Starting XI: Can Brad Davis halt the Houston Dynamo's slide? Will Vancouver put a stranglehold on Cascadia Cup?

Starting XI: US flag

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Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching. Here's our Fourth of July special.

MLS gets back into full swing amid the World Cup frenzy with some tasty matchups and our recommended musical pairing, per FutbolMLS associate editor Diego Pinzon, is "Colombia va a ganar" because, vamos los cafeteros!

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1. RETURNING HERO PART 2: Is Brad Davis really the linchpin of the 2014 Houston Dynamo? It sure seems like it. The Dynamo have picked up just four points in the nine games he's missed this year, either due to injury or USMNT duty. And he may not get any rest after getting back from Brazil, as the Dynamo are hosting the New York Red Bulls on Friday (8:30 pm ET, NBCSN / live stream on NBCSports.com) and will want to snap the five-game losing streak.

Hope you're ready, Brad, to get right back into the action - becuase the Returning Hero on the other side of the field sure was last week. – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ


2. COUNTRY OF BROTHERLY LOVE: There was a time when current World Cup player Carlos Valdés was Philadelphia Union’s captain. So, will he be back after Colombia (fingers crossed) crown themselves in Brazil? Not so fast: San Lorenzo still has to play a Copa Libertadores semifinal at the end of July, so don't expect Valdés back until mid-August (Libertadores’ final) at the earliest, as is the case for Ignacio Piatti and Montreal. And that's IF Valdes is coming back at all.

In the meantime, the Union will make the trip to Frisco to face a Dallas side under scrutiny because of fellow Colombian Fabian Castillo’s suspension (Friday, 9 pm ETMLS Live). – DIEGO PINZON


3. 1ST-PLACE SOUNDERS? NOT THAT SCARY: Despite stumbling their way out of the World Cup break (0-1-1, 0 goals scored), the Vancouver Whitecaps will be liking their chances against the 1st-place Seattle Sounders (Sat., 10ET, MLS Stream of the Week). That's because the Rave Green head to BC Place without Ozzie Alonso or Gonzalo Pineda due to suspension and likely no DeAndre Yedlin or Clint Dempsey, who apparently will get a break after the World Cup.

Win this game and the Whitecaps will be in pole position to retain the Cascadia Cup. They already sit atop the standings. – SIMON BORG


4. DANGER - HIGH EXPLOSIVES: We're entering the dog days of summer, and two teams projected to be in fine form, Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution, are sputtering, with RSL on a five-game winless run and the Revs losing their last three. But all is not lost, as both remain third in their conferences and will face each other on Friday (10 pm ET, MLS Live). One win and either team could rocket up the standings (*groan*).

Aw, who am I kidding, let's see a rocket! – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ


5. A TACTICAL SHIFT: Who's going to be the first MLS team that moves to a 3- or 5-man backline, which has roared back into vogue during this World Cup? A good bet is the Columbus Crew, who tinkered with that formation last week in the US Open Cup. The takeaway? They need a physical, box-to-box midfielder to line up next to Wil Trapp if they want to make it work - especially against a team as talented as the Rapids (Saturday, 9:30 pm ETMLS Live). If only there was a guy like that interested in coming to MLS.... – MATT DOYLE


6. TIMBERS HURTING VS. LA: If Seattle thought they had it bad, they should just peek over at rivals Portland. No Pa Kah, Norberto Paparatto, or Liam Ridgewell (he shows up next week) means the centerback pairing vs. LA Galaxy will likely be Danny O'Rourke and Raushawn McKenzie. Against Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and an in-form Gyasi Zardes, Caleb Porter's undefeated record vs. Bruce Arena (2-0-2) could be in jeopardy on Friday (11ET on NBCSN / live stream on NBCSports.com).

Whatever the final result, the Timbers' trip to StubHub Center will have at least one guaranteed highlight. – SIMON BORG


7. TWEET OF THE WEEK: Julio Cesar is a Canadian legend forever and ever:


8. CLASH OF THE TITANS: Toronto FC and D.C. United both get excellent marks for their respective offseason rebuilds. And now for the biggest test: each other (Saturday, 7 pm ETMLS Live)! Come one, come all as these two titans of the Eastern Conference go head-to-head in... oh whatever, just watch the GIF. – MATT DOYLE


9. BOTTOM TEAMS, TOP BILLING: Chivas USA vs. Montreal Impact: two teams at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. But Chivas have won two games in a row at this point, and they've done it by scoring goals like this, while Montreal's last game was a 3-0 rout, courtesy of goals like this. So, although the standings might suggest that this won't be a good game, Chivas and Montreal's recent form would beg to differ (Saturday, 10:30 pm ETMLS Live). – NATE SULAT


10. #HOLYSHIPP!!!: Harrison Shipp has been an utter joy to watch for the first part of the season, even though the Chicago Fire at times have not. Now they need him more than ever to carry the team when they meet defending champions Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (3 pm ET, ESPN). After snapping a rough patch with wins in Houston and Portland, Sporting will give Shipp another chance to see how he stacks up against the MLS elite. Let's remember what he did last time they faced off (below). – NICHOLAS ROSANO


11. 16 FOR GLORY: Tim Howard. Legend. – MATT DOYLE