Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching. Friendlies fill the airwaves, Wondo wins dad of the year, and we've got your back.
Don't stop there, either. FutbolMLS has your Spanish fix as well.
Our recommended musical pairing, per managing editor Jonah Freedman, is "Hold On, I'm Comin'" by Sam & Dave, because records are made to be broken...
1. WHY ALWAYS US? What a feel-good story. A former third-division loanee and a Chivas Guadalajara cast-off neck-and-neck for the Budweiser MLS Golden Boot and a shot at ultimate career redemption. That’s what makes Dom Dwyer and Erick “Cubo” Torres, both on 14 goals, must-see TV this weekend as Sporting KC visit Toronto (Saturday, 7 pm ET; MLS LIVE) and Chivas USA visit Colorado (Friday, 9:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). There’s just one problem: Bradley Wright-Phillips has 17 goals, is getting constantly set up by Thierry Henry and is on pace to equal the single-season scoring record. He and New York are on a bye this weekend, but as Super Mario might say... – JONAH FREEDMAN
2. TOR-SKC IS GOING TO BE "HUGE, HUGE": Sporting KC lost 4-1 to Manchester City. SKC star Matt Besler’s reaction said it all: "I doubt we'll look too much into it. Tomorrow, we'll have practice and leave for Toronto – which is a huge, huge match, probably our biggest of the season so far.” Friendlies are friendly. Real games are huge. Even if Jermain Defoe is suspended for this one (bummer). – GREG LALAS
3. THE VALUE OF THE FRIENDLY: OK, so this is the week MLS takes on the World (EPL?) in all the international friendlies. It's tough considering MLS is in the middle of the season. And the results from Wednesday night prove that. But we all know the results don't matter (see tweet below). That's why I – along with many others from what I can tell – would rather watch TOR-SKC on Saturday (see above) or SEA-LA on Monday (see below) than these exhibitions matches. – DIEGO PINZON
4. NEW HOTNESS: Few prospective players in the United States talent pool get supporters and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann salivating like Gedion Zelalem. The 17-year-old midfielder and Arsenal starlet was linked to a potential USMNT move this spring, and curious fans at Red Bull Arena could get a glimpse of what the kid can do on Saturday. Zelalem is among the 20 players available for Arsenal’s match against the Red Bulls (5 pm ET, ESPN2), and it’s likely that Arsene Wenger will empty his bench during a mostly meaningless preseason test. Stay tuned. – NICK FIRCHAU
5. VOTE FOR PEDRO: He was snubbed for the AT&T MLS All-Star Game, but that might make Vancouver Whitecaps playmaker Pedro Morales even more worth the price of admission than he already was. With all the speed and attacking flair on the field, the Vancouver-Dallas game on Saturday night (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE) might be one wild and crazy affair. – GREG LALAS
6. RISE & SHINE: I’d love to play in the same World Cup game with Jay DeMerit or even have him on my side in a bar fight on a winter night in Wisconsin. But ultimately I think I’d rather just hear him talk. And DeMerit loves to talk. Since his emergence in 2009 as an unlikely US national team defender and then as the captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps, there were few guys in American soccer who laid it bare like DeMerit. When he announced his retirement on Thursday via a candid letter to fans, it was no surprise that it was the best retirement speech I’ve seen in years: emotional, reflective, funny and frank. His playing career might be over, but I promise we haven’t heard the last from Jay DeMerit. – NICK FIRCHAU
8. HOUSTON BACK IN BUSINESS? Two expansion teams that have yet to play an MLS game are winning the transfer headlines (Lampard/NYCFC and Robinho/Orlando City), overshadowing the Houston Dynamo's big moves in a desperate attempt to save their season. One of those could make his debut this weekend, DaMarcus Beasley (vs. Aston Villa, Sat. at 9 pm ET on HoustonDynamo.com), but it's the unnamed "central midfielder" that could be announced as early as Friday who'll determine just how far the Dynamo can go. – SIMON BORG
9. BIG KISS: We get it, Dominic Oduro, you like Papa John’s pizza. Taking a selfie? Not bad, Dom Dwyer, you get points for creativity. But the best goal celebration lately? Chris Wondolowski running over to give his baby daughter a kiss in San Jose’s 5-1 win over Chicago. It might not have been audacious, but it was a tender moment that won over the hearts of, ahem, “soccer moms” everywhere. – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
X. MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: You don't have to sacrifice any precious weekend hours this week for primo MLS action (we all know you will anyway). That's because Seattle play host to LA on Monday night (10 pm ET, ESPN2), one of those rare scheduling treats that make the beginning of the work week actually seem like something special. Speaking of special, Deuce and Oba (see below) vs. Keano and LD. Not bad for a Monday. — ANDREW WIEBE
11. BECAUSE JAPAN: Always Japan. – MATT DOYLE