9) Will Mike Magee be good to go for the Fire in Columbus?
With a club-record five goals in his first five games, Chicago's prodigal son has transformed his new team's fortunes since arriving from LA in the trade for Robbie Rogers. A clearly painful back problem forced him out of Wednesday's win over the Rapids, however, putting his status in some doubt for Saturday's road game against the Crew (8 pm ET, MLS LIVE), who are seeking to build on last week's impressive defeat of Montreal.
8) Can some home cooking help FC Dallas shake off that loss in Portland?
Last Saturday's 1-0 Timbers triumph at JELD-WEN Field not only dealt FCD just their third loss of the season, it also opened the door for the Impact to sneak ahead of Dallas in the Supporters' Shield race (if only for a few days, as Montreal are idle this weekend). The North Texans remain undefeated at home, however, a mark Sporting Kansas City are surely aiming at as they visit Frisco Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
7) What do the disheveled Dynamo need to do to sort themselves out?
Let's be honest: That midweek spanking in Montreal was unworthy of Houston's cup-chasing pedigree. Perhaps it's a sign of one of the midseason swoons that seem to befall the Orange in some years before they gather their strength for playoff success down the stretch. Coach Dominic Kinnear will demand dramatically different levels of intensity, energy and organization when Toronto FC drop in on BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Can the Union reel in the Red Bulls with a win at PPL Park on Sunday?
With a 6-2 all-time mark against Philadelphia, New York might say they are accustomed to looking elsewhere for challenges. Yet a Union home win this weekend (5 pm ET, ESPN) would draw the “DOOP” squad level with RNBY for second place in the Eastern Conference. Keep an eye on goal kingpins Jack McInerney and Thierry Henry in this one – and former Red Bull Sébastien Le Toux, the league's co-leading assist provider.
5) A few goalkeepers are feeling the heat – how will they handle it?
Vancouver and Philadelphia just signed veteran European netminders to groom – and challenge – young GKs Brad Knighton and Zac MacMath, respectively. The LA Galaxy have made a similar message clear to Carlo Cudicini. The margin for error just keeps shrinking in MLS and few feel the consequences more keenly than the men between the posts.
4) How will Sigi Schmid shoehorn all that talent into the Sounders' first XI?
Figuring out how best to make use of three returning international players is a good problem to have. All the same, Seattle's boss must decide where, when and how he will bring Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans and Mario Martinez back into the fold after their exploits in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, starting with Saturday's underrated rivalry tussle against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET, Free stream of the week on MLS Live).
3) Is the Timbers' unbeaten streak actually just hiding a whole bunch of dropped points?
Six victories, just one loss and a club-record unbeaten run – those are great numbers for Caleb Porter less than half a season into his efforts to build something special in Stumptown. The third column on the results chart is more of a mixed bag: nine draws. Granted, seven of those were earned on the road, but PTFC are just a bit further back in the standings than their strong current form deserves. They'll look to climb further when Colorado visits JELD-WEN Field Sunday evening (7 pm ET, NBCSN).
2) Why are the Rapids losing games just as their injury troubles abate?
Despite the improving health of their roster – which has given coach Oscar Pareja a wealth of options compared to earlier this season – the Mile High Club's six-game undefeated run has come crashing to a halt with back-to-back losses over the past week. Is the chemistry off? Nothing more than bad luck? It only gets tougher in the week ahead with trips to Portland and league-leading Montreal.
1) Is this the most subdued SuperClasico ever?
It may not have gotten its usual dose of hype because of the uneven fortunes of the protagonists, but the Galaxy and Chivas USA are set to renew their hallway rivalry at StubHub Center on Sunday (11 pm ET, UniMas). After leaking 10 goals in their previous three games in all competitions, LA were content just to pitch a shutout in a 0-0 home draw with the Timbers on Wednesday, while the Goats haven't won a league match since March. We'll see if their respective issues will temper any of the usual antagonism in this one.