The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Will Orlando City have another big announcement this fall, and if so, when?
Orlando took another huge step in their long-running quest for a place in MLS this week, as Orange County commissioners approved a decisive new stadium funding deal that could see the league return to the Sunshine State as soon as 2015. Nothing is official yet, but MLS president Mark Abbott was on hand for Tuesday's breakthrough, saying, “We look forward to working with the Orlando City SC ownership group to finalize an expansion agreement,” perhaps before the end of the season.
10) Did a golden CONCACAF Champions League opportunity just fall by the wayside?
At one point this week, it appeared that as many as four MLS teams would advance to the CCL quarterfinal round, and that some of them might even sit in high seeding placements. But ugly results in Kansas City, Panama and El Salvador left Houston eliminated and LA and Sporting Kansas City stuck alongside San Jose in the low end of the bracket, meaning that all three must face elite Mexican opposition in the opening phase of the CCL knockout stages in March. This trophy looks as elusive to MLSers as ever.
9) Can Chicago ruin the Shield party in New York?
The Chicago Fire need a win at Red Bull Arena on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas) to assure themselves of a playoff spot and complete their sensational, Mike Magee-inspired turnaround from a dreadful spring. Unfortunately for them, their hosts will be hyped up at the opportunity to seal their club's first-ever major trophy, as a Red Bulls win would deliver the Supporters' Shield to north Jersey.
8) And will Sporting KC put themselves in position to profit from a Red Bulls stumble?
If RBNY can't take all three points, Sporting will seize the Shield, provided they win at Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon (3 pm ET, NBCSN). They should be motivated, since doing so would also end the Union's slim playoff hopes and take revenge for Philly's upset win at Sporting Park on Sept. 27, without which KC might already have locked up the league's best record.
7) Who wants a piece of the Rapids?
On Thursday, MLSsoccer.com's Jonah Freedman contended that Colorado are the diciest dark horse of the stacked Western Conference playoff bracket, which is precisely the kind of praise Rapids coach Oscar Pareja will want to soft-pedal as his talented young side try to maximize their postseason positioning with a win at Vancouver (Sunday, 8 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Who has the last word in the Golden Boot race?
Marco Di Vaio, Mike Magee, Camilo Sanvezzo: It's a diverse murderer's row of marksmen who will close in on the prize of highest scorer in MLS this weekend. Each one offers a slightly different set of attributes to appreciate and fans across the continent will be hoping all three wrap up the regular season with a bang.
5) Will Jay Heaps navigate his young Revs past another signpost?
Young, creative and compelling, New England have been a breath of fresh air this year and regardless of whether they do what's required of them in their season finale at Columbus (4 pm ET, Free MLS Stream of the Week), they'll make for fascinating viewing for a while to come. But wouldn't it be fun to see how they reacted to the unique setting of the MLS Cup playoffs?
4) Are the Galaxy weak, or just gathering their strength?
A fortunate 0-0 home draw to their playoff-hunting California Clasico rivals and a 4-0 thrashing for their reserves in Thursday's CCL visit to Isidro Metapán: That hardly resembles an ideal run-in to the playoffs for LA, and now they must click a few thousand more miles on the odometer to face the Seattle Sounders in front of another bumper crowd on Sunday evening (9 pm ET, ESPN). Or will Bruce Arena have them ready when it truly counts?
3) Can Houston rediscover their nerve in time?
Though the score was closer, the Dynamo's gut-punch loss to Árabe Unido earlier in the same evening was nearly as unsightly as the Galaxy's. The Texans squandered some inviting chances to take the lead before letting slip in a 1-0 loss that rocks the Orange boat quite a bit before their win-or-else brunch date with D.C. United at RFK Stadium (Sunday, 1:30 pm ET, NBC).
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2) Are Toronto FC capable of kick-starting the 401 Derby on Saturday?
Though United, Columbus and Vancouver will also attempt to don the role in their respective matches, TFC would be the most gleeful about their chance to play spoiler as their Québécois counterparts hit BMO Field needing a positive result (4 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS LIVE & Univision Deportes in US). Some have described this natural rivalry as kindling awaiting a spark – do the Reds have the matches?
1) Can Seattle turn around an awful month in 90 minutes?
Say what you will about their drastic six-game winless slump, the Sounders are in, as coach Sigi Schmid reminded everyone this week. And like the Galaxy, perhaps they are capable of flipping the switch when it's utterly necessary. But with Eddie Johnson in the headlines for the wrong reasons and Clint Dempsey still shifting through the gears, most observers will insist on seeing at least some small sign of this when LA hit town in front of a national-TV audience.