Starting XI: Which way will Landon Donovan go? How can Sigi Schmid solve Seattle Sounders' slump?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Do the Reggae Boyz have a prayer in KC?
While the US national team saw their World Cup dreams become reality during last month's international window, some of their CONCACAF counterparts' hopes will hinge on the events of the next five days, including Jamaica, the USMNT's opponent in Kansas City on Friday night (6:30 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas). The islanders need a miracle, but can still conceivably slip into the Hexagonal's fourth spot. They'll have to defeat the US at home for the first time ever to do it.
10) Can El Tri save their own tocino?
When the Hex took shape a year ago, few would've envisioned Mexico languishing in fifth place at this stage, yet that's exactly where their stunning underachievement has led them – and it could get worse if they can't defeat Panama at once-imposing Estadio Azteca on Friday night (9:30 pm ET, ESPN News, UniMas, Univision Deportes). New coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has been tasked with pulling their fat out of the fire, but can he provide the instant impact that is needed?
9) Can Jurgen Klinsmann's MLS contingent navigate the next two games unharmed?
The USMNT boss and his staff seek to use this month's “dead rubber” matches to hone their sharpness and evaluate personnel, though for their players' clubs the top priority is getting their talent back for the season's tail end with minimal wear and tear. Seattle have already been rocked by news of Eddie Johnson's groin injury sustained during US training and others will be praying no such misfortune befalls their own.
8) In which direction will Landon Donovan be headed come Saturday?
Speaking of which, the LA Galaxy have requested that their veteran star be returned to them this weekend so he can feature in next Wednesday's league match against Montreal instead of journeying to Panama for the Yanks' final Hex game. LD himself has been diplomatic on the matter, but it falls to Klinsmann to deliver what will probably be a negative response to LA coach Bruce Arena, who has already seen a similar request denied by Ireland regarding Robbie Keane.
7) How can Sigi stop the bleeding in Seattle?
Storylines can change quickly in MLS; just ask the Sounders, who in the space of two games have gone from red-hot Supporters' Shield favorites to soul-searching strugglers who can't even take a playoff spot for granted yet. That's the kind of damage back-to-back 5-1 and 4-1 losses will inflict as Colorado and Vancouver have exposed unsettling weaknesses in coach Sigi Schmid's squad.
6) Will FC Dallas make it interesting?
After a blazing start to the year, a woeful summer has sent the North Texans tumbling down the standings. However, even in seventh place with just two wins since Memorial Day, they are not out of the playoff race quite yet. With two of their last three games at home, they can shake up an already-unstable Western Conference race by grabbing a win or three, starting with Chicago's visit to Toyota Stadium on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week).
5) Philly, Chicago, New England: Who blinks first?
With Columbus stricken by a costly home loss last week and Montreal looking – for now – like they'll do enough to keep from dropping too close to the all-important thin red line, it would seem that there are only two postseason spots for this East trio to chase. They're clustered within three points of one another and each have three games left to play, none of which are head-to-head “six-pointers.” Anyone care to predict how this will shake out?
4) Can the Philadelphia Union hit a three-spot?
This season Philadelphia have had good streaks (like that five-game undefeated run in June and early July) and bad streaks (witness that five-game winless skid bookending Labor Day). But they've yet to win three games in a row, a small but indicative feature of most of this year's postseason contenders. They can do so with a win at D.C. United on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and it might just be mandatory if they are to wrestle their way into the playoffs.
3) Is “Iron Man” Brian Carroll the most underrated player in MLS?
Perhaps it's appropriate that the Union's metronome-steady holding midfielder is hardly raising a fuss as he marks the elite milestone of his 300th MLS match in his hometown this weekend. A quiet but effective engine, Carroll rarely draws attention to himself – though that shouldn't stop the rest of us from marveling at his ascension to a select level only matched by 23 others in the league's history.
2) Will the Impact book their playoff tickets on Saturday?
Marco Schällibaum's team is a quirky bunch: One day they look like worldbeaters, and the next they appear capable of losing to anyone in the league. This fall they've followed a four-game unbeaten run (11 goals scored, three allowed) with a matching five-game winless slump (three goals scored, eight allowed). Saturday would be a great time to show the Dr. Jekyll side again, because with a win over the New England Revolution at Stade Saputo (2:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US), they'll have one foot in the playoffs and ensure that neither New England nor Columbus can pass them in the standings.
1) Who gets to keep the Cascadia Cup?
The Whitecaps' 4-1 rout of the Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday wasn't just a shocking result, it also reshuffled the Pacific Northwest's hotly-contested mini-league. Now Seattle, who were heretofore in pole position for the cup, must defeat the Timbers at their JELD-WEN Field home in Portland on Sunday (9 pm ET, ESPN) to jump back ahead of Vancouver. This is one spoiler role PTFC would surely love to play.