1. Can Kansas City pass its stiffest test yet?
Peter Vermes’ team is perfect in seven so far. But the “so far” in this case has been seven nicely spaced matches. Wednesday saw SKC take care of business in its first mid-week contest of 2012, a 3-1 win on the spongy turf of Vancouver’s BC Place. So Saturday’s quick turn could require a couple of lineup adjustments, possibly moving away from its core 11 for the first time this year to mitigate fatigue.
Portland has issues this year, having already lost twice at Jeld-Wen Field, although the place figures to be no less intimidating.
Sporting Kansas City stands a stout 19-4-11 over its last 34 matches. We’ll see if the first bout with fixture congestion (and the passionate song of the Timbers Army) can dent that impressive mark just a little.
2. Can Torsten Frings inspire something better from Toronto?
The German veteran quickly established himself as the heart of soul at BMO upon his late 2011 arrival. So Frings’ early March injury was terrible timing as Toronto attempted to build momentum from its Champions League triumph.
Now, rather than stretching any momentum, everyone around Toronto FC would be delirious just to notch a win. They sure won’t be picky about what an initial victory looks like. Winless in its first five, Aron Winter’s club is off to one of the worst starts in MLS history. So Frings’ return for Saturday’s contest against Chicago (3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) can’t come a moment too soon. Winter could insert his most important man into midfield (possibly replacing Designated Player Julian de Guzman, who was benched last week) of in defense (possibly replacing pretty much anybody, since the entire back line is an utter disaster.)
3. What do we make of German international Arne Friedrich?
Signed by Chicago last month, he was fit and healthy enough to make an MLS debut last week. Only, it was a disheveled mess of a match, interrupted twice by nasty weather and finally halted entirely after 65 minutes.
There’s no doubt Friedrich is a heady center back (pictured). But what does he still have after a series of injuries hastened his Bundesliga departure? And what about communication issues like the one everyone saw last week that cost a goal against Houston? One center back stepped forward while one remained in a holding stance; Houston pounced and had enough for a 1-1 draw in Illinois. The Fire remains an intriguing team, more so from this week’s Chris Rolfe acquisition. Contributions from Friedrich make things at Toyota Park worth watching even further.
4. Galaxy revival, or just a one-off stop?
Bruce Arena’s back line certainly looked better last week from the introduction of newcomer David Junior Lopes. But nobody would put one-win Portland in the “toughest of tests” category. So tonight’s contest at Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside Denver should be telling.
Oscar Pareja’s team is coming off two losses, although both were on the road. Back home now, they continue dealing with two significant injuries: Captain Pablo Mastroeni remained sidelined with post-concussion symptoms while Conor Casey nears a return from his Achilles tear of almost a year ago.
Even without those two, Colorado at home is a better test for the Lopes-led back line that what Portland offered last week. (A full match preview is here.)
5. Can Houston keep building on a good start?
The Dynamo’s bright start is flying below radar. A 2-1-1 record off four road matches is fairly strong stuff – it just doesn’t look so spiffy until you stop and think about how elusive road success can be in MLS. Remember, Sporting Kansas City claimed victory just once last year during that killer 10-game stretch to open the season.
Houston is getting some of its midfield blocks back as Adam Moffat comes off suspension for today’s game against struggling Columbus. On the other hand, Colin Clark remains suspended and valuable man Brad Davis remained in Houston, making progress but at least a week from his return. So, baby steps for the Orang midfield, but everything else looks strong for Dominic Kinnear’s road warriors.