Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching this weekend in MLS and beyond. And don't forget to get your Spanish-language fix with FutbolMLS.com's in-depth preview of the upcoming Copa Centroamericana.
1. NOW OR NEVER FOR DYNAMO: We’re used to seeing Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo face off in crucial matchups. Usually both teams are near the top of the Eastern Conference. This time it's different. SKC are comfortably on high while Houston are in the relatively unfamiliar position of 9th place. It's starting to feel like "now or never" for the Dynamo, and Friday night at Sporting Park (8 pm ET; NBCSN) is their chance to prove it's more "now" than "never." – BEN BAER
2. WILL JJ MAKE HIS MLS DEBUT AT BMO?: There's a big reason that the Toronto FC-New England Revolution game was voted the MLSsoccer.com Stream of the Week (it's also on SportsNet One for those of you in Canada) -- Jermaine Jones could make his Revs debut, against none other than US teammate Michael Bradley and another Jermain [Defoe]. How many minutes will Jones get? He clued us in on his fitness on ExtraTime Radio. – SIMON BORG
3. CROSSOVER APPEAL: Props to the Boston-area reporter who this week asked New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick if the Revolution’s acquisition of World Cup big-timer Jermaine Jones suddenly created a competition between owner Robert Kraft’s two franchises. Belichick rightly dismissed it immediately, but he also gave us a few laughs: “We’re just trying to go out there and win football games. I don’t know anything about soccer; I don’t even know what the rules are.” As my colleague said above, Jones could make his debut at Toronto FC on Saturday (5 pm ET; MLS Live). – NICK FIRCHAU
4. NEEDS BETTER TIMING: The Portland Timbers stumbled again to the Seattle Sounders last weekend, and the Vancouver Whitecaps could simultaneously pile on their misery and put themselves in pole position for a second straight Cascadia Cup (current CC standings) when they host the Timbers at BC Place on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). Will the Timbers get their playoff push back on track, or can Pedro Morales & Co. deliver a knockout blow? – NICHOLAS ROSANO
5. IT STILL BURNS: I'm gonna pour one out for the Brimstone Cup, which just isn't quite what it used to. But FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire will still play for it when they square off on Saturday (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). For the first decade of MLS, this was one of the best rivalries in the league, with fanbases that hated each other. The game is worth watching, of course -- Fabian Castillo vs. Harry Shipp is a nice 24 Under 24 preview, FCD are on a 10-game unbeaten streak -- but I miss the old, bad blood of better days. – MATT DOYLE
6. CENTURY CLUB PART II: With Edson Buddle’s place officially secured among the great MLS goalscorers of all time (believe it, his career has been wildly underrated), who will be the ninth man to enter into the league’s exclusive Century Club? It’s Chris Wondolowski. He’s sitting on 89 goals heading into San Jose’s matchup against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live), which means that he’ll most likely hit triple digits sometime next spring, possibly at the Quakes’ new stadium. Could he be the last player to do it? Kenny Cooper (75), Eddie Johnson (68) and Conor Casey (66) have plenty of work to do and numbers too inconsistent to guarantee they’ll make history. So still don’t believe Buddle is special? – NICK FIRCHAU
7. TWEET OF THE WEEK: Manchester United fans are having a rough August.
@cboehm "but they were rated so highly on my copy of FIFA 13"— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) August 26, 2014
8. SHORT TURNAROUND, LONG MEMORIES: For me, D.C. United-New York Red Bulls has a little more edge than all the other rivalries in MLS. It’s just how we are on the East Coast. And it’s even edgier when there’s more at stake. This weekend's DC-NY game (Sun., 2:30 pm ET, NBCSN) is a statement-in-waiting game. United can move past their midweek thrashing in LA and prove their Eastern Conference contender status. The Red Bulls just need to prove they’re playoff material. Let’s get ready to rumble! — GREG LALAS
9. WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?: For the LA Galaxy, it's just another game to help burnish their Supporters' Shield credentials, but for Chivas USA, Sunday's clash is being billed as "The Last SuperClasico" (Sunday, 8 pm ET, Univision Deportes). Ominous name notwithstanding, the game does seem like it precedes a turning point in LA soccer, and by extension, MLS history. Can the Goats exit their rivalry series with a win? The stats say no, but you never know with a derby match – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
10. FUTURE SHOCK: With all the buzz surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s call up of Stanford sophomore and Seattle Sounders academy starlet Jordan Morris for next week's friendly, maybe now’s the time to get back into college soccer. Morris and the No. 20-ranked Cardinal open their season at Creighton on Friday (8 pm ET/here’s a link to the live stream) and then he’ll bail for international duty. Here’s Stanford’s schedule, with a number of games this fall broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. Expect Morris to be back with the team by their Sept. 6 matchup against San Jose State. – NICK FIRCHAU
11. MORE OF THE KIDS: The oft-stated goal of MLS is to be among the top leagues in the world by 2022. If it's going to happen, it'll start at the youth levels -- talent identification, better training, and a path to the first team. Plenty of that (and a bit more) in the video below. – MATT DOYLE