Starting XI: Can Portland keep unbeaten run alive? Will the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps stage another classic?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Can Landon Donovan and the rest of the MLS-heavy USMNT get clicking against Guatemala in San Diego?
Jurgen Klinsmann and his men have just one full-blooded tuneup before their quest for a Gold Cup championship kicks off on Tuesday, and it takes place against a familiar – and crafty – foe at Qualcomm Stadium Friday night (11 pm ET, NBCSN and UniMas, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
10) What will interim coach Colin Miller's reloaded Canada squad look like in their Gold Cup opener?
Talk about the benefits of seeding: While the USMNT can ease into their mellow-looking Group C draw with matches against relative minnows Belize and Cuba, their northern neighbors simply must hit the ground running – and seize all three points, really – in Sunday's Gold Cup opener against Martinique at the Rose Bowl (5:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer). That's because Mexico, then Panama await later in a nasty week for the young Canucks.
9) Can the Fire keep this up?
Wednesday's 3-2 defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes pushed Chicago further up the Eastern Conference standings and ran their overall record to 7-0-1 since the arrival of one Mike Magee. The Men in Red now sit two points out of a playoff place – not bad considering they were 2-7-2 when Magee hit town – and will look to claim another scalp when Sporting Kansas City visit Toyota Park in front of a national audience Sunday (3 pm ET, ESPN).
8) Is road form the key for Sporting KC?
The season hasn't unfolded in quite the fashion SKC and their fans might've hoped, with their team stuck in the middle of a clogged race in the East as last year's dominating style has only shown itself in fits and starts. But the Midwesterners can point to one of the league's best records away from home (3-2-3) as an encouraging sign of their tenacity. Do Peter Vermes and his men target all three points on this weekend's visit to the Windy City?
There's an old motivational tactic in which a coach points towards the locker room entrance and says such-and-such star player “isn't walking through that door right now to save us.” United are hoping that happens in Commerce City, Colo., on Sunday night, though, if two of their top attackers can overcome injuries in time to fly out from Washington and bolster the squad. D.C. were respectable in their loss to Seattle on Wednesday, but that alone won't be near enough to beat a solid Rapids squad at elevation (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Will Montreal keep burning the barn when Chivas USA visit on Sunday?
The short answer: Surely not, right? Marco Schällibaum's Impact are supposed to be the league's 'catenaccio' merchants, grinding opponents into dust with stingy defense and lightning-quick counterattacks. But their last two games have featured a whopping 13 goals. It's fun for neutrals but surely stressful for Schällibaum, who'll want greater stability when the Goats – another side with a renewed focus on defending recently – come to Quebec (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
5) Will Portland take advantage of the Crew's rough week?
Columbus lost a simply agonizing match to the Galaxy in LA on Thursday night, and must now hustle home to host the Timbers on less than three days' rest on Sunday (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Portland had last weekend off and featured few regulars in their friendly against Mexican club Morelia on Wednesday, so they'll likely be looking to hold the ball and make the weary Crew chase.
4) Can the Union find that elusive “next level” in Houston?
Philadelphia sit in a tie for third place in the East and haven't lost a league match since May 25. That's pretty good. Dropping four points in the last two games due to stoppage-time equalizers – that's not quite so nice. It seems that every match is a momentous test for the Union these days, and that pattern continues when they visit the Dynamo on Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE), who, despite a nasty seven-game slump, remain a tough proposition at BBVA Compass Stadium in July.
3) Is New England-San Jose the weekend's best study in contrasts?
Sometimes tactical talk can obscure enjoyment of a match, but on other occasions it is central to the spectacle. Saturday's clash at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) appears to fall into the latter category, with the Revolution capable of playing some of the most fluid soccer in MLS and the rugged Earthquakes usually more apt to play the percentages with direct – though often entertaining all the same – footy.
2) Can FC Dallas end their slump on a quick turnaround trip to SoCal?
The North Texans were all the rage this spring with a rip-roaring start to the campaign. But they've cooled noticeably of late despite their hometown's legendary summer heat, with an 0-2-3 mark in their last five games in all competitions. Like a few other clubs on this holiday weekend, they must now fly several hours on limited rest as the Galaxy lie in wait at StubHub Center on Sunday night (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
1) Will the Whitecaps and Sounders treat us to another Cascadia classic along the 49th parallel?
The fireworks these two teams set off in their first meeting of the year, a 3-2 Seattle win at CenturyLink Field a month ago, were Independence Day-esque. With both squads entering Saturday's nightcap (11 pm ET, NBCSN, TSN/RDS) in strong form, it might even be worth taking a midday nap to make sure you don't miss out on this one.