The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Who can avoid the dreaded 0-3?
Two’s company, three’s a crowd. The old saw can be applied to the season-opening losing skids afflicting five MLS teams. Chivas USA and the East’s I-95 quartet presently sit at 0-2, a mark that somehow looks much less daunting than 0-3, which would be something of a mountain to climb both psychologically and in the standings. Points matter, even in mid-March.
10) Can Rafa Márquez work his way back into fans’ and teammates’ good graces?
On Sunday, New York’s controversial Mexican DP returns from the suspension earned by his misbehavior in the Red Bulls’ ill-tempered playoff series against LA last season, and his winless team could use some inspiration. Mediocre on the field and abrasive off it, Márquez was as controversial as any player in 2011, and RBNY’s home opener against the 2-0 Rapids would be a perfect time to let his skills do the talking.
9) Who will triumph in the clash of contrasts at CenturyLink Field on Friday night?
From their collective personalities to their styles of play to their highlighter-bright uniforms, the Sounders and Dynamo present two of the league’s most distinctive – and divergent – brands. Seattle are devoted to slick footy, while Houston are workmanlike and defiantly scruffy. This rivalry is extraordinarily balanced: each team is 3-3-3 with 10 goals scored in their nine all-time meetings.
8) Can the Revs match Portland’s muscle?
Menacing physicality was a calling card of successful New England sides over the past decade, with the likes of Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis making sure Gillette Stadium was a difficult place to pick up points. They’ll face a Rose City-tinged version of themselves when Kris Boyd and the burly Timbers hit town on Saturday, and must do so amid an injury crisis that may leave coach Jay Heaps with just one fit center back.
7) Will D.C. United take some pressure off their stressed young coach with a decent result in Vancouver?
Ben Olsen sometimes seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders these days. He’s got a big, complex task on his hands as a rebuilt United try to end their galling playoff drought and the squad has put forward two discouraging displays thus far. Not an ideal time to visit the dangerous Whitecaps, perhaps, especially without three starters away on Olympic duty, but another loss is simply not an option.
6) Can Schellas Hyndman sort out the tactical tweaks needed to slow down high-powered Sporting KC?
FC Dallas’ cerebral boss had to scramble to respond to Portland’s approach and personnel in Frisco last week, reshuffling his lineup with a rare 44th-minute substitution before ultimately being forced to accept a 1-1 home draw. If FCD don’t get it right from the first whistle at Livestrong Sporting Park on Sunday, C.J. Sapong and his in-form teammates may well run them ragged.
5) Can Peter Nowak right the Union ship at his old port of call?
Disjointed, winless and under scrutiny from frustrated fans, Philly didn’t need any more commotion this week. But they got some anyway, as Nowak and Danny Califf offered differing stories behind the big center back’s absence from the starting lineup against Colorado. They subsequently patched things up, but a matchup against Nowak’s former team, the Fire, present the type of attacking weapons that could make the Doop defense quite uncomfortable indeed.
4) Will Impact left back Josh Gardner tee up another piledriver on his return to Ohio?
Gardner briefly stole the breath from 58,912 Montrealers at Stade Olympique when he lashed a long-distance blast off the woodwork in injury time of the Impact’s 1-1 draw with Chicago, barely missing out on a storybook ending for the expansion club’s MLS home debut. All the same, Montreal fans will be urging him to shoot early and often when the Québécois visit his former club, the Columbus Crew, on Saturday.
3) Can anyone stop the rat tail?
What seemed to be a dodgy draft-day decision at the time is looking like a stroke of genius for Real Salt Lake, as unknown prospect Sebastián Velásquez – and his awesome '80s hairdo – have become the toast of the Wasatch Front. The rookie midfielder is one of several reserves who’ve helped Jason Kreis navigate through injuries to important starters without compromising RSL’s pass-happy style. Chivas USA are the next opponent to face the daunting task of slowing down the Real juggernaut.
2) Can Toronto FC push on without the steadying influence of Torsten Frings?
For TFC, the high of last week’s CONCACAF Champions League advancement was all too soon replaced by the low of losing the German veteran to a significant hamstring injury in Seattle. Others will have to fill his shoes over the next month, in terms of both performance and leadership, starting with Saturday’s home tussle against the Earthquakes.
1) Who’s got the hot hand for your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager squad?
It’s just about impossible not to push Sounders hitman David Estrada as this week’s top fantasy selection. His hat trick against Toronto reaped 17 total points last weekend – a good return on his modest salary of $6.7 – and his teammates can be expected to keep creating chances for him and the rest of the strike force.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.