Starting XI: Will Portland Timbers get back on track? Can Colorado Rapids finally claim Rocky Mountain Cup?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Who's nursing an All-Star hangover?
While MLS' midsummer classic is a fun experience for players and fans alike, it can complicate life for coaches when fatigue or injuries sustained in the match affect the following round of league play.This year's leading example: We already know Sporting Kansas City will in all likelihood be without midfielder Graham Zusi for Saturday's important clash with New York, while KC center back Aurélien Collin must prove his 90-minute ASG shift does not handicap him against the Red Bulls.
10) Clint Dempsey isn't really coming back to MLS any time soon ... is he?
Thursday night's fast-developing storm of rumors, reports and – bizarrely – airport reconnaissance greatly entertained those who followed it on social media. It seems simply impossible that Deuce could come home at this juncture in his career, but some of Sounders coach Sigi Schmid's remarks on a local sports radio show leave a nagging feeling that there's more to this story than meets the eye.
9) Can Portland get pointed upward again as Vancouver visits?
It's a sign of the Timbers' dramatically upgraded expectations that a 1-2-1 mark in the month of July – and mind you, that one victory was a “statement win” over defending MLS champs LA – prompted concern around the Rose City. Caleb Porter and his men have a chance to kick off a new month in style on Saturday as the Whitecaps hit town for a Cascadia Cup clash at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
8) Will Toronto FC make winning more of a habit down the stretch?
TFC finally tasted triumph – just their second win since March – with last weekend's late, rain-soaked 2-1 vanquishing of Columbus. On Sunday Ryan Nelsen and the hard-luck Reds head to New England to see if they can string together their first winning streak of 2013 (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Chicago's talent level, especially now that Ecuadorian striker Juan Luis Anangonó is on board, is more than high enough to fulfill their playoff ambitions. But their poor road form (1-5-3 away from Toyota Park) is a ball and chain that could well keep them out of the postseason if it continues. Next up: Saturday's tussle with the Union at PPL Park (8 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Will Montreal make hay before diving into CONCACAF Champions League later this month?
The Impact ended a five-game winless skid in style last week with a late, late goal to defeat Eastern Conference-leading Sporting. Now they wade into a busy stretch with four games in the next 15 days, followed closely by the onset of CCL action. These four games – starting with Saturday's trip to D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) – are all against teams outside the playoff picture, so it's particularly important that IMFC snare points.
Columbus' new owner made a big statement this week with the completion of his outright purchase of the team and its stadium. And while he kept it fairly general as he sketched out his vision for the club's future, it certainly sounds like meaningful changes are in store. Positive change is needed right away on the field, as Robert Warzycha's squad have lost six of their last eight games – and Saturday brings a daunting tussle in Houston (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
4) Have the Earthquakes turned a corner?
Don't let Steven Lenhart's booty-shaking distract you: After months of inconsistency, San Jose are on a two-game winning run and are about to be boosted by the return of Chris Wondolowski from USMNT duty. They are also one of the league's best home teams, with just one loss at Buck Shaw Stadium, so Chivas USA have their work cut out for them on Saturday (10 pm ET, UniMas).
3) Can Seattle and FC Dallas entertain us as thoroughly as they did back in May?
The Sounders' 4-2 victory at CenturyLink Field on May 18 was a huge result for them and a treat for neutrals as well, highlighted by Michel's stunning “olimpico” corner-kick strike for the visitors. It was also probably the best display of Seattle's three-pronged attack of Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle, a trio coach Sigi Schmid is eager to get on the field and clicking together.
The last time Sporting lost to New York at home, they weren't actually Sporting. It was more than three years ago, when they played at CommunityAmerica Ballpark under the Wizards moniker. KC snatched a road win at Red Bull Arena back in the spring, so RBNY should be hungry to return the favor, especially with Zusi expected to be sidelined.
1) Can Colorado finally seize the Rocky Mountain Cup this weekend?
Given how keen this rivalry is, it's somewhat surprising to note that Real Salt Lake has essentially dominated it, having kept hold of the trophy – awarded to the winner of the season series between these clubs – since 2006. But the Rapids are 1-0-1 against RSL this year and need only a draw at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) to reclaim the hardware.