The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Can D.C. United finally, finally win two in a row?
Ben Olsen’s ongoing rejuvenation project on East Capitol Street is showing real progress, from the six-game unbeaten streak to the increasingly stingy defense to a diverse attack capable of ripping off goals in bunches. Yet amazingly, it’s still been several years since the Black-and-Red won consecutive matches, something that Olsen and his troops are eager to change when Houston visit RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
10) What should we expect from this 2012 Dynamo squad?
It’s a question that’s tough to truly answer until orchestrator-in-chief Brad Davis is fully healthy and they get to play a few games in their dazzling new BBVA Compass Stadium home. So far, their seasoned handling of this extended season-opening road stint has given Orange fans reason to believe another Eastern Conference Championship is in the offing. At some point, the offense has to get going, though, because averaging one goal a game probably isn’t going to get them there.
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9) Can the Revolution regulate the Red Bulls and haul themselves up the charts?
Back-to-back losses followed by a bye week have sapped some of the encouraging momentum New England built last month. This weekend brings a trip down I-95 to face their old rivals in New York, who are reeling a bit at the moment. Revs coach Jay Heaps’ statements this week suggest that he wants his team to control the tempo and grind this one out on the road. A win would bring them within one point of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings.
8) And can the Red Bulls stop anybody?
If New York’s defending continues at its present subpar levels, their gifted front line of Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry – who have 15 goals between them – will have to strike at an even higher rate to keep the team in contention. RBNY’s injury issues have been awful, and coach Hans Backe just revealed that center back Stephen Keel has been struggling with a stress fracture in his back that could sideline him for weeks. Markus Holgersson simply must find his form, and quick.
7) Will Blas Pérez's return gird FC Dallas for a tough test at The Home Depot Center?
Backe is hardly the only one with a health crisis to fret about. From Kevin Hartman to Ricardo Villar to Andrew Jacobson and beyond, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman has lost some important contributors in recent weeks, and in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake, the whole club was stunned by the grisly dislocated elbow sustained by promising youngster Carlos Rodríguez. His fellow Panamanian international Pérez returns from a one-game disciplinary suspension for Saturday’s clash with the LA Galaxy, and his craftiness will be pivotal as Dallas try to improve on their 0-3 road record to date.
6) Can Montreal’s fans match the JELD-WEN din when the Timbers visit Olympic Stadium?
Based on what the Sporting KC back line said this week, their 1-0 loss in Portland had much to do with the confusion wreaked by a wave of noise from the Timbers Army right when Kris Boyd whipped in a cross that Chance Myers headed into his own net as he collided with teammate Júlio César. Could brisk ticket sales in Montreal help the Impact dish up their own bit of home cooking at the Big O when PTFC come to town?
5) How will the Rapids incorporate long-injured striker Conor Casey into their 4-3-3 look?
The last time Casey wore a Colorado game jersey, the Rapids were still defending MLS Cup champs, Gary Smith was still the coach and the team still utilized an English-accented 4-4-2 formation. With Oscar Pareja now in charge, the Mile High landscape is very different as he prepares to make his return to action against Chivas USA. Rapids fans are hoping Casey is the ideal target man to spearhead Pareja’s system.
4) Will anyone find a four-leaf clover when the league’s unluckiest sides meet at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday?
OK, so maybe other clubs will feel that they should be contenders for that title, but it’s hard to deny that Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC have been victims to some bad breaks thus far: injuries, tough calls, near-misses and more. The difference is that Real are still right in the thick of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield races, while the Reds are rooted to the bottom of the standings. So it’ll take some doing for TFC to earn a result at the RioT.
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3) Will Aron Winter's bold words rally the TFC troops, or become a millstone around his neck?
Snakebit and frustrated, Toronto FC are 0-6 and the players don’t seem to be on the same page, both tactically and mentally. Yet this week their coach guaranteed that the club will make its first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs trip this season. Can he forge some collective coherence and find a way to make his squad believe?
2) Can the Earthquakes keep rattling and rolling on their Eastern swing through PPL Park?
First place in the West has to be sweet for coach Frank Yallop and GM John Doyle, whose acumen was questioned in some quarters during and after San Jose’s underwhelming ’11 season. Now it’s time for the Quakes to act like they belong there, starting with a cross-country journey to face the Philadelphia Union, who are absent several mainstays – including suspended coach Peter Nowak – but still carrying a month-long, 332-minute shutout streak.
1) Should you be adding Chris Rolfe to your transfer list for MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager?
The Fire’s recent returnee from Denmark is still questionable due to an ankle problem, and while he's surely eager to face the Sounders on Saturday, he may have to wait another week for game action. In any case, lineups closed early this week due to Wednesday’s match. As you consider longer-term improvements to your roster, though, take note of his $6.5 million price tag … and check Chicago’s injury updates routinely.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.