The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Who are the best jugglers in MLS?
We're talking schedules here, not “keepy-uppy.” Teams have already faced a few midweek games and long road trips, but with all 16 US-based clubs set to wade into US Open Cup play next week, now it gets particularly congested. History shows that experience, roster depth and mental focus will be rewarded.
10) And who can best cope with waves of international absences?
Even as they grow busier, many clubs are also losing numbers as national teams come calling over the next two months. Call-ups can be viewed as both a high compliment and an unintended consequence of success. And in similar fashion, they create absences that test coaches' problem-solving skills and offer opportunities for reserve players to seize.
9) Can D.C. United catch the new style when Portland visit RFK?
Porterball meets Olsen's Army at RFK Stadium on Saturday (7 pm ET, Univision Deportes) as D.C. host the Timbers. Portland coach Caleb Porter flirted with United back in 2010 before spurning their offer of the head coaching role and rounding out his college career with Akron instead. Now he's leading a style revolution in the Rose City, while Ben Olsen, who says his Black-and-Red have to “earn the right” to play pretty soccer, seeks to draw the best out of playmaker Dwayne De Rosario and end a nine-game winless skid.
8) Will Ryan Nelsen get what he needs, or does he need to get more out of what he's got?
“I like the [transfer] window. It’s a nice time.” Those were the words Toronto FC's coach used this week to explain why he still believes his struggling Reds can fight their way back into the playoff picture. Yet even as he makes clear that he wants and needs more new talent – much more – at his disposal, TFC's fans are growing impatient with the choppy product presently on order. Nelsen and his men visit a confident New England Revolution side on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
7) Can FC Dallas underline their Supporters' Shield credentials with victory over the current holders?
Every champion wears a target on their back, and thus far the Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes have worn theirs more uneasily than the MLS Cup champions in LA. The Quakes have won just one of their last nine games and now must travel to North Texas to face an impressive FCD squad who are 6-0-1 at home.
6) How can El Chelís and Chivas USA overcome form and history against Colorado?
Not only have the lethargic Goats surrendered 11 goals and scored just one this month, this weekend they play the Rapids, a team on a four-game unbeaten run who haven't lost to Chivas USA in more than four years. Coach José Luis “Chelís” Sánchez Solá sounded a fatalistic note after last week's 4-1 loss to Real Salt Lake and must now find a way to rally his dispirited troops in the thin air at a sold-out Dick's Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
5) Marco Di Vaio vs. Jack McInerney: What happens when poachers old and new meet in Montreal?
It's not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the Impact's veteran striker has been scoring professional goals since the Union hitman was wearing diapers. The duo are separated by 16 years in age but share many of the same opportunistic qualities in front of the opposition goal, and they are both in the early running for the Budweiser Golden Boot. Their teams are just two points apart in the Eastern Conference standings entering Saturday night's tilt at Stade Saputo (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
4) Can RSL build a “win when they should” habit?
Sometimes predictable is good. As Jason Kreis and his charges look to keep pace with West leaders FC Dallas, they could simplify their task a great deal by taking care of business against teams they're supposed to beat – like they did against Chivas last week – and avoiding costly hiccups like March's loss to D.C. United. On paper, Saturday's tangle with goal-starved Chicago (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE) looks like a bankable three points. Will it turn out that way?
3) What's in store for the latest chapter in the burgeoning battle between Houston and Sporting Kansas City?
Two weeks ago, Sporting ended the Dynamo's MLS-record home unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium, taking some revenge for two straight years of playoff defeats at the Orange's hands – and afterwards they celebrated accordingly. On Sunday, Houston have a chance to do some home-wrecking of their own (3:30 pm ET, NBCSN).
2) What's to stop the roaring Red Bulls from shredding Columbus' threadbare backline?
No Gláuber (suspension), no Chad Marshall, no Agustín Viana and possibly no Danny O'Rourke for Crew coach Robert Warycha as his team travels to New York, who have won five of their last six, on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas). That could lead to another start in defense for Columbus Homegrown player Chad Barson, a tall task given the craftiness and skill of Thierry Henry and the rest of the Red Bulls front line.
1) Will the Sounders continue their surge in SoCal?
Three straight wins and a six-game unbeaten run have rendered Seattle's early-season woes a distant memory. They will be hungry to take another step forward in their Sunday-evening date with the Galaxy (11 pm ET, ESPN2), a team which has repeatedly gotten the best of them in big games over the years. Eddie Johnson and the rest of the hydra-headed Rave Green attack are firing on all cylinders, but worryingly, midfield anchor Osvaldo Alonso will miss at least one game due to an adductor injury.