Starting XI: Columbus

Starting XI: Top 11 questions for Week 20 in MLS

The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend slate of matches:

11) Are any MLS coaches glancing over their shoulders after US Soccer’s dismissal of Bob Bradley?

Let’s just get this one out of the way first: The longtime national team boss has a proven track record in MLS dating back to the league’s inception. Plenty of clubs would be glad to have him. But Bradley seems eager to try his hand overseas — where he could blaze a trail for US coaches, who are rarely granted the respect that the nation’s players have earned.

10) Can the Union prolong their home perfection against the Rapids?

Another Friday night MLS match brings another fine matchup to kick off a busy soccer weekend. Colorado visit PPL Park for a clash with a Philadelphia side still unbeaten at home and flying high after strong performances against elite European sides Everton FC and Real Madrid. The Mile High Club, on the other hand, have buckled down after the season-ending injury to Conor Casey and won’t be easy targets.

9) How will Jámison Olave’s knee injury affect Real Salt Lake?

Goals were scarce for RSL in the aftermath of Javier Morales’ season-ending injury in May, but with 12 goals in their last four league matches, that issue appears to have been resolved. But Olave’s knee strain on All-Star duty — a nightmarish development for Real coach Jason Kreis — now places the onus on his defensive colleagues for the next few matches, starting with Columbus on Saturday.

8) Is the league ready to hail the Crew yet?

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In terms of roster as well as record, Columbus’ 2011 model doesn’t blow anyone away. A whopping seven teams have superior goal differentials, for example. But the standings don’t lie: The Crew are tied for the East lead and routinely look as tenacious as anyone in the league. This week, flinty head coach Robert Warzycha even contended that his squad should have more points than it does — it’s safe to say that his rebuilding process is running ahead of schedule.

7) How can Toronto FC possibly concentrate on the Timbers in the midst of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifier?

TFC’s weekend visit to Portland is awkwardly sandwiched amid their CCL home-and-home series with Nicaraguan side Real Estelí, so on Thursday, the Reds embarked on an astonishing two-game road trip that will span upwards of 7,000 miles in less than a week. Tuesday’s second-leg clash in the Central American boondocks (TFC lead 2-1 on aggregate) is of pivotal importance for Aron Winter and his men, and will surely influence the coach’s tactical and lineup decisions in the Rose City.

6) Will the Sounders break their duck in the Bayou City?

Television viewers in more southerly climates are often bewildered to see players wearing long-sleeve jerseys in midsummer matches in breezy Seattle. That’s just one illustration of the challenges that face the Rave Green on trips to steamy locales like Houston, and perhaps an explanation of why they’ve never won there. Regardless, after a 1-0 CCL loss to San Francisco FC in Panama last week, Sigi Schmid’s squad needs to regenerate some momentum ahead of Wednesday’s decisive second leg.

5) Can D.C. United find some California love?

The Golden State has not been all that golden for the Black-and-Red in recent years. United’s last league win in California came in September of 2006, a 2-1 win over Chivas USA. But DC have actually played better away from home this season, a fact that could play in their favor as they seek their first-ever win at San Jose’s Buck Shaw Stadium this weekend.

4) And are United just the opponent the Earthquakes need?

San Jose stunned DC with a 4-2 walloping at RFK Stadium on June 11 as Steven Lenhart notched a hat trick to run the Quakes' unbeaten streak to eight games in all competitions. But Frank Yallop’s side hasn’t won a league match since. Former Quake Dwayne De Rosario wasn’t yet in a United uniform back then, and San Jose had best be aware of the playmaker’s tendency to shine against his old teams.

3) Is the Revolution’s resurgence for real?

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Mired in a nine-game winless skid, New England were looking like a total basket case until last week’s four-point road swing through DC and Colorado, and suddenly Steve Nicol’s side has life and hope in the muddled Eastern Conference race. Saturday brings another test for the Revs: an inaugural trip to Livestrong Sporting Park, where Kansas City have yet to lose in league play.

2) How much havoc will a revitalized Landon Donovan wreak in the Northwest?

Hype aside, the Galaxy talisman’s decision to sit out LA’s World Football Challenge matches due to a calf knock was an eminently reasonable one. With that bit of rest, he could pose a nasty problem to defenses in Vancouver (Saturday) and Portland (Wednesday) on his team’s two-game Cascadia road trip. Just as well, too, in light of David Beckham’s one-game yellow-card suspension.

1) Will FC Dallas ride a Champions League high, or hit a hangover?

With precious few exceptions, there’s been a steep learning curve for every MLS team which takes on international competition, be it CONCACAF Champions League or its predecessor, the Champions' Cup. Managing the extra travel, roster depth and playing time can be exasperating. FCD have gotten off to a great start with Thursday’s 1-0 first-leg victory over Alianza FC in El Salvador, but Sunday’s tilt with Chivas USA has the look of a banana peel about it for Schellas Hyndman’s boys.

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