Welcome to Starting XI, our Friday rundown of what to watch for – and what we're watching. MLS crosses the halfway point, the World Cup crosses the finish line, and we've got your back.
1. FINAL EXAM: The Cascadia Cup isn’t the only big soccer event happening Sunday – there’s the small matter of the World Cup final (3 pm ET, ABC, Univision).
Germany and Argentina will meet to decide the world champion for the third time. The Argentines, led by Diego Maradona, topped Germany in 1986, but Jurgen Klinsmann and the Germans returned the favor four years later in 1990. It’s not just previous finals that give this matchup its history, though:
7 - The 2014 #WorldCup final will make Germany v Argentina the joint-most often played fixture along with Brazil v Sweden. Repeat.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 9, 2014
It’s also what will likely be the best chance for Lionel Messi to win the World Cup. Plenty will argue (correctly) that he is already one of the all-time greats, but a World Cup title will certainly give him an argument for the title ‘greatest of all time.’ Another of of Germany’s great generations will have something to say about that, though, so buckle up – history will be made. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
2. I LIKE GOOOOO-LS: Have you checked out the race for the Budweiser Golden Boot lately? It’s pretty awesome. It might even turn as to be as good as last year’s. Or better. Right now, the three frontrunners — New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chivas USA’s Erick “Cubo” Torres, and Sporting KC’s Dom Dwyer — are on pace to make assaults on the MLS season scoring record of 27, held jointly by Chris Wondolowski (2012) and Roy Lassiter (1996). I mean, BWP is actually ahead of the pace, with 14 goals at the halfway mark. — GREG LALAS
3. PHIL-INS: What kind of miracle would Union fans need to witness for head coach Jim Curtin to hit the field in Philly this weekend? The Union are in a pinch on Saturday against Colorado Saturday (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE) without the suspended Maurice Edu, and that’s bad news on Broad Street. Edu has been invaluable at center back since Curtin swapped him out of the midfield last month, and now it’s back to basics with Amobi Okugo on the back line and veteran Brian Carroll likely in central midfield. Also... #WolfPack. – NICK FIRCHAU
4. ONE TOUCH: Both teams are four games unbeaten in league play. Both have identical records and goal difference. So are we looking at a draw between the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS Live)? Yeah, probably. But …I see goals in this game, as well as some good old fashioned drama. As well as one of the best young talents in the league doing his thing. – ALICIA RODRIGUEZ
Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew 2014. Really impressive stuff for a 21-year-old DM in MLS. Would scout him very closely pic.twitter.com/o2o9tsJd5X— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) July 8, 2014
5. OH GOD, NOT AGAIN: Here's a fun fact: Sporting Kansas City have beaten the Montreal Impact by a combined score of 7-0 in their two games this season. There's no good way for an Impact fan to look at that number, except to say that Montreal lost by less at Stade Saputo than they did at Sporting Park. And by less, we mean losing 3-0, not 4-0. The Impact are less lamentably awful now than they were earlier in the season, so maybe this won't turn into a bloodbath again. But probably not. If you want to bet on one game this weekend having lots of goals, forget Cascadia; keep your eye on Quebec (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). – NATE SULAT
6. ARE D.C. FOR REAL?: After 17 weeks, it feels like we're all still doing double-takes when we look at the standings. There they are — D.C. United at the top of the East — but when can we officially consider them an MLS Cup contender? Going cross country and beating up on a last-place team (Quakes) while they're down (losers of three straight) is one way to help convince the skeptics that remain (Fri., 11 pm ET on NBCSN). – SIMON BORG
7. TWEET OF THE WEEK: There may have been some confusion.
"I am sorry, but I am only here to ride Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios. I apologize if there was a misunderstanding." - Kaka— Maxi Rodriguez (@FutbolIntellect) June 30, 2014
8. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR SHOWDOWN: The last time Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire) and Patrick Mullins (New England Revolution) went head-to-head last December, Mullins scored but Shipp was holding an NCAA soccer title at game's end. The two were named co-College Cup MVPs, but there's no sharing allowed in the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year award. Shipp has a leg up on winning that trophy, too. Unless Mullins can snap a four-game scoring drought on Saturday night vs. Chicago and make it a race (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). – SIMON BORG
10. CASCADIA. 'NUFF SAID: Back-to-back games between the same teams are a strange quirk of the schedule, but no one’s going to be complaining when Cascadia rivals Seattle and Portland meet for the second time in five days on Sunday (10 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes). The first game provided a tantalizing taste of what could be in store at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night, as the Sounders beat the Timbers 3-1 in extra time in a US Open Cup quarterfinal that featured a pair of stunners from each side, a red card and plenty of recrimination from Caleb Porter afterwards. – NICHOLAS ROSANO
11. OH HI LOSERS: That's a dead-on Landon rendering. – MATT DOYLE