Starting XI: Are the Houston Dynamo done for? Can Real Salt Lake quiet the CenturyLink crowd?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Just how high is the ceiling for the US national team?
Jurgen Klinsmann's merry men have officially booked their place in Brazil. Now the task changes significantly as focus turns to World Cup preparations and the final stretch of competition for roster spots, and history shows that the next 10 months will offer up their share of surprises in that regard. Can the USMNT find the recipe for genuine competitiveness next summer?
10) Could MLS imports give Canada the shot in the arm they need?
A seemingly off-the-cuff idea caught fire over the past week: What if some of the three Canadian clubs' best and most established internationals took citizenship and wore the colors of their adopted country's national team? Should they complete the path to eligibility, the likes of Camilo, Felipe, Hassoun Camara and Gershon Koffie would certainly provide a useful boost to a program fallen on hard times.
9) Who will come hungriest in Bridgeview, Chester and Santa Clara?
Several MLS venues play home to so-called “six-pointers” this weekend. But in the Eastern Conference it just so happens that the four teams perched directly on either side of the red line in the standings demarcating playoff qualifiers are meeting up, as Chicago host New England (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) and Houston visit Philadelphia (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). Out west, the Earthquakes-Whitecaps duel at Buck Shaw Stadium (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) has the hint of “win or else” about it for both teams.
8) Will Jaime Moreno's presence inspire underdogs D.C. United against the LA Galaxy?
On Saturday afternoon United induct Moreno (right), the former MLS goal king who is probably the biggest legend in the Black-and-Red's substantial pantheon, into their Hall of Tradition. The Bolivian's attacking wizardry paced D.C. over more than a decade of success, and the current team's front line – with 16 goals, on pace for historic levels of infertility – could surely use a dose of that magic as they welcome the two-time defending MLS Cup champions from LA (4 pm ET; UniMas).
7) Are the Dynamo cooked?
Traditionally known for their consistency, Dynamo have slumped dramatically as CONCACAF Champions League takes its toll, winning just one of their six league games over the past month. Some players looked downright exhausted in an uncharacteristic 4-1 home loss to New York last week (coming right on the heels of a disappointing loss in Columbus) and now they must regroup for Saturday's visit to PPL Park, where the goal-starved Philadelphia Union are laboring through issues of their own.
6) Will the Timbers hold serve at Chivas USA?
As playoff-hunting teams scrap for points over the home stretch, schedules can be substantially influential. The good news for patchy Portland is that four of their final six games are at JELD-WEN Field; the bad news is that top opponents like LA, Real Salt Lake and Seattle lie ahead. That makes both of their trips to StubHub Center to face Chivas USA – the first on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) and the other in the season finale – essentially must-wins.
5) What's it going to be, Chicago?
At times the Fire have been quite good this season, especially when Chris Rolfe and MLS MVP candidate Mike Magee get clicking up top. However, they've dropped important points with regularity – Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Toronto being a prime example – and their playoff hopes have been battered accordingly. Frank Klopas and co. have little margin for error left as they chase a top-five finish in the East.
4) How will Montreal manage two important games in four days?
Striker Marco Di Vaio (right) made hints at retirement and a return to Italy swirled awkwardly around the Impact this week, and while at age 37 his statements are not surprising, they do provide a reminder that the East leaders rely on grizzled faces in important roles. With a potentially decisive CCL match at San Jose on Tuesday, coach Marco Schällibaum must manage minutes carefully when the Columbus Crew drop in on Stade Saputo on Saturday (2 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
3) Have FC Dallas patched up the ship?
Schellas Hyndman's squad started the year in dominant fashion, then limped through a woeful summer marked by three months without a win. But they've resuscitated their postseason prospects with a three-game undefeated run – and last week's defeat of Vancouver was a legitimately attractive spectacle to boot. A positive result at Colorado on Saturday (9 pm ET; MLS LIVE) would provide us with a convincing sign of their recovery.
2) Can the Red Bulls dodge this weekend's trap game?
Say this much about RBNY and their talented, drama-prone, expensively-assembled squad: Even when they lose, it's usually spectacular. Five of this season's nine losses have come at the hands of teams with losing records, and they host another one on Saturday as struggling Toronto FC drop in on Red Bull Arena (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE, TSN2/RDS2 in Canada). It should be a straightforward three points for New York...right?
1) Can RSL's diamond shine under the harsh glare of 50,000-plus at CenturyLink Field?
Friday night offers up a marquee matchup for a national-television audience when Real visit Seattle in a battle of the league's top two sides at the moment (10 pm ET; NBCSN). The Sounders are 6-0 in home games attended by the large numbers expected for this game, though RSL are eager for the occasion as well. Salt Lake's diamond midfield is eminently capable of bossing play even on hostile turf like C-Link's, and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid may need to think up a tactical tweak or two to play the game on his team's terms.