Starting XI, Week 22

Starting XI: Top 11 questions for Week 22 in MLS

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

11) Will Philly fans get a glimpse of their newest signing at PPL Park when the Union host FC Dallas?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s US national-team debut, a new MLS television contract with NBC — the past week featured some huge news stories around US soccer, but onetime teen prodigy Freddy Adu’s signing for Philadelphia might just be the biggest of the lot.

The 22-year-old playmaker has completed his transfer paperwork in time for Saturday’s match, but it’s unclear whether coach Peter Nowak will give the home faithful what they — and Adu himself — want by putting him on the field after just one training session with his new team.

10) Or will Brek Shea grab the spotlight away from Adu?

FCD-Union looks like a humdinger regardless of whether or not the former D.C. United and Real Salt Lake star makes his Philly debut. The visitors are eager to rebound from that trying loss to LA last week and winger Shea will be bursting with confidence after his impressive work for the US against Mexico on Wednesday. Meanwhile, snake-bit striker Sébastien Le Toux and the Union, winless in their last three, need a home win to keep pace in the East.

9) Is this the weekend that New York get their act together?

The listless Red Bulls are quite fortunate to be in third place in their conference, given that they’ve won just one league match in the past two months. Injuries continue to bite, the most notable absence being Luke Rodgers up top. And with DP goalkeeper Frank Rost having endured a rough entry to MLS, the back line still looks quite susceptible. Possessing speed and trickery up front, Chicago may fancy their chances at Red Bull Arena.

8) Is the Real Salt Lake juggernaut cranking back up to speed?

Even if New York didn’t exactly offer much resistance at Rio Tinto Stadium last week, RSL’s emphatic 3-0 win nonetheless eased many of Real boss Jason Kreis’ recent concerns, and he’ll see no reason to break stride in Toronto this time around. The Reds looked resourceful against United at RFK Stadium, but probably still lack the steel to spring a surprise on RSL at BMO Field.

7) Who will win the RFK chess match between former colleagues Tom Soehn and Chad Ashton?

Two caretaker coaches and former coworkers lead Vancouver and D.C. United into their clash on Saturday. Director of soccer operations Tom Soehn continues to mind the Whitecaps bench before he heads back upstairs at the end of the season to make way for newly announced head coach Martin Rennie, and this weekend he returns to D.C. to face his former team — and former assistant Ashton, who is in charge thanks to Ben Olsen’s ejection from United’s wild 3-3 draw against Toronto. It should be an emotional moment and an intriguing challenge for both men.

6) Can United end their home futility against the road-shy Whitecaps?

Sitting in sixth place in the East, the Black-and-Red remain right in the mix for a playoff spot, but they must be wondering where they’d be if not for a home winless streak dating back to May 4. Vancouver are 0-8-4 away from Empire Field, making Saturday’s contest a must-win for United.

5) Will Robbie Rogers seize the initiative for Columbus like he did for the US?

Rogers was one of the highlights of the Yanks’ 1-1 comeback draw against Mexico and now his club team needs him to step up in similar fashion, with hobbled teammate Eddie Gaven one of several expected to miss out on this week’s showdown with New England. For all their 2011 struggles, the Revs won’t be pushovers in Columbus, and Rogers’ incisiveness in wide areas could be a key to creating chances for the Crew.

4) Just where are Chivas USA headed?

Robin Fraser has done an admirable job in his first year at the helm of the Rojiblancos, but it remains difficult to pin down the midtable club’s near-term direction. Despite some promising reinforcements of late, reports that Chivas passed on a chance to sign Adu — if accurate — will not thrill fans, and further resources may be needed if the Goats are to nab one of the competitive Western Conference’s postseason berths.

3) Who will find the net for the Earthquakes?

San Jose coach Frank Yallop must be tearing his hair out at the moment. One striker is gone due to personal reasons (Steven Lenhart), another is struggling with hamstring troubles (Simon Dawkins) — and he and the club just discovered that Alan Gordon, the target man recently acquired from Toronto, has been carrying an abdominal injury for months, requiring surgery and a month or so on the sidelines. The Quakes midfield will have to pick up the scoring slack against Colorado this weekend.

2) Are the Rapids rested and ready for the next few weeks?

Colorado travel to San Jose this weekend, then kick off their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, a competition likely to test the Rapids’ fitness, focus and desire. Several of Gary Smith’s squad have just returned from international duty and must recover quickly, as Wednesday’s visit by Isidro Metapán is quickly followed by a league clash with Chivas USA and a long trip to Honduras to face Real España on Aug. 23.

1) Can Portland outmuscle the Dynamo in Houston?

Another interesting reunion takes place at Robertson Stadium on Sunday as former Dynamo assistant John Spencer and his Timbers — featuring several Houston exes — hit the Bayou City to face the team whose brawny, direct style seems to have inspired his approach in Portland. Both teams also share a woeful away record, so the burden is on the Timbers to knuckle down defensively and carve out a result.