The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Are the Galaxy the underdogs against Sporting? When’s the last time that happened?
Suddenly star-crossed, LA are more accustomed to being the big dogs of MLS – and given their attacking riches, in the weeks ahead they may yet clamber back up to their perch atop the league. But they’ve got a huge task in KC on Saturday afternoon. Sporting are 4-0, own the best goal differential in the league and the home fans will be loud and proud at sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park.
10) Is Bruce Arena playing the “us against the world” card, and will it work?
LA looked quite off-color in last week’s loss to New England; David Beckham was substituted as early as he’s ever been in a Galaxy uniform, and has been absent for many of this week’s training sessions. Yet Arena’s remarks on MLSsoccer.com’s ExtraTime Radio on Thursday hinted that a siege mentality is in place for the defending champs. The prospect of having Landon Donovan available after time out with a quad injury might be equally significant.
9) Is Seattle-D.C. the league’s best under-the-radar rivalry?
Sparked by a quarrel over hosting rights to the 2009 US Open Cup and fueled by hard-fought games and antagonistic fans, these two clubs nearly 3,000 miles apart have struck up an unlikely enmity. RFK Stadium may offer a particularly hostile welcome to former United defender and current Sounder Marc Burch, who tossed extra fuel on the fire this week with some feisty remarks about sticking it to his old team.
8) Or does the Rocky Mountain Cup have the claim to that title?
Up at elevation, the Rapids and Real Salt Lake have built a nice little showdown themselves, one with a healthy dose of animosity and a bit of an on-field stylistic clash as well. Both teams have gotten off to great starts in 2012 and their meeting on Saturday promises quality soccer to go with the usual competitiveness.
7) And just how feisty will it get when Toronto and Montreal bring their civic rivalry to MLS?
Another weekend game that will push the needle will play out at high noon at Olympic Stadium on Saturday, as the clubs from Canada’s two biggest cities renew that nation’s oldest grudge match. Both sides are still hunting for their first victory of the 2012 MLS campaign, though the Impact have shown more promise in recent weeks and will be bolstered by another spirited throng at the Big O.
6) Will Toronto FC shake off their CONCACAF Champions League heartbreak and get it together in league play?
It was a great run for TFC, but to paraphrase a famous coach’s quote, in the end, they were who we thought they were. Moments of striking brilliance from Joao Plata and hard running by the likes of Nick Soolsma and Terry Dunfield won’t always be enough to overcome a leaky defense that was probably already undermanned before their recent injury glut. That 0-3 record in MLS means there’s simply no time for a CCL hangover in Montreal.
5) Can Chivas USA move past their horrific history in the Rose City?
Chivas and TFC sit together at the bottom of the MLS scoring charts with just one goal apiece. TFC have at least had an exciting distraction with CCL, while the Goats continue to be both inconsistent and unlucky. And this week they’re headed to the lion’s den that is JELD-WEN Field, where, if you count their visit for a preseason tournament, they are 0-3-1 all-time with one goal scored and nine conceded.
4) Does Darlington Nagbe have a few more highlight-reel goals on his to-do list?
Portland’s Liberian-born phenom is such a fun, fun player to watch, and his heroics in the attacking third have fans across the nation fairly begging coach John Spencer to keep him as close to goal as possible. Timbers home games are already a can’t-miss spectacle, and now Nagbe might be the main attraction.
3) Will TH14 keep it going against the Crew?
Credit where it’s due: after looking fairly miserable through most of their first two matches, the Red Bulls have rebounded gamely and Thierry Henry has been a huge reason. Two straight goal-heavy wins have pushed him and partner Kenny Cooper to the top of the league scoring charts and helped ease the pain of losing Luke Rodgers to a denied work visa. This week’s visit to Columbus and their stingy backline presents a stiffer test than home dates against Montreal or short-handed Colorado, though.
2) Can Jay DeMerit come to grips with Steven Lenhart when the ‘Caps and Quakes clash?
His own team’s goalkeeper, Jon Busch, calls Lenhart “a bull in a china shop” and readily admits that he’d hate to play against him. This week DeMerit and his center back partner Martín Bonjour get their chance to tangle – probably literally – with Lenhart, maybe the most physical and contentious forward in MLS. Vancouver will face him and his dangerous partner Chris Wondolowski with confidence; they are the only side who’ve yet to allow a single goal this season.
1) Who’s the go-to guy for MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager?
Round 5’s early start means that you’re locked into your picks already, so we’ll just put it this way: Hopefully you’ve got Kyle Beckerman in your starting XI. Sure, he’ll be playing his second game in four days on Saturday, but he scored a great game-winning goal in Portland last week and he always comes to play against his former team, which just happens to be RSL’s fiercest foe, the Colorado Rapids.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.