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. C-NOTES: Edson Buddle hit his 100th MLS goal the other night. Damn impressive. Congrats. Now who’s next? The sure thing is San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski (88 G), who could add to his total when the Quakes travel to Philadelphia on Sunday (8 pm ET, UDN). After that, it’s Seattle’s Kenny Cooper (75), DC’s Eddie Johnson (68), Philly’s Conor Casey (66) and Chicago’s Mike Magee (64). Considering their ages and recent production levels, I figure Cooper and EJ make it. – GREG LALAS
2. TIME FOR BIG GUNS IN TORONTO: They were the Designated Player duo whose goals were supposed to blaze a path to the playoffs for the first time. But coaching decisions and primarily injuries have meant that Gilberto and Jermain Defoe have only started five games together of TFC's 22 thus far (only two goals scored in those games, both by Defoe). Now that Gilberto is off the schnide (five goals) and Defoe is back to full health, will coach Ryan Nelsen sit Luke Moore (five goals), who has started the last 13 matches? He should, starting Saturday against Chicago (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE). The Gilberto-Defoe partnership deserves more time. – SIMON BORG
3. FROM WORST TO FIRST?: It's the on-field story of the 2014 MLS season. After setting records for absolute ineptitude (outside the US Open Cup) last year, D.C. United are just two points out of first with a game in hand heading into Saturday's game at Sporting KC (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Can Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva tear up SKC like they did Colorado? Difficult task, but they'll get the opportunity to do so with Eddie Johnson still suspended after scoring in midweek CONCACAF Champions League action. And if they do, what does that mean for EJ? No matter what happens, Ben Olsen's lineup decisions are going to be roundly analyzed the rest of the season as United attempt to make history AND advance in the CCL. – ANDREW WIEBE
4. SUPERCLUB: Big test for LA's suddenly fragile defense – their midweek 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids might have fans overexcited for the team's potential run for another MLS title, but let's get this straight: defensively LA are a sieve. They've given up multiple goals in three straight games, and on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) face one of the league's most explosive attacks. When Pedro Morales, Sebastian Fernandez, Darren Mattocks & Co. are clicking, they rip teams up. LA need to forget title aspirations and get their focus back on fundamentals. – KRISTEL VALENCIA
5. MAKE 'EM ALL COUNT: Say what you will about the Montreal Impact's performances this season – and, admittedly, there's quite a bit to say – there's no denying that they've managed to win the games that count. The Impact pulled another Canadian Championship out of their hat earlier this year, and as of Wednesday night they are 2-0 in their CCL campaign. The last team standing in their way for the top spot in their group are Saturday opponents the New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE in the US, TSN2 & RDS in Canada). Based on the way both clubs have played this season, New York should win this game, and their CCL opener in a little less than a month. Expect a cagey match on Saturday though, because Montreal has proven repeatedly: outside MLS competition, they are a tough out. – NATE SULAT
6. YOUTH IN REVOLT: If the playoffs started right now, we’d see FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake meeting in one of the Conference Semifinals, and it’d easily be the most tantalizing matchup of the round. As it is, we’ll settle for a nationally-televised Friday night game (9 pm ET; NBCSN) between two of the hottest teams in MLS. Fabian Castillo and Joao Plata weaving their #24Under24 magic on the same field? Yes, please. -- NICHOLAS ROSANO
7. TWEET OF THE WEEK: Brad Evans gets super pumped-up for gameday...
8. CHILDHOOD'S END: I can see it now. It's Sunday, and you've had a long weekend full of the usual shenanigans. Then evening hits. You're tired. You're hungry. Philadelphia vs. San Jose is on your radar, but it's not a priority. OK, now watch Quakes Homegrown attacker Tommy Thompson take some circus touches in the box against Seattle. Here's him splitting a couple defenders. Now missing by a whisker. Oh, and peep the GIF below. The kid is 19 years old. You should be watching him every chance you get. – ANDREW WIEBE
9. OBSCURED BY CLOUDS: In the East, winning two of three games can move you from doormat to playoff contenders, and being one game below .500 might mean you are in fourth place. The Dynamo will invade Ohio on Saturday night (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) and look to collect their third shutout in four games after the acquisitions of DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido. Columbus are coming off their most convincing performance of the season, a 4-1 trouncing of the Galaxy, with All-Star turns from Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram. This six-pointer is one that could go a long way in deciding who’s in and who’s out in the East. – BEN BAER
10. SEATTLE ON EDGE: The Sounders might be in first place with 11 more points and a game in hand, but they need Sunday's Cascadia derby more than the Portland Timbers (5 pm ET, ESPN2). With one win in their last five – the lone win an unconvincing 2-0 result over Houston – the Sounders are swooning just as the games are getting bigger. And for a team that's historically shown mental cracks, the Sounders need a statement win. Another loss and they risk watching the air sucked out of another season full of promise. – SIMON BORG
11. #KickALS: The Ice Bucket Challenge is working. It's easy to be cynical about social media at times (just tweet the words "Pro/Rel" and watch your mentions explode), but how many of us knew what ALS was this time last month? – MATT DOYLE