1. Is Chicago for real?: The top of the table clash at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Friday night should provide some meaningful evidence to decide the quandary. Frank Klopas and his Fire players harbor realistic ambitions of claiming a victory here and wresting top spot away from Sporting Kansas City. Another night of keeping it tight at the back and pushing forward smartly on the counter might just do it. If Sporting romps, then the Fire may start to hear questions about whether its recent run of form resulted from the quality of its team or the weakness of that particular stretch of opponents.
2. Will Vancouver break its Cascadia duck against Seattle?: In the Whitecaps' previous eight attempts to better a Pacific Northwest rival, they have posted five defeats and three draws. That record simply isn't good enough in a derby setting and Vancouver boss Martin Rennie admitted as much in the buildup to the game. Then again, not good enough is sort of the default setting around B.C. Place these days. There's no time like to present to alter the currently disappointing equation and lift the spirits with a cathartic victory over Sounders FC.
3. FC Dallas continues its improbable playoff push in San Jose: FCD will hope the Whitecaps slip up once again to allow them some breathing room ahead of a difficult task at Buck Shaw Stadium. San Jose still needs to pick up a victory or two to claim the Supporters' Shield and guarantee a home date in MLS Cup if necessary. Motivation isn't an issue for these Goonies anyways. They will make this match difficult on the visitors. FCD must find some rhythm – never the easiest task against the Earthquakes – in order to close or completely eradicate that two-point deficit to the fifth-placed Whitecaps.
4. Can the Eastern Conference playoff contenders take care of reasonable business?: Columbus (v. Philadelphia), D.C. United (at Portland), Houston (v. New England) and New York (v. Toronto FC) will all expect to pick up three points with relatively straightforward fixtures. United looks like the club in most peril with a trip to JELD-WEN Field on the docket, but this tight race could turn on one unexpected slip. All four clubs will hope that potentially decisive moment doesn't wound their postseason hopes at some point this weekend.
5. Becks is back just in time for a trip to Colorado: David Beckham returned to training this week ahead of Los Angeles' trip to Commerce City. The former England captain even said he hopes to feature at some stage during Sunday's match against the Rapids after recovering from a left ankle sprain. As keen MLS observers would note, Beckham's potential availability – and the discussion surrounding it – assumes an air of expectation ahead of a trip to that particular venue. If Beckham says he hopes to play even if his ankle is still bothering him a bit and then does not show up (in Colorado or on the injury list), then he will draw one of the few types of attention he actually prefers to avoid.
This season: 106/228 (46%)
Chicago @ Sporting Kansas City (8:30p.m., NBC Sports Network) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: The pendulum has swung all the way to the other side on the previously unheralded Fire. Other Eastern Conference sides look better positioned for the postseason for one reason or another even though Klopas has cobbled together a solid side. Perhaps Sporting – even without the contentiously suspended Jacob Peterson – will provide a timely reminder that feasting on poor teams isn't the best preparation for securing top spot in the conference.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
Toronto FC @ New York (7:00p.m., GOL TV Canada) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: The home side can possess the ball. The away side can't (but it can beat a poor Salvadoran side in the CONCACAF Champions League with a reserve team). Unless something funny unfolds, those two facts should control the outcome.
Prediction: New York win.
Philadelphia @ Columbus (7:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: Cast aside the Union's outburst at PPL Park on Sunday when assessing the potential entertainment value here. This game has all the makings of a narrow home victory clinched in the late stages.
Prediction: Columbus win.
New England @ Houston (8:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: No chance the Dynamo shows up at home and plays as poorly as it did in Chester. No chance at all.
Prediction: Houston win.
Seattle @ Vancouver (9:00p.m., NBC Sports Network/TSN 2/RDS 2) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: Martin Rennie's players may learn from their Portland brethren and rise to this monumental occasion. But it feels like these Whitecaps are just a bit short on confidence to collect all three points here.
D.C. United @ Portland (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: After three wins last week, United must guard against this trap game. Any sort of drop in concentration will allow the Timbers to snatch the victory.
Prediction: Portland win.
Real Salt Lake @ Chivas USA (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: Maybe Robin Fraser can devise a way to exploit Chris Schuler with Jámison Olave suspended, frustrate his old friends and strip away a couple of much-needed points. But the smart money isn't on the Red-and-White right now.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.
FC Dallas @ San Jose (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: The physical tone of this match will likely dictate the winner. FCD players may like to foul occasionally and may like to get sent off, but they need to keep the ball moving on the ground to threaten opposing teams. If the Earthquakes can break up FCD's play with some robust attention in the right areas and dominate in the opposing penalty area with those aerial assaults, then the visitors won't stand a shot of climb into fifth place by Monday morning.
Prediction: San Jose win.
Los Angeles @ Colorado (7:00p.m., Galavision) – Goal.com match preview
Overview: If Bruce Arena names the right side (and he almost always does), the Galaxy should find a way to secure yet another victory.
Prediction: Los Angeles win.
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