Starting XI - Olympic Stadium
Courtesy of Montreal Impact

Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into Week 2

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

11) Are the Whitecaps ready for their close-up?

At least Portland dug up two road wins last year – their expansion brethren from Vancouver couldn’t manage a single three-pointer in 17 matches outside of British Columbia. All the same, Martin Rennie has brought a whole new vibe to the ‘Caps camp in 2012, and now an eminently winnable clash with Chivas USA at the HDC gives him and his team a chance to further prove their rehabilitation.

10) Is the Timbers back line ready for Blas?

Portland looked dandy in the second half of Monday’s win over Philly at JELD-WEN Field. Yet it was poor road showings that were their undoing last season, so Saturday’s tangle at FC Dallas may be instructive for coach John Spencer. The Red Stripes’ tricky Panamanian target man Blas Pérez seems to have given his new team’s attack a useful focal point, and figures to ask questions of Timbers centerbacks Eric Brunner and Andrew-Jean Baptiste even in the absence of Dallas attacking catalysts Brek Shea, David Ferreira and perhaps Ricardo Villar and Fabián Castillo as well.

9) Will the Earthquakes and Dynamo light up the first-ever MLS match at AT&T Park?

San Francisco welcomes a double dose of Earthquakes this weekend, as the current San Jose side travels north to host their former incarnation, the Houston Dynamo, at the home of baseball’s Giants. A big crowd is expected for this one, an emotional match for both teams which is the first half of a doubleheader capped by a pre-Olympic international exhibition between Senegal and Mexico.

8) Are D.C. United catching the LA Galaxy at the best possible moment with Sunday’s visit to the Home Depot Center, or the worst?

United tend to struggle in this fixture – they haven’t beaten LA at the HDC since 2005 – and while many Black-and-Red fans took heart from watching the Galaxy work so hard against TFC on Wednesday, they may also worry that CCL disappointment will galvanize manager Bruce Arena and his men. Keep an eye on captain Landon Donovan, who will likely be itching to test D.C. left back Daniel Woolard.

7) How will MLS teams make do without Olympic hopefuls off at US Under-23 camp?

MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager continues this week, and it’s critical that you remember which players have been called away on Olympic qualifying duty, including starting goalkeepers in D.C. and Chicago. If you need an effective, inexpensive netminder, why not consider starting Vancouver’s Joe Cannon? He racked up some points last week and should be fired up to play well in his former hometown.

6) Can Peter Nowak and the Union get it right in front of their home crowd?

Visiting Portland for a primetime season opener is shaping up as one of the toughest dates in MLS, so maybe Philadelphia deserve to get a little less stick than they’ve received in the wake of Monday night’s loss. Some Union fans are still fuming about their team’s offseason moves, however, contributing to a nervy air of expectancy around this weekend’s home kickoff against the slick-looking Rapids at PPL Park.

5) Can the Fire flip the script at their fourth grand opening in the last two years?

Credit to Brian Straus of the Sporting News for taking note of the fact that Chicago, whom he calls “MLS’ homecoming opponent,” have been the visiting team for new stadium unveilings in KC, Portland, New York and now Montreal. They’ve gone 0-2-1 in those settings thus far, but after last week’s bye, the Men in Red are surely eager to break that skid and pick up where they left off at the promising close to 2011.

4) Can Seattle and LA pick themselves up off the mat?

MLS teams have a long history of disappointment in Mexico, but the second-half shellacking that Santos Laguna laid on the Sounders in Wednesday’s decisive 6-1 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal still stung the Rave Green badly. In Los Angeles, the favored Galaxy were similarly stricken by Toronto FC’s 2-1 CCL upset win. Now both Western powers must quickly turn their focus toward weekend visits from Eastern upstarts.

3) And will tired Toronto FC keep the magic going?

Nothing eases fatigue like a big victory, and most Reds fans would agree that Wednesday’s triumph was the biggest in their club’s history. That may only take TFC so far in Seattle this weekend, however. Now Aron Winter’s side must fight off the same sort of weariness they exploited in LA.

2) Will the Red Bulls answer TH14’s call to arms in Utah?

Rio Tinto Stadium promises to be rocking for Real Salt Lake’s home opener on Saturday, an environment that should test a New York side which was already under a microscope even before last week’s underwhelming loss in Dallas. “We got to stick to the plan,” urged Henry this week, making his frustration clear in an implicit challenge to his teammates. More enterprise from the RBNY midfield would allow the Frenchman to get into the attacking positions where he does the most damage.

1) Will the Impact break their city’s all-time attendance record?

The feverish anticipation surrounding Montreal’s debut on the MLS stage has startled even their most experienced players. Thousands attended the Impact’s “open house” at Olympic Stadium on Thursday and ticket sales for Saturday’s curtain-raiser against Chicago have run well more than 50,000, prompting the club to add extra seats at the quirky old dome in the hope of breaking the crowd of 58,542 that watched a Montreal Manic vs. Chicago Sting NASL playoff game there back in 1981.