The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Who is ready to hit the ground running after the hiatus?
This month’s international break and light league calendar have given players across MLS a chance for recovery, relaxation even a few jaunts to Disneyland, Las Vegas and the like. Now everyone wades back into match play in a big way, and coaches will hope that the benefits of rest outweigh the drawbacks of rustiness.
10) Can new coaches in Toronto and Philadelphia make a positive start?
WATCH: Sakiewicz introduces new Union boss Hackworth
These two straggling clubs made changes near the top in the belief that there’s still time to rescue the season, parting ways with Aron Winter and Peter Nowak, respectively, in favor of in-house alternatives Paul Mariner and John Hackworth. The Spanish have a saying: “Entrenador nuevo, victoria segura” (New coach, victory guaranteed). Will this come true when Toronto visit Sporting KC and Philly host D.C.?
9) Will the Impact baptize the new Stade Saputo with a win vs. Seattle?
The Sounders are undefeated on the road in MLS play thus far in 2012, though they haven’t yet faced a situation quite like this weekend’s trip to Montreal, where the Impact’s fans will be delirious for the grand opening of their refurbished home ground. Noise and emotion will power the expansion side on Saturday afternoon – and no one’s totally sure how the brand-new grass surface will play, either. Also, SSFC’s pivotal defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is suspended.
8) Who’s taking home the big cannon down in Texas?
WATCH: FC Dallas wants El Capitan back
Another match rife with intangibles is happening at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, where the Dynamo will borrow a phrase from Texas history and tell their cross-state foes FC Dallas to “come and take it” – El Capitán, that is, the Civil War replica mountain howitzer awarded to the winner of this derby. FCD need a boost; they haven’t won since April 14 and have only won this rivalry series twice since its inception in 2006.
7) Eleven days after upending D.C. in the Open Cup, can Philly do the same in league play?
Last week the Union defied their own five-game league winless skid by edging past D.C. United in overtime of a physical US Open Cup clash in Boyds, Md., Nowak’s final game in charge of the squad. If the East’s ninth-place team can repeat that feat against the conference leaders on Saturday, it would stand out as a massive result.
6) Can Darren Mattocks and the Whitecaps keep up this roaring run of form?
It’s been a good month for Vancouver so far. Their Jamaican rookie returned to full speed and spearheaded an impressive 3-1 win over Houston, and the club kept itself in the headlines by unveiling a sharp-looking brown third kit which should sell at a rapid clip. Speaking of Rapids, they’re the next visitors to BC Place, which has developed into quite an imposing fortress for the ‘Caps.
5) Can Columbus keep hanging tough in the East?
Not for the first time, the unassuming Crew have flown under the radar a bit lately. Robert Warzycha’s squad went undefeated in their six games last month and will welcome reinforcements – Costa Rican international Jairo Arrieta, and perhaps a South American DP as well – when the transfer window opens on June 27. Warzycha just returned from several days of supporting his native Poland at the European Championship and will hope to be similarly inspired when his team visits New England on Saturday.
4) Will New York dig out their first-ever win at Toyota Park?
On Sunday, Chicago host the latest chapter of a matchup in which they’ve been surprisingly dominant over the years, especially at Toyota Park, where the Fire are 5-0-3 all-time against the Red Bulls. This RBNY bunch knows how to win ugly and should be up for the scrap, though. Rafa Márquez is hurt and Thierry Henry will miss out due to injury as well, but Wilman Conde should return to the first XI.
3) Do the Goats have a ghost of a chance at home against Real Salt Lake?
An unfair question, perhaps; Chivas USA did stun RSL 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium back in March to snatch their first win of the season, after all. It’s just that such results have been quite scarce on more familiar turf. The Rojiblancos’ dismal 1-5-1 home record has got to be a leading concern for coach Robin Fraser as Real visit The Home Depot Center for a Father’s Day tussle, perhaps with playmaker Javi Morales back in uniform, no less.
2) Where are Sporting KC headed?
While some teams have extraordinarily light June slates – Columbus play just three matches all month – Sporting Kansas City take the field six times, starting with this week’s games against TFC, Seattle and Philly. Last month, Peter Vermes’ side cooled off dramatically after their undefeated start to the year, and fell down the standings as a result. The next fortnight could reveal a great deal about Sporting’s long-term prospects.
1) Will this busy week lift the Galaxy, or lay them low?
The defending champs play host to Portland and Vancouver this weekend and next, with a trip to Salt Lake sandwiched in on Wednesday – three conference matchups in seven days, a period during which LA could make up some ground. Problem is, they’re also stuck in a seven-game winless rut and short on firepower, absent Robbie Keane (still at the Euros with Ireland), Edson Buddle (knee injury), Adam Cristman (concussion) and the suspended trio of Hector Jimenez, Mike Magee and Michael Stephens.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.