Starting XI: Can Seattle beat LA? Have Toronto FC found their man? Will there be more #Henrying?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Who will rule the midfield in Portland on Friday night?
A tasty weekend appetizer will be served at JELD-WEN Field as two of the Western Conference's most intriguing sides battle for playoff positioning (10 pm ET, NBCSN). Caleb Porter and Oscar Pareja are two of the brightest tactical minds in the league and their ideas are exemplified on the field by the likes of Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Dillon Powers and Vicente Sánchez.
10) Which of the 24 Under 24 will stamp their mark on this year's business end?
The list is now complete – cue the punditry and debate about snubs, duds and sleepers. Or if you prefer, with the majority of this year's selections in the midst of the playoff hunt, just sit back and see which of MLS' brightest young things prove themselves when it really matters down the stretch.
9) Is Tim Bezbatchenko the right one for Toronto FC?
One of the league's more star-crossed clubs announced an unconventional hire for their general manager position on Friday. The Reds have lured Bezbatchenko – a lawyer and former pro player considered a leading salary cap expert – away from MLS headquarters to lead TFC's latest overhaul. At least this weekend's guests at BMO Field, Sporting Kansas City (4 pm ET, Free MLS Stream of the Week), have shown that transformation can occur swiftly in even the most troubled locales.
8) Can Vancouver still rescue their season?
Five points out of the West's final playoff spot with six games to go, the Whitecaps – who were keeping pace with the conference's best just a few weeks ago – are in serious trouble, especially given their bearish closing schedule. They visit Montreal on Saturday (2 pm ET; MLS LIVE, Univision Deportes, TSN/RDS in Canada) and must also travel to Seattle and Colorado between home matches against Real Salt Lake, Portland and Colorado again. Without dramatic improvement ASAP, 2013 will go down as another year of “almosts” in British Columbia.
7) Will the Revolution take care of business against D.C.?
Watch New England's fluid passing and skilful attack in action and you'll likely see a playoff-caliber team. But at the moment they're not in the postseason places, and if they finish the season that way it will be because of dropped points at their Gillette Stadium home, where they really should have a better record than 6-5-3. Three points are a must when last-place D.C. United hit Foxborough on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Can Chris Pontius salvage something from 2013?
Amid United's persistent struggles, one of the league's most talented American players has become something of a forgotten man thanks to another frustrating outbreak of injuries. When he's healthy and fit, Pontius is US national team material and he's got seven games – including the US Open Cup final on Oct. 1 – to make that point to USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
5) How many more spanners can Chivas USA throw into the works?
Cynical MLS observers are quick to crack Chivas USA jokes this year but on the field, the Goats are no longer a laughing matter, especially for playoff-chasing opponents, thanks to the dangerous Erick “Cubo” Torres up top and tighter defending all over the field. This week it's Houston – for whom every point is critical at the moment – who must take care as the Red-and-Whites visit BBVA Compass Stadium (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
4) Can the Fire keep the red line at their backs?
After a slow start, Chicago have been looking up at most of the Eastern Conference all season. But last weekend they finally hauled themselves into a playoff place thanks to a hectic 3-2 victory over New England. Now they have to keep themselves there, starting with a tricky match at unpredictable Columbus on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
3) Will RSL shovel dirt on the Earthquakes' lingering hopes?
Talk about a changing of the guard: After San Jose swept Salt Lake 3-0 in their season series en route to the Supporters Shield last season, RSL have responded by winning both of this year's meetings with the Quakes, scoring five and allowing none. On Saturday (9 pm ET; MLS LIVE), Real can complete the whitewash as the Northern Californians, their postseason dreams on life support, head to Utah in desperate straits.
2) Will the Red Bulls get to do some more #Henrying at home against FC Dallas?
Not only has Thierry Henry kick-started New York's three-game winning streak with two goals and three assists in his last four appearances, his goal against Toronto has spawned probably the hottest meme in world soccer this week. Neither the nets nor the goalposts will be safe when RBNY entertain a hungry FCD squad on Sunday (5 pm ET; UniMas).
1) Can Seattle overcome their Galaxyitis?
The reigning champs host the current league leaders at StubHub Center in a huge match on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN). This contest should tell us a good deal about the Sounders' MLS Cup credentials – and it's also a rematch of last year's Western Conference Championship, where LA knocked Seattle out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.