The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) When are Chivas USA going to sort it out on home turf?
In a league where home-field advantage is usually key, the 2012 Goats are doing something downright bizarre: 3-1 on the road, and 0-4 – without a single goal scored – at their Home Depot Center stomping grounds. Chivas know at least a point is mandatory when the mercurial Chicago Fire visit the HDC on Friday night.
“It's not life or death, but it's as close to it for us as you can [get],” playmaker Nick LaBrocca told ESPN Los Angeles. “It's time to step up.”
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10) Can Chicago get the job done in SoCal without Frank Klopas and Jalil Anibaba?
That ruckus in the final moments of last week’s Fire-Sounders game has led to suspensions for Chicago’s coach and their starting central defender, complicating the task against Chivas USA. Just as importantly, the Men in Red must get Dominic Oduro and the rest of their potent but spotty attack on track, because seven goals in six games looks like underachievement.
9) How can the Crew turn their luck around in Portland?
Last week Columbus outshot, out-passed and out-possessed Vancouver. They earned more corner kicks, hit the crossbar and had two goals disallowed. And they also lost 1-0, running their winless streak to four.
“I think it was our best game during the season, and incredibly, we lose it,” midfielder Milovan Mirosevic told thecrew.com’s Steve Sirk. “For sure we deserved to win, but football is like this. To deserve, you have to make goals. That is it.”
Indeed, the Crew have notched six goals in seven games, tied for third-worst in MLS. Coach Robert Warzycha may need to go against his nature and open up the throttle against the Timbers.
8) Is the “Church of Fucito” ready to begin services in the Rose City?
Recently acquired striker Mike Fucito hopes to make his Timbers debut this weekend, and many will be watching to see how the former Sounder is received at JELD-WEN Field. His opportunism and scurrying runs could dovetail nicely with Kris Boyd up top, but has he earned coach John Spencer’s trust yet?
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7) Which stars will step up to shine in #LAvNY?
The “One-Percent Derby,” as some fans involved in this matchup of metropolises cheekily called it last year, may be missing some of its biggest names, with Red Bulls standouts Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez sidelined and the precise status of LA’s David Beckham and Robbie Keane uncertain. Yet it still looks like a fascinating matchup, especially if Dax McCarty maintains his sterling efforts at the base of the RBNY midfield.
6) With Henry’s hamstring injury, is Wondo in the driver’s seat for both Golden Boot and league MVP?
We’ve mostly gotten used to it by now, but Chris Wondolowski’s late-blooming stardom remains one of the best MLS stories of the decade. His steady striking output has him back atop the league scoring charts, he contributes in other departments all over the field and his leadership of this Earthquakes squad has been a huge ingredient in their rise to first place in the West. Up next: a road test in Vancouver.
5) Who will Ben Olsen pick to man the nets for D.C. United in Toronto?
It wasn’t that long ago that US national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann crowned Bill Hamid the long-term successor to Tim Howard in the USMNT nets. The US U-23s’ Olympic qualifying fiasco dinged both Hamid’s ankle and his confidence, however, and he returned to a hot team where Joe Willis had seized the starting job in his absence. Now Willis has hit a rough patch of his own, allowing seven goals in United’s past two games. Is it Hamid’s time again?
4) Who will win the “dread on dread” midfield battle at Rio Tinto?
Kyle Beckerman and Shalrie Joseph are both so pivotal to their teams’ fortunes, and they’ll probably lock horns plenty when Real Salt Lake and New England meet in Utah on Saturday. Beckerman’s ability to regulate the tempo and find his teammates in space will be crucial against the Revs’ packed midfield.
3) Are Seattle cranking into top gear?
Mauro Rosales is back on the field, Fredy Montero is scoring wonder goals and the Sounders have won three in a row. Life is good around CenturyLink Field, with the exception of some doubt at the goalkeeping position as coach Sigi Schmid determines whether Michael Gspurning can overcome a hip injury to face Philadelphia on Saturday. Don’t forget that the Union blanked SSFC 2-0 on their last trip to the CLink, however.
2) Can Montreal grind one out in KC?
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Visiting the runaway Eastern Conference leaders is a tough ask for Jesse Marsch’s expansion side, though this might be as good a time to enter Livestrong Sporting Park as any, with SKC returning to action after their first loss, followed by a bye week. The improving Impact have allowed just one goal in their last three games and will surely try to chop up Sporting’s rhythm and make this a battle of attrition.
1) Should you work some FC Dallas defenders into your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager lineup?
It’s not being widely discussed, perhaps because the attack hasn’t matched their efforts, but George John, Zach Loyd, Ugo Ihemelu & Co. have surrendered more than one goal on just two occasions this season, even while missing starting netminder Kevin Hartman due to injury. Those three are reasonably priced and have racked up decent point totals to boot.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.