The top 11 questions heading into this weekend…
11) Do LA and Seattle have a snowball's chance in Mexico?
The Sounders and Galaxy were both hit by late gut punches from two of Mexico's best, Santos Laguna and Monterrey, in their CONCACAF Champions League first-leg semifinal matches earlier this week, saddling them with a job that has never before been accomplished during the tournament's knockout stages: Overturn a home defeat with a victory on Mexican soil. Great focus and self-belief will be required to accomplish this task – as Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza phrased it on Twitter, "Still 90 more minutes..."
10) Who's going to score some goals for D.C. United in KC on Friday night?
With two goals in four games, the Black-and-Red's front line has been as cold as the late-winter weather currently fending off the advent of spring in their region, and now they must visit a Sporting Kansas City side which is carrying a 339-minute shutout streak into Friday night's match (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Just to pile on a bit more, United's prospects of ending their six-year winless skid in the City of Fountains took another hit when Dwayne De Rosario was left at home with an adductor injury. Time for the likes of Chris Pontius, Rafael or Lionard Pajoy to step up ... and there's also a certain Little Fishy waiting in the wings.
9) What is the Chicago Fire's identity in 2013?
The previous question can also be asked of the Fire, who have found the net even less often than United (one goal in four games) and are nursing a league-worst minus-8 goal differential heading into their Sunday afternoon clash with the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Chris Rolfe says the attacking chemistry just isn't there yet, and it seems there's a bit of uncertainty about the team's style and tactics after the loss of some important pieces in last year's counterattack-happy squad. This weekend's task is further complicated by a hamstring concern for fleet-footed winger Patrick Nyarko.
8) Are the Columbus Crew on track for a bumper crop of set-piece goals?
Last year bruising San Jose led the league in goals off restarts with 19. Just four games into their current campaign, Columbus have netted four of their seven scores from set pieces, which puts them on a mind-boggling pace – and underlines the quality of Federico Higuaín's delivery and the wealth of big targets he has to choose from when he sends service into opposing penalty areas. It's a real weapon for the Yellow Football Team and one that the Crew's adversaries must respect, with the Philadelphia Union the next up on Saturday (5 pm ET, UniMas).
7) When will we get a glimpse of Philadelphia's new Designated Player?
Freddy Adu is out and Kléberson is in for the Union, providing head coach John Hackworth with an intriguing Brazilian option for his midfield. It remains to be seen whether the former Manchester United man is fit enough to see time against the Crew on Saturday, and in the bigger picture, whether the 33-year-old Kléberson is the proverbial "luxury player" or one who can force himself into the midst of Philly's plans.
6) Can Joe Bendik hang on to the Toronto FC goalkeeping job?
One of several surprises in TFC's relatively bright start to the season (the Reds are 1-2-1 after playing five teams with a combined record of 14-5-5) is the identity of the starting 'keeper. Widely seen as a makeweight in last year's trade with the Portland Timbers, Bendik has earned the nod from coach Ryan Nelsen in spite of incumbent Stefan Frei's return to health and the shotstopping duo look likely to keep one another on their toes all season, which is exactly what Nelsen will want. TFC have another stiff test on their hands tomorrow as Western Conference-leading FC Dallas visit BMO Field (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE/TSN).
5) Are FCD for real?
Last year's injury-influenced struggles left observers wondering if FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman had lost the magic that helped his team reach the 2010 MLS Cup. The North Texans reloaded in a big way over the winter, however, and are currently tops in the West even as they wait on French hitman Eric Hassli to regain full speed. There's a sense that more may be in the offing from Hyndman's current group, which has been led thus far by the speed, skill and defense-stretching wide play of Jackson and Fabián Castillo. They can underline their contender credentials with a good result on the shores of Lake Ontario.
4) Can Big Lenny give the Earthquakes a lift?
Love him or lump him, Steven Lenhart was a huge element in San Jose's Supporters' Shield success last year and his team has missed him during his recent injury-enforced absence. Quakes boss Frank Yallop says he expects Lenhart to play a role against Vancouver this weekend, probably as a second-half sub. The Jay DeMerit-less Whitecaps, who have lost their first two road games by back-to-back 2-1 scorelines, will have to stay switched on in the back for all 90 minutes to avoid falling prey to Goonie heroics at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
3) Who will step up when things get "creepy" at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday night?
Rivalries abound in MLS but not many get as creatively nasty as the Rocky Mountain Cup duel between Colorado and Real Salt Lake. This week the Rapids released a video in which local elementary schoolers mocked RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman as "creepy" – which is pretty rich considering that KB was the face of the franchise during his five and a half years in Colorado colors – and RSL fired back with a clever response emphasizing which club currently possesses the trophy these Western squads fight over every year. It will only get meaner when they meet up at DSGP on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
2) Does Álvaro Saborío get the love he deserves?
Simon Borg examined this question in his fine profile piece on the Costa Rican on Thursday, and while many Real fans probably nodded in agreement, it's a topic worth throwing out to the rest of the league as well. Our advice? Find a way to catch a few RSL games – Saturday's RMC tussle with the Rapids is a perfect opportunity – and when you do, try to keep an eye on "Sabo" and the finer points of his game, like the off-the-ball movement and combination play with runners.
1) Will the Dynamo really trade haymakers with the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field?
Houston are saying all the things neutrals would hope to hear ahead of their visit to Portland's noisy venue on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET, streamed FREE on MLSsoccer.com).
"There’s no reason for us to go there and sit back,” Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis said on Thursday. “With the way things are going right now we’re moving the ball well, playing well and we’re coming off two good victories. We want to go there and get after them and pressure them ... It could be a very exciting game.”
But that just doesn't quite seem like the way coach Dominic Kinnear, who's never met a 1-0 road win he doesn't like, would want to set his team up. We'll see if, like so many visitors to JELD-WEN, the Orange struggle to resist the temptation to open up the throttle and run with the Timbers all night.