Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching.
I. GOLDEN CHILD: When my bearded cohorts Jason Saghini and Greg Lalas took a look at the Golden Boot race earlier this week, I was stunned to watch more than four minutes of chatter and not hear the name Jermain Defoe even once. (Lalas: "Um, go to 2:56 of the video, Nick." Firchau: "Too distracted by your beards, I guess.") The TFC striker and his sore hammy should be back in business this Saturday against New England (1 pm ET; Univision Deportes and MLS Live in the US, TSN in Canada), and if he’s as healthy as he says he is, it should be fun to watch him bang heads with the Revs’ ruthless backline. – NICK FIRCHAU
II: THE BREAKTHROUGH: The Revs finally gleaned a goal from Teal Bunbury last weekend, which happened to sink his former Sporting Kansas City team in stoppage time. But, Teal's first MLS goal of the season came while playing an unexpected role ... as an outside midfielder. Similar to how the Revs deployed Juan Agudelo at the end of last season, Jay Heaps pulled his primary attacker to the wing. Will that continue with Saer Sene reportedly back in the fold this week against Toronto FC? – DEVIN PLEULER
As expected, Saer Sene is back in training today after being excused for personal reasons last week. #NERevs— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) April 29, 2014
III. MIX AND MATCH: Can the Vancouver Whitecaps commemorate their 40th anniversary with a bang? Head coach Carl Robinson has plenty of attacking weapons at his disposal but comes up against a San Jose side on Saturday (7 pm ET; MLS Live in the US, TSN2 in Canada) that has kept back-to-back clean sheets and has been increasingly dangerous going forward thanks to Portuguese winger Yannick Djaló, who netted his first goal in an Earthquakes jersey to seal their first win of 2014 last Saturday. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
IV. #Landon135 FOREVER: Hey, Landon: Why haven't you scored that one eensy-weensy little goal you need for the all-time record? Seriously, you haven't scored a goal in any official game since October. That's seven months, LD. I know the Galaxy are doing OK, and you've got that little tournament in Brazil you may be pacing yourself for. But come on, man. Get it over with and then it's a fresh slate for Brazil. Saturday at Colorado (9 pm ET; MLS Live) might be a good time. That is, unless your old teammate Edson Buddle steals your thunder and scores his 100th goal. U mad, bro? – JONAH FREEDMAN
V. ENEMY SHIPS IN SECTOR 47: I get it. The Sounders are awesome, Ozzie Alonso is in the best form in years, and Dempsey-Martins is the greatest duo since Hall & Oates. For some reason, though, this Saturday (10 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week) I can't go for that. This one screams "trap game" to me. It's not that the Union thrill me, but they're increasingly desperate. I fully expect Mo Edu to walk the walk he's talking about being in attack mode. And how about this: Is it time for Andre Blake in goal? – GREG LALAS
VI. SOLIDIFY AND CONQUER: Against Vancouver, Real Salt Lake gave up a solid lead for the fourth game this year – they could have 22 points coming into Week 9, instead of 14. Chicago are a wounded soul right now, and RSL have a good opportunity to conquer (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET; MLS Live) but they must be solid in the back, and not expect Chicago to light up a spark that produces Fire. – DIEGO PINZÓN
VII. BE AWARE OF FABI: Forget about Eddie Johnson – Fabián Espíndola is the MAN pulling the strings for D.C. United and carrying the attack. Four goals in seven games and still overshadowed by your DP? Can’t ask more from him. Espíndola’s speed will kill the fragile Portland defense – allowed 13 goals in nine games, no shutouts in 12. I expect one goal from him, and if D.C. do their thing, they will be more than satisfied by picking a point at Providence Park on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live). – KRISTEL VALENCIA
VIII. MERCURY RISING: Think your city had a spring fling with some warm temps this week? Check out the weather report for midday Sunday in Frisco, time and site of FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls. Expect temps around 90 degrees for kickoff, likely meaning a sluggish second half before the players are mercifully allowed to hit the ice bath. – NICK FIRCHAU
IX. PUSH WAY UP: At this time last week, I was convinced Sporting KC were about to run off a string of dominant victories. At this time last month, I was convinced that the Columbus Crew were going to be the best team in the Eastern Conference. Today, I am convinced that all life is futile and the only certainty is entropy. Thanks, MLS parity (4 pm ET; NBCSN) – MATT DOYLE
X. BEASTS GOING EAST: Chivas USA have taken points off of both of their Eastern Conference opponents this season. Can they keep that streak alive on Saturday, when they host the Houston Dynamo (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live)? Chivas look better than last season, but let’s be honest, that’s not saying a great deal. Now that they’re on a seven-game winless streak, patience is starting to wear thin. Can the Goats grab that elusive second win of 2014? – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
XI. THE PARTING SHOT: Plenty has been made of the fact that we're on a record pace for penalty kicks and red cards awarded by referees in 2014 (and as someone who reviews their work from week to week, they have arguably been kind to teams after eight weekends). But when the topic is raised, it's often spun as if it were a negative for the league or the matches.
Don't buy the rhetoric. Sure, red cards and penalties change games, but so do offside calls, free kicks and advantage rulings -- all decisions also made by referees. The officials are part of the game. So are red cards and PKs. Get over it. All that matters is the quality of decisions made by officials, not the quantity. – SIMON BORG
FANTASY TIPS FOR WEEK 9: This week's deadline is Saturday at 12:45 pm ET. And if you're still trying to figure out which players to add to your squad, you may want to check out this list of the top fantasy performers thus far this season. If you were expecting the names Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Eddie Johnson, you have another thing coming.