KINGSTON, Jamaica – The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
We're not just talking about injuries and international absences here, though that's a significant part of it. National team players of all nations often return to their clubs in a different state of mind or body, depending on their team's results, their individual performances, the mood among the fans back home and any number of other factors. Whether it's a net positive effect, negative or in between, it's an unpredictable intangible.
#JAMvUSA: World Cup Qualifier Preview
Friday and Tuesday's bills of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers could tell us much about the outlook of the current cycle. Just as Jamaica are fighting to stay in the conversation in their home tie against the US (9:30 pm ET, beIN Sport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), so are the region's North American giants fighting to carve out space at the top of the Hex standings and assert the usual order. Mexico has already leaped to the top of the group with their first win (Tuesday's defeat of the Reggae Boyz) and could snare as many as six more points in the next few days.
9) Did El Tri get their groove back?
You can't often associate a phrase like “winless streak” and Estadio Azteca, but that's technically the case thanks to two straight Hex draws at Mexico's high-altitude stronghold in their capital city. Costa Rica drop in on Tuesday, and Los Ticos will remind themselves that their 2001 predecessors remain the only visitors in history to have won a WCQ on that hallowed soil, though El Tri have a bit more reason for optimism after Tuesday.
The Scouting Report: #CHIvPOR
Frank Klopas' team has an odd track record in 2013. They've beaten New York, lost to Chivas USA and drawn Sporting Kansas City, to name a few examples, while their current two-game unbeaten streak is their longest such stretch of the year. A few new faces have been welcomed, and they can help the trend lines look a lot more promising with a good result against the Portland Timbers and their 11-game run at Toyota Park Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Speaking of unbeaten, the New England Revolution have knitted together an impressive four-game period of their own. It's also part of a larger positive shift for Jay Heaps' youngish squad – that shows up as only one loss in their last eight matches overall, including a decent start to their US Open Cup campaign. This weekend they host a hard-luck D.C. United group (7:30 pm ET, Univision Deportes, MLS LIVE) that has only picked up one out of a possible 18 points on its travels this season.
Chalk this one up for the “more money, more problems” file: Portland's solid start to the season has exposed them to a raft of called-up absentees, as four of their regulars – Rodney Wallace, Mamadou "Futty" Danso, Ryan Johnson and Donovan Ricketts – have been called to international action. Will Caleb Porter dial down the throttle on the road at Chicago, or does Porterball roar along just the same?
The Scouting Report: #SEAvVAN
For years, Seattle's legions of footy fans justifiably clamored for the chance to host a big-time USMNT match, an event that everyone assumed would be sold out and jam-packed well in advance. After all, big Sounders matches like the Vancouver Whitecaps' Cascadia visit on Sunday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN/RDS2 in Canada), routinely draw bumper crowds and will again this weekend.
But even with a city-imposed admission cap placed due to it coinciding with a Mariners baseball game, advance sales for Tuesday's USA-Panama game aren't quite what we expected. Share your theories in the comments section below, please.
4) How will the temperary grass hold up at CenturyLink Field?
Normally an all-turf rivalry, the Sounders-'Caps clash will take place on the natural surface installed at C-Link ahead of the USMNT's visit. There have been issues with these pitches being too wet and heavy in the past, so it will be interesting to see how it handles its twin bill of matches.
Credit to Ben Olsen and the D.C. front office for making a move for a proven MLS reinforcement this week with a savvy trade for Vancouver's left-footed Swiss Army Knife. Though he's reportedly not likely to be available for selection until next week due to work visa paperwork, Rochat's acquisition sends a timely message to Black-and-Red players and fans.
2) Should D.C. consider resting regulars to focus on next week's home Open Cup match?
The idea of chopping and changing your league lineups in order to prioritize the USOC was once practically inconceivable for MLS managers. But United is a long, long way from a playoff spot and the tournament's rewards – on top of the simple desire to hunt a cup – might prove tempting to Olsen as he considers next week's cup battle with Philadelphia.
Bruce Arena and his men unleashed two surprises on LA's last visit to the Wasatch Front, on April 27. First there was the reserve-heavy lineup the Galaxy boss trotted out against their Western Conference rivals, which had Real Salt Lake fans fuming about disrespect – then there was the well-earned 2-0 defeat they inflicted on their hosts. Real owe it to themselves and their fans to produce a more positive result on Saturday (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).