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Starting XI: Top 11 questions for Week 18 in MLS

The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend slate of matches:

11) Who will be the big winners from this month’s flurry of trades?

July has brought a blitz of transactions across the league as clubs try to fix their shortcomings and add missing ingredients, a process that shows no signs of slowing down. Some, like Chicago and DC, have made “win now” moves, while Vancouver and others have focused on the long term. Smart fans will be paying attention to both sides of the coin.

10) What will San Jose’s newest arrivals bring to the table?

Alan Gordon, Nana Attakora and Jacob Peterson represent a major infusion of hungry talent for the Earthquakes, even if they had to send TFC one of their leading strikers, an international roster spot and a chunk of allocation dough in return. The trio’s acquisition also sends a powerful message to the rest of Frank Yallop’s inconsistent squad: Shape up or take a seat.

9) Conversely, can Toronto FC get a jump on “take two” of their 2011 season?

Year 5 has been another rough one for the Reds, but thanks to some fortuitous timing, head coach Aron Winter can give his team a fresh start over the next week. TFC have shuffled personnel via trades and the international transfer window, and their schedule has gifted them an 11-day break, including a bye this weekend. Winter should be grateful for some extra training time to get everyone on the same page before beginning CONCACAF Champions League play, which can give his team purpose regardless of their league fortunes.

8) Can Seattle and Dallas make late runs at the Supporters’ Shield?

The LA Galaxy have led the overall league standings for most of the season and remain the odds-on pick to claim the prize for regular-season champs. Both the Sounders and FCD are blazing hot at the moment, though, and may fancy their chances to reel in the Galaxy in the final months of the season. This week, the chasing duo hosts Colorado and D.C. United, respectively — tough opposition but necessary scalps en route to Shield contention.

7) Just how much hate do the Seattle faithful have in store for Colorado?

Things are looking up in Commerce City. Strikers Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and even Mac Kandji are getting back up to speed, and Brian Mullan’s 10-game suspension is behind him — though coach Gary Smith opted not to expose Mullan to a hostile CenturyLink Field crowd eager to remind him of his April misdeed against Sounders winger Steve Zakuani. But the emotions will still run hot on Saturday evening, and it will be a notable achievement if the Mile High Club can weather the storm and secure a result.

6) Can DC make another statement on the road?

Last week’s 1-0 Atlantic Cup win over New York was deeply satisfying for United, their new playmaker Dwayne De Rosario and, of course, their fans, many of whom traveled north to Red Bull Arena. But this weekend brings another testing trip, as the Black-and-Red must cope with a sizzling FC Dallas side in similarly scorching Texas weather. Keep an eye on the Brek Shea-Andy Najar wing battle.

5) Can Jeff Cunningham finally topple Jaime Moreno’s scoring record?

Robert Warzycha just gave the Crew a long weekend off, prompting many players to take mini-vacations like the one Cunningham and his family took to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for some beach time and Jamaican food. With peas and rice in his belly and the league’s all-time goals title nearly within his grasp, San Jose’s defense had best beware of Columbus’ No. 33 on Saturday.

4) Will Peter Vermes ring in the changes?

The Sporting boss helped key a summer rally in KC, his team reeling off a 12-game unbeaten streak in all competitions as they wound down their lengthy, season-opening road stretch. But that all came crashing down late Tuesday night at the hands of the Richmond Kickers, the latest US Open Cup Cinderella, in a 2-0 loss that Vermes dubbed “unacceptable and embarrassing.” Will the coach back up his angry words and alter the lineup for Saturday’s trip to Houston?

3) How can the Timbers stop the bleeding?

Here’s an interesting statistical footnote to Saturday’s Portland-Chicago game: The team with the most draws in the league (the Fire have a whopping 12 deadlocks on their record) will host the one with the fewest (the Timbers’ three). Perhaps the latter stat just reflects Portland honcho John Spencer’s uncompromising nature. But with nearly two months gone since his team’s last victory, and only one draw during that skid, the Scotsman may take whatever he can get at Toyota Park.

2) Do the Red Bulls believe in revenge?

After some uninspiring displays in league play and a reserve lineup’s 4-0 US Open Cup capitulation in Chicago on Tuesday, the Red Bulls finally — belatedly, to some — sound like they’re genuinely ticked off.

“To be honest, I am thinking about my team right now and how bad we are and that we need to win against Chivas,” said Thierry Henry this week. A 3-2 home loss to a previously underwhelming Chivas USA side on May 15 knocked the luster off New York this spring, so Henry & Co. should have ample reason to get stuck in against the Goats at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

1) Can LA keep their focus?

It shouldn’t be much of an issue for a veteran Galaxy side coached by one of the best in the business, but Real Madrid and Manchester City, probably the two richest clubs on the planet, have hit LaLa Land for two friendlies over the next week. Bruce Arena must shepherd his charges through extra hype and foreign media coverage to ensure that they also take care of business against Columbus and Vancouver.