The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Can the underdogs rewrite the script in the Gold Cup quarterfinals?
The region's top international tournament is down to its final eight survivors, and their ranks will be halved this weekend via twin doubleheaders in Atlanta and Baltimore. The USA, Mexico and Panama are widely expected to book their places in the semis at the expense of El Salvador, Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba, while Costa Rica vs Honduras looks hardest to call. This is where the going really gets tough for Cinderellas.
10) Are El Salvador's fans the top supporters' story of this year's tournament?
To be fair, this could be said about Honduras, too – those two nations' expatriate communities are likely the main engine behind booming ticket sales for Sunday's quarterfinals in Baltimore, where a sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium – an NFL-portioned venue with capacity for 71,008 – is well within reach. That would likely be the biggest crowd to date for this month's event, and given the passion of the four teams' respective fans, it might just make for the best atmosphere as well.
9) Which – if any – CONCACAF standouts will make their way to MLS destinations?
It's become a biennial ritual: MLS clubs are treated to the privilege of scouting the confederation's top players right in their own backyards. Many of these Gold Cup talents are eager to be spotted by overseas clubs, which further cranks up the transfer gossip. Might the likes of Rodolfo Zelaya, Leonel Saint-Preux or perhaps even Ariel Martínez make their way to the league?
8) How will the Revolution shake off that comeback loss in Colorado?
New England looked to be on course for an impressive road win over the Rapids on Wednesday, stifling their hosts effectively en route to a 1-0 halftime lead, only to fumble it away with a few poor defensive breakdowns for a 2-1 setback down the stretch. On Saturday they'll look to straighten things out on a visit to a Columbus Crew side playing its first match in nearly two weeks (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
7) When will Toronto FC stop giving away disastrous late goals?
Wednesday also brought a TFC road collapse, as they failed to capitalize on an hours' worth of numerical superiority against 10-man Chivas USA before giving up a deflected game-winner to Goats newcomer “Cubo” Torres. A rock-steady defender in his own playing career, coach Ryan Nelsen must be pulling his hair out behind the scenes. It doesn't get any easier as the New York Red Bulls invade BMO Field on Saturday (4 pm ET, TSN/RDS2, MLS LIVE).
6) Who's going to score some goals for D.C. United?
It's been two months since United scored from the run of play in a league match. That's eight games in which the Black-and-Red have only managed to find the net via twice, both via penalty kicks. Losing matches is one thing, but doing it with such a sickly attack on display is particularly frustrating for fans – and surely players as well. D.C. will try again on Saturday as they take on the Fire in Chicago (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Maybe Conor Doyle can provide some firepower?
5) How might the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas solve their respective skids at Stade Saputo on Saturday?
Both these teams were the early pace-setters in their respective conferences, only to fall back into the pack lately thanks to some off-color displays. FCD haven't won in seven matches while their Quebec hosts this weekend (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE) have leaked 12 goals in their last four games. Plus, the Impact will be without Marco Di Vaio.
4) Is this the perfect week for Colorado to finally end their grisly recent history against Seattle?
Read it and weep, Mile High fans: The Sounders have defeated the Rapids in seven straight meetings, and if they beat them again on Saturday, the series will set a league record for one-sidedness. Saturday's clash at CenturyLink Field (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE) looks like a great chance for Colorado to break the trend, however, with the Sounders likely to miss a long list of important contributors due to injury and international duty. Perhaps most importantly, they're down to their third-string goalkeeper, emergency pickup Andrew Weber.
3) Can Omar Gonzalez lead the star-starved Galaxy to a decent result against Vancouver?
The big center back is one of four Gold Cup reinforcements called up to the USMNT by Jurgen Klinsmann, but he's the only one who has been cleared to remain with his club for their weekend tussle with the Whitecaps at StubHub Center (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). His presence could prove crucial as the SoCal squad must do without stars Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan against Vancouver, who are 5-0-1 in their last six.
2) Will Portland handle their business on their two-game road swing?
The tiki-taka Timbers travel the next two weeks, first to Philadelphia for a Saturday evening duel with the Union that might be this weekend's sleeper game (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), then to San Jose in seven days. Both PTFC and Philly know how to put the ball on the floor and play a bit, and the home side will be bolstered by the return of goal prince Jack McInerney from his USMNT stint.
1) Will RSL-Sporting be a skill-check or a slugfest?
The biggest treat on the schedule takes place at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, where the two teams topping the league table face off Saturday (10 pm ET, MLSsoccer.com Free Stream of the Week). Will coaches Jason Kreis and Peter Vermes – both of whom are missing important bodies due to Gold Cup – release the hounds and push the tempo, or will this affair have a tight, physical, playoff-type character?