The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Who’s ready for a hot homecoming at PPL Park?
Three former Union players are part of the Whitecaps delegation that will visit Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, but the name on everyone’s lips – except for Union coach Peter Nowak’s, perhaps – is Sébastien Le Toux, the goal-scoring hero who left Philly under acrimonious circumstances over the winter. Nowak’s 0-3 squad is already under pressure and a loss to Le Toux’s new team may bring out the City of Brotherly Love’s infamous boo birds.
10) How will the US U-23s bounce back from their Olympic heartbreak?
The reverberations from Monday’s stunning, tournament-ending 3-3 draw with El Salvador are still echoing around US Soccer and may yet for some time. Many of the 14 MLSers from that squad will try to rinse the disappointment with a rapid return to club play, and while some will be fresher than others physically, all must prove that they can overcome their psychological wounds.
9) Can D.C. United shut down Ricardo Villar and ailing FC Dallas at RFK?
The schedule has thrown up another fun-looking Friday throwdown tonight, as the league’s oldest venue hosts two MLS originals with plenty of weapons between them. Fabián Castillo is out, and while Brek Shea and the crafty Villar look to be available to FCD boss Schellas Hyndman, both are a bit dinged up, giving the D.C. backline and stand-in goalkeeper Joe Willis every reason to believe they can pitch a second straight shutout.
8) Are New York serious about making Red Bull Arena a fortress?
Hans Backe and his team finally got the monkey off their backs with that 4-1 romp over Colorado last Sunday (their first win of the season) and spoke at length about the importance of being “unbeatable” inside RBA’s confines. So center back Wilman Conde and his backline mates will surely expect to stifle a Montreal attack which, like the Impact as a unit, is still finding its feet.
7) Can Toronto train their full focus on Columbus?
Lions in CONCACAF Champions League, lambs in MLS: Who can explain the split personality of a TFC bunch which has been trading blows with the best clubs in the region while looking off-color in their own league? Though the Reds should enjoy their CCL run, a first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs berth is just as important a prize and at 0-2, they’ve got to earn a decent result – and score some goals – against their Trillium Cup rivals this weekend.
6) How will Real Salt Lake and San Jose cope with some classic Pacific Northwest weather conditions?
One headline said it all: “Northwest Under Siege.” Fierce waves of wet, wintry storms are lashing Washington and Oregon for the next several days and for both the Timbers and Sounders, it amounts to even more home cooking as they welcome Western Conference rivals. Expect frenetic affairs on the fast, wet turf at JELD-WEN and CenturyLink.
5) Is David Estrada the next Chris Wondolowski?
Sure, it’s a bit too early to spend too much time on the Golden Boot race. Yet as MLSsoccer.com’s Jeremiah Oshan pointed out this week, the similarities between these previously unheralded goal poachers are many, even if Wondo is a few years ahead of Estrada age-wise. The Californians presently sit at the top of the MLS scoring list alongside Kenny Cooper, adding a fascinating element to their teams’ meeting in Seattle.
4) Will the Galaxy show rust or rejuvenation against New England?
After a very hectic start, LA have had nearly two full weeks off from match play, time Bruce Arena and his players say has helped them craft chemistry and recuperate from injuries. Unfortunately for the champs, Landon Donovan is carrying a quadriceps injury that could sideline him and complicate this potential “banana peel” match against the improving Revolution.
Between the Lines: KC Pressure
3) Will Chivas USA look to “park the bus” again when Sporting visit?
The Goats defended plenty, and rode their luck a bit, in last week’s 1-0 road upset of RSL. With the excellent Dan Kennedy tending the net, they always have a chance to grind out those sort of results and this week coach Robin Fraser may be tempted to bunker in against another vibrant attacking team, Kansas City, at The Home Depot Center. To really contend for honors, however, Chivas will need more offensive enterprise. Can rookie Casey Townsend fill the gap left by Juan Pablo Ángel?
2) Can Martín Rivero make a splash in his Rapids debut?
Colorado coach Oscar Pareja holds the young Argentinean playmaker in high regard – note that he immediately handed him the No. 10 jersey upon arrival in Denver – and apparently sees him as a natural linchpin for the Rapids midfield. One logistical holdup after another has delayed him this spring, but Rivero is finally clear to take the field against Chicago on Sunday.
1) Who’s the choice starter for your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager squad?
A hard-working, point-collecting fullback on a hot team which is about to play a winless, wobbling opponent? Vancouver defender Young-Pyo Lee is just that, and he can be yours for the modest price of $6.6 million.
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Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.