Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching.
Our recommended musical pairing this week, as per managing editor Jonah Freedman, is Radiohead's "Karma Police" – because some guys have given all they can, but it's apparently not enough.
- Click HERE for the Week 12 TV schedule
- Click HERE for the current MLS standings
- Click HERE for the week's news from FutbolMLS
I. THE SNUB OF ALL SNUBS: Speaking of that Radiohead lyric, you heard about that whole Landon Donovan thing, yeah? It was a weird scene at US national team camp on Thursday: Omar Gonzalez was telling reporters how he and Donovan were together at a sushi restaurant on Wednesday night, watching on an iPad as the Galaxy beat FC Dallas. Now LD is headed back south to join his club. And if I’m the Philadelphia Union, I’d be preparing for a Landon who’s ready to take out all his aggression at once – scoring the record goal No. 135, and then perhaps two, three, four (?) more. Sunday’s showdown at StubHub (8 pm ET, UDN) will be the biggest “you’re gonna regret this” moment MLS has ever seen. – JONAH FREEDMAN
II: SALT LAKE STROLL: While plenty of people insisted Real Salt Lake really wouldn’t change that much after the offseason departure of Jason Kreis, few could have guessed the transition would go this smoothly. With a win or a draw at home on Saturday (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) against FC Dallas, RSL will tie the league record for the longest unbeaten start in league history. It’s a mark that goes back to the 1996 LA Galaxy, who started the year 12-0, or 10-0-2 by today’s standards (we're discounting shootout nonsense). The safe bet says RSL equal the mark this weekend before trying to break the mark in a titanic showdown May 31 in Seattle. Gulp. – NICK FIRCHAU
III. FRIDAY FRIGHT NIGHT: Even if you're not a Sporting KC or Toronto FC fan, their Friday night matchup (8:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week) is must-see TV. Where else will you see a manager (SKC's Peter Vermes) try to pull a backline out of a hat? Vermes has zero center backs. None. Guys are going to be playing out of position which could either result in a train wreck or a shocking surprise. Either way, it's entertainment. – SIMON BORG
If @SportingKC needs some help on the backline, I'm available!— Ryan (@ryanpeteKSU) May 18, 2014
IV. IT'S PRONOUNCED EH-SPIN-DOH-LA: By now, you'd think everyone knew how to pronounce Fabian Espindola's name. It's not eh-spin-DOH-la; it's eh-SPIN-doh-la. Got it? Good. Now watch him do his thing in Saturday night against the New England Revolution (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Wait! United are playing the Revs? In that case, scratch all that Espindola stuff. See below. It's pronounced "win." – GREG LALAS
V. PARADISE FOUND: Brad Evans had the line of the night after his omission from the US World Cup roster. The lost chance to take on Cristiano Ronaldo has probably earned him an opportunity to go 1-v-1 against Kekuta Manneh of the Whitecaps on Saturday (7 pm ET: MLS LIVE in the US, TSN2/RDS2 in Canada), who basically turned into the Portuguese superstar for about 90 minutes last time he saw Rave Green.
So who actually dodged the bullet in this scenario? – MATT DOYLE
You got off easy this time @Cristiano— Brad Evans (@brad_evans3) May 23, 2014
VI. DON’T SLEEP ON THIS ONE: Crew-Fire may be one of the overlooked games of the weekend, especially with East leaders D.C. United and New England doing battle in the same time slot, but skip it at your own peril (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE)
Not good news for the stylish, but win-challenged Crew, who haven’t picked up three points since opening 2014 on a 3-0-0 run. But the Crew have talent, if Federico Higuain can do even half of what he did in Portland last week, this will make for a heck of a matchup. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
VII. THAT'S GONNA LEAVE A MARK: Some matches reek of a tactical battle before the ball’s even kicked. Then you’ve got just about any meeting between the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers. If you like goals – if not, go ahead and keep it to yourself – you should probably clear your schedule Saturday night (7 pm ET: MLS LIVE). These clubs have met four times; they’ve scored 19 goals over those 360 minutes. There are going to be fireworks at Red Bull Arena, World Cup absences be damned. Of course, fireworks can backfire, too. Either way, you won’t be able to look away. – ANDREW WIEBE
VIII. SCOOT OVER, WILL YA? Okay, so I figure after hitting up USMNT camp on Sunday, I’ll cruise down 101 to grab my usual spot in the Buck Shaw press box to catch San Jose vs. Houston (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Except every friggin’ visiting member of the national media had the same idea. And so I’ll get to share my view of watching two shorthanded teams in desperate need of a win slug it out. This one could be a battle of last man standing. And I’m talking about in the press box. – JONAH FREEDMAN
IX. JACK MAC + MARCO = GOALS?: We all wondered whether these two poachers could coexist. Now, with Marco Di Vaio ready to re-enter the lineup and Jack McInerney on a hot streak, we may well get the answer. It seems the Italian may be a year from passing the goalscoring torch in Quebec, but maybe they can double up against the Rapids on Saturday (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE). – ANDREW WIEBE
X. THEM FEELS: Watch New England vs. D.C. United on Saturday (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) mostly because it pits the top two teams in the East, and because of all the young talent on display for both sides.
But spare a thought for Eddie Johnson, who posted the following tribute to his long-time USMNT teammate a week after going through the emotional wringer himself. – MATT DOYLE
XI. DESTINY, THY NAME IS CRISTIANO: So, there's a certain well-coiffed Portuguese winger who is going to try to terrify USMNT fans even further on Saturday when he leads Real Madrid out of the tunnel at Estadio da Luz with a chance to win his club a record 10th European Cup (2:45 pm ET, Fox). And although newly crowned Spanish champions Atlético Madrid have been an inspirational story just to reach the Champions League final, Cristiano Ronaldo seems like a man possessed. Pay special attention to how to makes Atléti right back Juanfran look ridiculous. Because he’ll probably do that — and worse — to Timmy Chandler in Manaus on June 22. – JONAH FREEDMAN
FANTASY TIP FOR WEEK 12: Bet on the Revs. What's that? You didn't pick up Lee Nguyen or Diego Fagundez, even with D.C. playing on turf this weekend after a midweek slog vs. the Dynamo and New England dropping back-to-back five-goal performances? You can only blame yourself if it happens a third week in a row.