1. How should MLS cope with non-FIFA friendly dates?: It is a question that received plenty of consideration this week as coaches around the league handled requests from various federations to release players. Some teams – D.C. United and Portland, for example – denied those overtures for competitive reasons. Others – Los Angeles, for instance – reluctantly released their players. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said the league mandated the departure of his U.S. internationals and wondered whether such a general policy should apply at all.
MLS remains well within its rights to dictate how and when players are released for non-FIFA dates because it ultimately controls player contracts within the single entity system. The larger concern for all of these coaches: striking the right balance between keeping key players happy (as Arena did by releasing Robbie Keane to play with the Republic of Ireland) and maintaining a competitive outfit in their absence.
2. Is it time to end one of the more boring and needless transfer rumors in recent memory?: Vancouver striker Kenny Miller once again found himself linked to former club Rangers this week. Scottish papers trump up these links without any regard to the club's current transfer embargo, but the latest scuttlebutt originated after some not-so-helpful words from ex-Portland striker Kris Boyd suggesting the move could eventually happen. Miller batted down the discussions and noted his contract ran through the end of the year. If Miller then decides to return to Rangers for family (or sporting) reasons, then the Scottish second division (third tier) powerhouse will certainly welcome his arrival as it grapples with the likes of Ayr United and Stenhousemuir.
3. Chicago fills one void … : The decision to acquire Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia plugs an Arne Friedrich-sized hole in the Fire back four. With the ex-German international perhaps on the way out, Soumare offers a ready-made replacement. He supplies both the influential presence (though in a different way, of course) and the pockmarked injury record required to plug the gap left by the former Hertha BSC stalwart.
4. ...and bails out an Eastern Conference rival in the process: Chicago dug the Union out of a significant financial hole by finally agreeing to terms (an undisclosed amount of allocation money and a natural second-round SuperDraft pick in 2014) on the deal. Philadelphia will also carry a portion of Soumare's ample salary on its books for this year and next (and will curse Peter Nowak every time that particular number comes up), Union coach John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com.
Even with some of Soumare's wages still on the salary budget (and no swap would get done without this clause), the Union benefited from the deal. Soumare's lucrative pact ($350,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2013, according to MLS Players Union documents) limited Hackworth's flexibility to operate in the summer transfer window. His departure expunges a bad contract (by MLS standards only, of course) and provides an opportunity for Hackworth to further reshape his roster with a player he sees as a regular first-choice option going forward.
5. Houston travels to Kansas City with revenge in mind: These two sides bring plenty of passion when they take the field together, but the Dynamo must increase their quality in the wake of two consecutive home defeats. The prospect of atoning for the first one – a streak-snapping 1-0 setback to Sporting a fortnight ago – provides plenty of incentive for improvement, though Bobby Boswell's two-match ban presents some defensive concerns.
Last week: 5/9 (56%)
This season: 40/101 (40%)
D.C. United – Portland (7:00p.m., Univision Deportes) – Goal preview
Overview: United coach Ben Olsen did not need to hear Dwayne De Rosario question why he is watching the ball fly over his head too often. Those comments just provided another reminder of the fundamental problems within a group that isn't functioning properly at the moment.
Prediction: Portland win.
Montréal – Philadelphia (7:00p.m., TVA Sports) – Goal preview
Overview: Expect the home side to lean on its superiority in midfield – both in terms of numbers and in terms of talent – to tip the balance in this affair.
Prediction: Montréal win.
New England – Toronto FC (7:30p.m.) – Goal preview
Overview: If the Revs want to turn the corner toward a genuine playoff push, then this match – in the wake of a huge victory at Houston and against a struggling opponent – is exactly the sort of game they must find a way to win.
Prediction: New England win.
FC Dallas – San Jose (8:30p.m.) – Goal preview
Overview: Compare and contrast: FCD plans to welcome back David Ferreira, Andrew Jacobson and George John, while San Jose ponder playing four forwards at once. The edge in that scenario probably favors the home side.
Prediction: FC Dallas win.
Colorado – Chivas USA (9:00p.m.) – Goal preview
Overview: This game carries more danger than expected for the Rapids given the increased possibility of a letdown against sputtering Chivas USA, but the home side can sidestep the pothole with the proper level of application.
Prediction: Colorado win.
Real Salt Lake – Chicago (9:00p.m.) – Goal preview
Overview: Can the Fire produce the goal or two required to squeeze out a result at Rio Tinto Stadium? It isn't likely based on the current evidence.
Prediction: Real Salt Lake win.
Sporting Kansas City – Houston (3:30p.m., NBC Sports Network) – Goal preview
Overview: The absence of Bobby Boswell (two-match ban) leaves the Dynamo a bit short at the back. And that prospect isn't particularly enticing with the sort of pressure Sporting will exert in the wake of its confidence-boosting victory at BBVA Compass Stadium two weeks ago.
Prediction: Sporting KC win.
New York – Columbus (5:00p.m., UniMas) – Goal preview
Overview: Consider this match a nice opportunity for the Red Bulls to send a message to their forthcoming neighbors in the Five Boroughs.
Prediction: New York win.
Los Angeles – Seattle (11:00p.m., ESPN2) – Goal preview
Overview: The home side must set its line properly and slow the tempo of this match down in order to halt Seattle's fine run of form.
Prediction: Los Angeles win.