1. Steven Lenhart's recovery boosts San Jose: Earthquakes boss Frank Yallop has somehow managed to grind out results with his mangled squad in the early stages of this season. The availability crisis isn't over just yet, but Alan Gordon's appearance last Saturday and Lenhart's inclusion in the squad to host Vancouver on Saturday night offers hope that it may finally dissipate in the coming weeks. Lenhart adds significantly to the side for two reasons, even if he features as a substitute: he clears operating room for Chris Wondolowski with his robust industry and lifts some of the weekly burden off the fragile Gordon. His contributions at the sharp end (10 goals in 2012) provide an additional bonus as the Earthquakes attempt to dispatch the Whitecaps and welcome him back into the fold properly.
2. Injury to Dwayne De Rosario leaves United at a loss ahead of Sporting Kansas City trip: The former MLS MVP will miss Friday's trip to Sporting Park with an adductor strain, according to the club's official Twitter feed. De Rosario suffered the injury in a friendly against Richmond last Friday as United attempted to keep sharp during a bye weekend, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. The knock isn't supposed to keep De Rosario out long term, but it will hamper United's bid to claim a result against Sporting. Ben Olsen's side has lacked incisiveness and rhythm in the final third this season. Unless D.C. can muster up those qualities without its most creative player, then Sporting may prove too much to handle.
3. Rocky Mountain rivals renew hostilities in Commerce City: Colorado and Real Salt Lake have already shared the points once this season in a 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 16. Expect another tight encounter at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. RSL enters this meeting with fitness and form on its side, but these affairs do not tend to hinge on external factors. Look for both sides to clamp down and offer up the usual gritty fare as they tussle for the Rocky Mountain Cup.
4. Will distractions hinder Houston's trip to Portland?: The specter of a 34-game home unbeaten run in all competition looms over the Dynamo's trek to JELD-WEN Field on Saturday. Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said all of the right things after the Dynamo tied the MLS record with a 2-0 victory against San Jose on Saturday, but his players certainly will ponder it from time to time before Chicago visits next weekend. The key for everyone in orange: staying focused on the task at hand against a Portland side willing to attack with numbers and leave plenty of space to exploit on the counter.
5. Is Sunday a day of reckoning for Chicago?: Must-win league matches do not appear often in early April. It isn't really fair to tag one with that onerous label, either. But the Fire's desperately poor start to a season that promised much, much more places a disproportionate amount of pressure on Sunday's visit by New York. Nothing less than a victory over the Red Bulls will relieve some of the tension and spark this currently moribund campaign back to life.
Last week: 4/8 (50%)
This season: 14/42 (33%)
Sporting Kansas City – D.C. United (8:30p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: The key to United's chances of slogging out a result: snagging an early goal. Unfortunately for the visitors, De Rosario's absence makes that brief far more difficult to fulfill.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
Toronto FC – FC Dallas (4:00p.m., TSN) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Do not expect Ryan Nelsen to deviate from his preference for two holding midfielders with David Ferreira in the opposing starting XI. If Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall can limit his time and space to create, then the Reds could nick a victory here.
Prediction: Toronto FC win.
Columbus – Philadelphia (5:00p.m., UniMas) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Look for Jairo Arrieta to surge behind the Union back four on one or two occasions in this affair at Crew Stadium.
Prediction: Columbus win.
Colorado – Real Salt Lake (7:30p.m., NBC Sports Network) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Nearly all of the key factors heading into this game – and most of them involve the crowded Rapids training room or Drew Moor's suspension – point toward a RSL victory. But these derbies stray from expectations more often than not.
Portland – Houston (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: This particular encounter sure feels like a trap game for the Dynamo, doesn't it?
Prediction: Portland win.
San Jose – Vancouver (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Will the Earthquakes mark Lenhart's return to the fold with a characteristic late show or secure the points before his arrival on the scene?
Prediction: San Jose win.
Chicago – New York (5:00p.m., ESPN2) – Goal.com preview
Overview: Time for the Fire to take a stand. Fortunately for Frank Klopas' side, it is a bit easier to make a statement with the Red Bulls once again grappling with injuries to key figures like Tim Cahill (calf strain), Fabián Espíndola (hamstring) and Thierry Henry (MCL sprain).
Prediction: Chicago win.
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