The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Will the Union stand up and be counted under Friday night lights in KC?
If Philadelphia want to climb back into a playoff spot, they're probably going to have to take a few points off Sporting Kansas City to get there. The Union battle SKC twice in their final five games, starting with Friday's clash at Sporting Park (8 pm ET, NBCSN). Bear in mind that slumping Philly – who have scored just five goals in their eight games over the past two months – have only beaten KC once in their eight all-time meetings. Kansas City fans have already started in on the slumping Jack McInerney. Will he respond?
10) Can D.C.'s kids make some noise in Toronto?
With D.C. United traveling to Utah for Tuesday's US Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake – far and away the capital club's biggest game of the year – coach Ben Olsen has signaled that he'll rely on his reserves against Toronto FC on Saturday (1 pm ET, TSN/RDS2 in Canada, MLS LIVE). Based on the United youngsters' promising performances this season, this might be a tougher proposition for TFC than it seems.
9) Is the Western Conference finally sifting out the elite?
Mind the gap! A four-point rift has opened up along the thin red line dividing the West's playoff qualifiers from the rest, which may not sound like much but is actually substantial compared to the lyrca-tight situation in the East. That means Vancouver, San Jose and FC Dallas can hardly afford to drop a single point from here on out.
8) Who can get it done for the Whitecaps?
Martin Rennie's side say they're approaching every match like a playoff game, and that's not a bad idea with several strong teams on their remaining slate, starting with RSL at BC Place on Saturday (7 pm ET, TSN2/RDS2, MLS LIVE). Striker Kenny Miller is a doubt due to a groin strain, so Rennie may turn to Tommy Heineman or Darren Mattocks up top.
7) Will Juan Agudelo's tetchy hamstrings find some dharma?
The New England Revolution striker has a transformative effect on his team's fortunes when he's on the field. But muscular issues have hampered him so much that he's taken up yoga to improve his flexibility as time ticks down on his current stint in MLS (he's headed to England's Stoke City this winter). He hopes to play a part in the Revs' massive meeting with Houston at Gillette Stadium Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Just how hot is the pressure cooker at Toyota Park?
The fans sound restless and apprehensive in Chicago, where a strong summer run has stagnated as the Fire have claimed just eight of the 21 points on offer in their past seven matches. Even with a sub-.500 record, the Men in Red are right in the playoff chase, but wins are needed ASAP. They may fancy their chances on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) against a Montreal Impact side smarting from last week's 3-0 home loss to Vancouver.
5) Who tops the ballots at this stage in the MLS MVP race?
Big-time players tend to step up at this point in the year, and most of the conventional favorites for this award are being counted on for crucial contributions this weekend. Voters will be eyeing the likes of Marco Di Vaio, Robbie Keane, Mike Magee, Diego Valeri and Camilo to see who seizes the spotlight.
4) Can Portland waylay the champs at JELD-WEN Field?
The LA Galaxy have shifted into their fearsome trophy-hunting mode, losing just one of their last seven league matches and booking a early place in the CONCACAF Champions League's knockout stages. But the Timbers, their hosts this weekend (Sunday, 3:30 pm ET, NBC), have shown flashes of similar steel with a capacity to “win ugly” in addition to their usual pass-and-move aesthetics. Side by side in the current standings, these teams will want to send a message ahead of a potential postseason rematch.
3) Do the Timbers Army do brunch dates?
PTFC are hoping the home faithful go easy on Saturday night, because Sunday's network-TV broadcast affair kicks off at the relatively early hour of 12:30 pm local time – and every single decibel counts when an opponent like LA comes to town.
2) Who wants the Shield?
It's hard to overstate the significance of Sunday's Seattle vs. New York match at CenturyLink Field (9 pm ET, ESPN), a duel between the Supporters' Shield and respective conference leaders. The apparent decision to leave Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave at home to spare their aging bodies from the pounding of the C-Link turf suggests a cautious approach from the Red Bulls, and it may end up costing them a shot at the trophy awarded to the league's top regular-season finishers.
1) How can an Olave-less RBNY defense slow down the surging Sounders?
With the imposing Colombian expected to be sidelined, Ibrahim Sekagya and Markus Holgersson appear to be the center back pairing of choice for Red Bulls coach Mike Petke. They'll have their work cut out for them against the Sounders' loaded “hydra” attack, which has not been shut out since July 13. The visitors will have to defend set pieces with extreme strength and focus, and are surely hoping jet-heeled winger Lloyd Sam can overcome a groin injury to provide an outlet on the counterattack.