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Starting XI: With int'l break in the past, all eyes are on MLS

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

TV Listings: Where to watch all the action in MLS this weekend

HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle, RSL play to scoreless draw

11) Did Real Salt Lake steal a road point, or miss a big opportunity in Seattle on Wednesday?

Whatever you thought of referee Ricardo Salazar’s handling of the big clash at CenturyLink Field – and opinions ranged from atrocious to stellar – there was no denying that the Sounders turned their game up after the ejection of Zach Scott. RSL looked cautious to a fault despite their man advantage and may regret it given that they only have one match left to rack up points in defense of their second-place spot in the Western Conference.

10) Can the Red Bulls get it right on take two against Sporting?

A month ago, Sporting Kansas City strode into Harrison, N.J., and brought a crushing end to New York’s season-long undefeated run at Red Bull Arena with a convincing 2-0 win. On Saturday night, RBNY have a chance to strike back, and they still need the points to book a playoff berth, too.

9) Will D.C. United get the job done against the Crew at a raucous RFK Stadium?

The Black-and-Red have hosted just one home game over the past month and they’re eyeing a capacity crowd at their old-school venue on Saturday night. A win over Columbus, who tend to struggle at RFK, would lock up their first postseason trip in five years.

8) Can FC Dallas keep hope alive?

While it’s a tough path for Columbus, the shots are even longer in north Texas than central Ohio. On Sunday, Schellas Hyndman and his men must defeat the Sounders at CenturyLink – always a tall order – and simultaneously hope that Portland, one of the worst road teams in the league this year, knock off the Whitecaps in Vancouver.

7) Or will the 'Caps hold their nerve?

If Vancouver are uptight about holding off Dallas for that final berth in the West, they’re hiding it well. Defender Jay DeMerit is growing a mullet (right) until they officially book their spot and the club will be offering an “official Playoff Hunter mullet barber shop” and “mullet discounts” in the BC Place team shop on Sunday. They’d surely prefer not to travel to Salt Lake in need of a result next week.

6) How will Colorado’s kids perform in the Rapids’ final two matches?

A rash of injuries and elimination from the postseason race has prompted Rapids coach Oscar Pareja to go young with his lineups, starting Saturday at Chivas USA and continuing at home against Houston next week. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity for the bottom end of the team’s roster, and perhaps a glimpse into the future for fans.

5) Can Chivas USA give their long-suffering fans some joy?

As in Vancouver, it’s Fan Appreciation Night for the Goats at the Home Depot Center this weekend as Colorado hit town for Chivas’ final home game. That means prize giveaways throughout the match – but hopefully not on the field, where the Goats are desperate to win their first game since July 29.

4) Who will seize bragging rights in the final chapter of Toronto and Montreal’s Canadian rivalry?

Both sides will miss out on the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs but there’s no love lost in this cross-provincial clash with both sporting and cultural overtones. They split their first two meetings in Montreal, and now TFC will look to give their fans a consolation prize in the last game of the year at BMO Field.

3) Can Philadelphia be the ones to break Houston’s home unbeaten run on Saturday night?

Give credit to the Union for upsetting the Dynamo 3-1 at PPL Park on Sept. 23, a surprising result that left the Orange sweating playoff qualification, something that had looked like a formality earlier in the season. Beating Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium is another prospect entirely, though – no one in MLS has accomplished it yet.

2) Will Chicago handle their turf test in New England?

Teams with natural grass at their own stadiums routinely gripe about artificial surfaces elsewhere. The Fire, however, can point to an eight-game, two-year winless skid on turf as proof of their discomfort with venues like Gillette Stadium, where they visit the Revolution on Saturday.

“It’s not my No. 1 choice of surface to play on,” captain Logan Pause told this week. “But ... it’s not going to be anyone’s first game and we can’t use it as an excuse.”

1) Will San Jose get to rub the Galaxy’s faces in their Supporters’ Shield triumph?

The California Clasico is always a fun duel and depending on the NY-SKC result, this week’s edition at Buck Shaw Stadium could be a coronation of the Earthquakes as Shield winners, taking over the honor from none other than LA themselves. The Quakes can also secure it by beating LA.


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