Starting XI: Every Landon Donovan goal, tears from Bruce Arena and the Seattle Sounders in crisis!
Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching. Friendlies fill the airwaves, Wondo wins dad of the year, and we've got your back.
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1. BEGINNING OF THE END: Landon Donovan’s retirement tour begins Friday, quite appropriately against the team with whom he won his first two MLS Cups, and now the one he loves to torment every year. And given that he always seems to perform when the lights are brightest, the San Jose Earthquakes may not have a prayer (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN, free stream on NBCSports.com, TSN2). Bruce Arena may want to save some of those tears for his northern neighbors. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) August 7, 2014
2. IL BRUCE: Arena continues to be my favorite marksman in Major League Soccer. At this point in his career, he’s due for at least a few shots across the league’s bow every year – some are justified, some aren’t – and most are pretty clear cut. Don’t schedule day games in Houston. Don’t put us through the CCL ringer. The refs don’t like us.
This week, he threw a shroud of mystery over his team’s failed midseason pickup – all indications were that Sacha Kljestan was coming home – and said “there were forces fighting real hard not to let that happen.” Arena might be right or he might be wrong, but something tells me the Galaxy won’t need any additional help from here on out. – NICK FIRCHAU
3. I'MA LET YOU FINISH: All due respect to Landon, but there is only one MLS retirement this year that will reverberate in the world game. Maybe. No one's confirmed that Thierry Henry is going to call it quits after the 2014 campaign, but it's seeming like a foregone conclusion. Henry has won the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League, and only the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho in their heydays kept him from being named World Player of the Year. If this is indeed Henry's swan song, it will mark the passing of one of the true giants of soccer history. Get your fill now, MLS fans – starting on Sunday night in Chicago (8 pm ET; UniMas). You might be seeing the last of the best player to ever play in our league. – NATE SULAT
— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) August 7, 2014
4. I’M JUST A BILL: Actually, these days, D.C. United’s Bill Hamid is laying down the law. Not sure what it is, but the 23-year-old All-Star goalkeeper seems more mature and patient this year, and he’s definitely more confident in his backline. Forget United’s attack. It’s Hamid that will be vital on Saturday at in-form Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week). Oh, and he’s got a nice jersey collection. – GREG LALAS
5. CRUEL CUT: Nothing like a little case of he said-he said when it comes to athletes, journalists and defending your dad’s honor. Depending on who you believe, the Columbus Crew’s courtship of Mix Diskerud either went sour this week because Diskerud’s father biffed the negotiations at the last second (via SI.com’s Grant Wahl and ESPN's Taylor Twellman) or because, well, who knows (Crew coach Gregg Berhalter and Diskerud himself). Doesn’t matter much now because the deal is dead – I was never sold on Diskerud being worth the roughly $1 million the Crew reportedly offered anyway – but the biggest takeaway I get from all this is that Diskerud is a regular poster on BigSoccer.com. Who woulda guessed? – NICK FIRCHAU
6. FORGOTTEN BUT NOT GONE: Anybody else remember when the Philadelphia Union were the big story of the transfer window? For like a day? New 'keeper. New (old) central defender. Hot young striker. They'll dominate the front page for months!
Or hours, whatever. Point is, several of us have been loving Philly's talent all season, and now it looks like they're truly loaded for the playoff push. They've fired, they've spent, they've built and rebuilt. Now they just have to do one thing: Win. It starts for real on Saturday night vs. Montreal (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE), and if it doesn't go right, some people are gonna look pretty dumb. – MATT DOYLE
— Devin Pleuler (@devinpleuler) April 22, 2014
7. TWEET OF THE WEEK: Two weeks in a row Dan Gargan makes an appearance...
RT this for a chance to win Landon's DP slot in January.
— Daniel Gargan (@HeyDanGargan) August 7, 2014
8. ORANGE CRUSH: The Houston Dynamo's two new signings — DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido — give them a starting XI that player-for-player can compete for MLS Cup. There, I said it. And that's not just hyperbole based on one big scalp vs. D.C. Some will say the Dynamo center backs are still suspect, but they'll be better now that Garrido sits in front of them and the speedy Beasley can help in recovery. No better test of this theory than Oba-Deuce and Seattle (Sunday, 10:30 pm ET on ESPN2). – SIMON BORG
— Francisco Rios (@cisco0602) August 4, 2014
9. THEY'RE MLS' BEST, RIGHT? RIGHT?! Clint Dempsey has one goal since April 26. Seattle have lost two games in a row. That cushy Supporters' Shield lead? It doesn't exist anymore. Three weeks ago, the Sounders were the unquestioned best in MLS. Now they've got plenty to prove, and they'll have to do so on national TV against the a Houston Dynamo side that includes Beasley and Garrido in addition to Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia and a revitalized Will Bruin. Better put that chip back on your shoulder, Deuce. – ANDREW WIEBE
10. BEWARE THE HANGOVER PART II: Teams that have hosted the MLS All-Star Game are 1-7-2 in their first competitive match following the big event since 2005. Last year’s host, Sporting KC, lost their first game after the ASG, to the team that beat them in the Supporters' Shield by one point. Who says the Midsummer Classic isn’t significant?
Will Portland have an All-Star Game hangover when they host Chivas USA on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE)? The Timbers aren’t in the Shield race in 2014, but they are trying to climb above the red line for the first time all year, and every single point is precious. – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
11. GOAT: 57 USMNT goals. That's a record that should stand for a while. – MATT DOYLE