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-language fix as well.
1. THIS OLD THING? The rock fight at the red line in the Eastern Conference is about to turn into a knife fight. Philly would love to get a point at short-handed Sporting on Friday (8 pm ET; NBCSN, free stream on NBCSports.com), and since the Union will have close to a full squad, (not their new World Cup star keeper), there can be no excuses. SKC's postseason ticket is just about punched, but if things don't start coming together for Philly, they'll miss the playoffs. And that's not a good look. – MATT DOYLE
2. SOMETHING IN THE AIR: The Rocky Mountain Cup resumes Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and one of MLS’ best rivalries has seen some crazy stuff over the years. Fans taunting the opposition by throwing smoke bombs? Check. Players traded from one side to the other getting payback in a big way? Oh yeah. The captain of one team stuffing his jersey down his shorts, taunting the opposing team’s fans … and then getting into a heated screaming match with their owner? Well, of course! Michael Bay-style action movie acts of god dropping into a stadium just days before the big match? Now that’s a new one. – JONAH FREEDMAN
3. KIND OF BLUE: There were plenty of fireworks in Montreal this week with the Impact making big moves both in the front office and the transfer market, but the show at Stade Saputo on Saturday, when Toronto FC visit, could top them all (5 pm ET; TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US). Both sides enter the 401 Derby with bitter tastes in their mouths after a series of poor results. That, combined with a raucous atmosphere and the historical rivalry, and it's obviously a can’t-miss. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
4. BUT CAN HE PLAY CORNERBACK? Will Colin Kaepernick be in the house on Saturday when the San Jose Earthquakes play the first-ever sporting event at Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers? He wasn’t earlier this month when the Quakes played the last-ever sporting event at the Niners’ old home, Candlestick Park. Regardless, the biggest celebrity in the building when the Sounders come to town (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN, streamed live on NBCSports.com) might be Matias Perez Garcia. If the Quakes’ new DP playmaker can help jump-start San Jose’s lagging offense in front of 44,000, he’ll be an instant hit. And if the 5-foot-5 Argentine can also plug the holes in the Niners’ leaky secondary? They might re-name the building after him. – JONAH FREEDMAN
5. DON’T LOOK NOW, BUT COLUMBUS… At the start of the season, Gregg Berhalter's Crew looked set for big things. Then they didn’t. But heading into this Saturday's match in Chicago (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), they kind of do again. Two wins in a row, the emergence of winger Ethan Finlay, and now incoming calls from a “big national team player.” It’s suddenly very good to be a Crew fan – but this time, they have to make sure that this does not slip. – GREG LALAS
6. GROWN MAN: Love him or hate him, Eddie Johnson is one of the most fascinating players in Major League Soccer. EJ found himself back in the crosshairs of his critics this week when his former USMNT teammate Brian Ching openly questioned Johnson’s lack of motivation on a Houston Dynamo podcast, and EJ unsurprisingly fired right back. Anyone who knows EJ and has interviewed him knows he doesn’t take grief from anyone, even if you think he should keep his mouth shut. I’ve got no beef with either guy in this one – Ching’s criticisms have been thrown at EJ before, and Johnson certainly deserved to retort – and it gives Sunday’s matchup between Houston and D.C. United (8 pm ET, Univ. Dep.) a plotline it desperately needed. For the record – 20 bucks says EJ gets a goal. – NICK FIRCHAU
7. KNOW THYSELF: We love Amobi Okugo because he is a sports junkie, just like us.
Dan gargan has been a very good signing for la..... I watch too much soccer— Amobi Okugo (@amobisays) July 29, 2014
Meanwhile, back in LA...
8. QUESTION OF MOTIVATION: It's pretty clear that when the LA Galaxy decide to get up for a game — say like Monday night in Seattle against the MLS leaders in front of a large crowd and a national TV audience — they'll press, pass, move and dominate. Well, here might be a few reasons for Landon Donovan & Co. to turn it up Saturday vs. Portland: It's on NBC proper (2:30 pm ET, free stream on NBCSports.com, TSN2 in Canada), the Timbers are a direct playoff competitor and there's a new home field to break in: – SIMON BORG
9. YOU DA REAL MVP: Of course, Cubo Torres deserves to be Chivas USA’s MVP for his fantastic season. But their defense came on in impressive fashion during the recent four-game winning streak. The problem for the Goats last week in a blowout loss to Colorado? They were missing three-quarters of that first choice defense. If Carlos Bocanegra can make a return on Sunday against FC Dallas (10 pm ET, MLS Live), it could make all the difference for Chivas. – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
10. THE OLD TAP AND GRAB: Clint Dempsey had plausible deniability. Maybe he didn't mean to aim that well-directed tap at Mark Bloom earlier this year. More likely than not, Jamison Olave's not going to be able to convince anyone that he was unaware of what his hand was doing to RSL's Olmes Garcia on Wednesday night. Which means it's probable New York will be without their best defender in Saturday's six-pointer vs. New England (7 pm ET, Free Stream of the Week). Ouch, in more ways than one. — ANDREW WIEBE
11. COULD THEY DO IT ON A RAINY NIGHT IN STOKE? I mean, I guess. – MATT DOYLE