9) And are the Fire prepared to take advantage of their visitors’ travails?
8) Can the California Clásico live up to its hype without Landon Donovan?
SoCal vs. NoCal has always been a tasty culture clash, but this rivalry didn’t really catch fire until Donovan crossed the divide in 2005, an unthinkable transgression for Quakes fans. Lando will be gearing up for the USA-Mexico blockbuster down at the Rose Bowl while his club takes its 5-2-3 road record into cozy Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday, where the bile may be flowing even in his absence.
7) Who is going to pick up the scoring slack in Philly?
The Union’s 6-2 thumping of Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 28 seemed to herald an attacking breakout for Peter Nowak’s side, but they’ve scored just twice in their four matches since. Carlos Ruiz remains a streaky, unpredictable hitman and Sébastien Le Toux is stuck on one goal after scoring 14 a year ago. Maybe well-traveled Macedonian newcomer Veljko Paunovic is the answer.
6) Can Portland take the heat?
The Timbers and their noisy fans have made JELD-WEN Field into something of a fortress. But on Saturday Portland must visit FC Dallas and come to terms with a more primordial homefield advantage: the relentless, searing Texas sun, even at evening matches. Forecasted temperature for kickoff time at Pizza Hut Park is 93 degrees — that’s almost 10 degrees above Portland’s high for the entire month of June. Timbers striker and Dallas native Kenny Cooper will need to lead by example.
5) Can Sporting KC maintain momentum despite Ryan Smith’s sudden departure?
“We’re learning how to lock it down,” said Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes after a 0-0 draw in Philadelphia that showed his team at its least ambitious. Sure, fatigue is a real concern — Saturday’s home match against Vancouver is SKC’s fifth game in 16 days — but so is offensive impotence. Aside from that four-goal explosion in Dallas on June 12, Sporting have scored just one goal since Memorial Day, and Ryan Smith, one of their most dynamic forwards, just returned to England for the rest of the season.
4) When are D.C. United going to make their move?
Compared to their agonizing 2010, Ben Olsen’s D.C. United side has made major strides in just about every department this season. Yet even as he and the United front office have emphasized the long-term nature of their rebuilding project, qualifying for the playoffs was a stated goal — and a 2-2-3 home record probably isn’t good enough for that. The Dynamo visit RFK this weekend; next week it’s the Union. Victories against these conference rivals would be a massive boost for D.C.’s hopes.
3) Which of the “Frustrated Five” can end their road futility this weekend?
Five MLS teams have yet to win a league match away from home: New England, Vancouver, Portland, Toronto and (perhaps most surprisingly) Houston. All five are on the road this week, and in some fairly daunting situations. Suffice to say that this is one category no one wants to be a part of.
2) Is Tom Soehn turning the Whitecaps into must-see TV?
When Vancouver yanked the plug on coach Teitur Thordarson and replaced him with director of soccer operations Tom Soehn at the end of last month, it prompted mixed reactions from fans of Soehn’s last club, D.C. United, who experienced a roller coaster of highs and lows during his tenure. But if Soehn’s influence leads to more of the silky team soccer the Whitecaps showed on Alain Rochat’s gorgeous, match-winning goal against Philly last week, they’ll turn into a neutral’s favorite very quickly.
1) Can Colorado find victory in Ohio before visiting Obama?
The Rapids are road warriors, holding a better record away from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park than inside it, but this weekend’s travel still poses a challenge. Gary Smith and company visit the Crew — who’ve only lost one home game this year — on Sunday night before hightailing to Washington for a Monday date at the White House to receive congratulations from President Obama for their 2010 MLS Cup heroics. Scheduling compromises are inevitable when trying to mesh calendars with the Commander-in-Chief, but this itinerary leaves little margin for error.