Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for -- and what we're watching.
I. POPPIN' A WHEELER: Aaron Wheeler started once in 2013. He played 129 whopping minutes. He scored once. He was, back then, a burly target forward.
These days, Wheeler is the starting center back (for now, at least) of a Philadelphia Union squad with real playoff dreams. If head coach John Hackworth is to be believed, Wheeler’s not going anywhere despite needing a little prodding last week against Houston. The message? Be aggressive. He’ll be champing at the bit against a Montreal side still in search of their first win on Saturday (4 pm ET; MLS Live).
But is Wheeler really the answer in Philly? Can former Rookie of the Year Austin Berry get back in the XI? This promises to be a week-by-week process. And if it doesn't work out for Wheelz? Well, as the video below shows, he's always got a career in music. -- ANDREW WIEBE
II: JACKMAC IN SCORING MOOD: You know how Mike Magee and Robbie Rogers are now inextricably linked because of their trade last year? Well, the same applies for Jack McInerney and Andrew Wenger since they swapped teams earlier this season. While he's out in Montreal, where limited tickets remain for the Stade Saputo opener, Wenger is going to pick up some clothes he left over. McInerney, in the meantime, has other things on his mind. -- SIMON BORG
McInerney says there's no ill will on his side. But: "For me, if I scored three goals and we won 3-0, that would be the ideal scenario."— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) April 24, 2014
III. SPEECHLESS IN SEATTLE: One of the best ways to spend 15 minutes on any given Sunday is to read up on the trench warfare inside the comments section after a Seattle Sounders game. Every regular to MLSsoccer.com knows that. Lately it’s been pretty civil – three-game unbeaten streaks are a nice rallying point – but all that can change if the hardy Colorado Rapids bust up the party at CenturyLink on Saturday (4 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week, Univision Deportes). But given the teams’ history – Pablo Mastroeni’s men have just two wins in 12 regular season games vs. Seattle – odds are good for another love session below the fold on Sunday morning. -- NICK FIRCHAU
IV. TRAP GAME FOR FCD? Is FC Dallas's league-best start a sign that they'll be a force to be reckoned with all season? Or a hot start that will eventually dissolve into whatever that was in the second half of 2013? I'm not sure yet. They can pick you apart through the magic feet of Mauro Díaz, and they can absolutely murder you on set pieces almost at will. This match vs. D.C. United on Saturday (4 pm ET; MLS Live) is going to be incredibly telling because it's got "trap game" written all over it. It's only the third time Dallas have hit the road this season, and D.C.'s remade backline is improving – one goal conceded in their past three games. Can they stop the league's most prolific offense, when Díaz is capable of doing stuff like this? -- JONAH FREEDMAN
V. GOONIES GO FOR IT: Let’s be honest: This year’s San Jose Earthquakes don’t belong in last place. For one thing, they’ve played fewer games than all but one other club. For another, they’ve got talent. But they still haven’t won yet. If it’s going to start clicking, this weekend’s home match against Chivas USA seems primed (Sat., 10:30 pm ET, MLS Live). The Goats are on a six-game winless streak, and, despite having Cubo Torres atop the Golden Boot rankings, need to be more clinical in their finishing. But the Quakes will be without Steven Lenhart, Adam Jahn, and maybe Alan Gordon, but they'll still have Wondo, and perhaps MLS debutant Billy Schuler. Goonies never say die, right? They even stamp it on their arms. -- GREG LALAS
VI. WHAT A TEAL: Same as the old boss? Teal Bunbury has played every minute of the New England Revolution season so far. All 630 of them. However, the wayward striker hasn't yet bagged a goal. The question remains, will he be more of a 2013 Juan Agudelo (seven goals in 1,021 minutes)? Or more of a 2013 Jerry Bengtson (one goal in 1,055 minutes). Have the Revs been fooled again? And oh yeah, they're going against Sporting KC (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET; MLS Live), owner of the league's best defense. This should be no problem. -- DEVIN PLEULER
VII. BENCHMARK MATCH AT THE RioT: Are RSL ahead of the chasing pack in the West? On one hand, they are the only remaining unbeaten and have gotten results against LA, Portland and Sporting KC. On the other, four of their seven results this year have been draws, and they have relied upon the heroics of goalkeeper Nick Rimando and his backup, Jeff Attinella. On Saturday (9:30 pm ET; MLS Live, TSN in Canada), they welcome a Vancouver Whitecaps side – four points and two places behind in the standings – that seems to flit weekly between offensive brilliance and pedestrian performances. If it’s the former, we’re in for a real treat at Rio Tinto. A win for either side could set a benchmark for the rest of their season. -- NICHOLAS ROSANO
Worryingly, both goals for LA were entirely preventable. Poor defensive play in general, but Robinson has some decisions to make re: CBs.— Jason deVos (@jasondevos) April 20, 2014
VIII. TITI TWICE IN A WEEK? That was one of the best games Thierry Henry has played in his MLS career. But he's no spring chicken – he's almost as old as me! – and two games in a week (New York play at Columbus on Saturday, 7:30 pm ET on MLS Live) is going to take its toll. Guarantee you he doesn't play like that twice in a row. Right? -- MATT DOYLE
IX. SHIPPING UP: Any week we don't get to watch Harrison Shipp is a bad week. He's running away with the MLS Rookie of the Year award, but the Fire are on a bye, so all we have are highlights. Have some through-ball action, and then remind yourself of the conventional wisdom that says the US doesn't produce skillful attacking talent. -- MATT DOYLE
X. FROM MUST-SEE TO FLOP?: Prior to the season, the Houston Dynamo-Portland Timbers game this Sunday (3 pm ET; UniMas) looked to be a barnburner. Now? Not so much. Portland are winless through their first seven matches, and the Dynamo are 0-4-1 in their last five. Here’s hoping one of them will get a win. Will it be Houston? If yes, the awful midweek loss to the Red Bulls can be wiped away instantly. What about the Timbers on the road? If they can notch that first victory for 2014, the rising tide of panic can subside, or at least remain level for the moment. -- ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
Amazed ..Timbs have scored greater than 1 goal in just 1 in 7 gms this season--that's worse than 1st 7 games of 2012. #Boyd— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) April 20, 2014
XI. THE PARTING SHOT:
The transfer market is closed for Round 8, so you're stuck with what you've got this weekend. Be sure to check your lineup before the games begin on Saturday at 4 pm ET, but don't be afraid to make transfers for Round 9 now. Perhaps you'll be able to sell before prices drop and buy before they rise.