It is a big week for several coaches around Major League Soccer in Week 6. Whether young or older, long serving or newly minted, several of the league's bosses will head into their matches with plenty on the line.
Mike Petke makes his coaching debut for Real Salt Lake a little more than two years after his surprise dismissal from the New York Red Bulls. He inherits a Real Salt Lake team with plenty of question marks, but the pressure will be on Petke to show his success as Red Bulls coach wasn't a fluke, or simply a product of the talent at his disposal.
Curt Onalfo has Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes and Ashley Cole back from injury, and while that trio didn't help his LA Galaxy from avoiding defeat in Vancouver last week, the Galaxy will be back home at StubHub Center looking to get on a run after a disappointing first month of the season.
Speaking of needing to right the ship, Jim Curtin's Philadelphia Union are back home this weekend, but face another extremely tough test against the Portland Timbers. The Union are still searching for their first win of 2017, and it won't come easy against a Timbers side still smarting from last week's disappointing home draw against New England.
A few coaches will be looking to manage some positives, such as Adrian Heath, who will try to build on last week's historical first MLS win for his Minnesota United. That will be a tough task down in Texas against an FC Dallas side eager to move on after a disappointing exit from the CONCACAF Champions League. Gregg Berhalter will try to help his Columbus Crew push their winning streak to a league-best four straight with a win on the road against a Chicago Fire side that will be tougher to deal with now with Bastian Schweinsteiger in the fold.
Here is a closer look at the key talking points heading into MLS Week 6:
IT'S A BIG WEEKEND FOR ... LA GALAXY
No, the LA Galaxy still aren't at full strength — not with Robbie Rogers' uncertain status and Sebastian Lletget's long-term foot injury — but they are closer to full strength now than they have been all season. Can Onalfo capitalize on the return of Dos Santos and Zardes to boost the Galaxy attack?
Dos Santos had a lackluster return from the hamstring injury that cost him his place on the Mexican national team for the most recent international break, making a minimal impact in the Galaxy's 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Zardes came off the bench in that match, but didn't manage a shot or a single pass forward during his 23 minutes of action.
Onalfo will need more than that if the Galaxy are going to improve on their 1-3 start. Of greater concern is the chemistry between Jermaine Jones and Joao Pedro, who haven't looked good as a central midfield tandem. Matias Laba and Cristian Techera ran wild against them last week, and the Montreal Impact will look to win the battle in the middle this week.
Having Cole back at left back provides a big boost for the Galaxy, but right back remains a concern with Rogers still sidelined. Goalkeeper is looking like a concern too after Clement Diop's shocking display last week. Will Brian Rowe resume his role as starting goalkeeper after recovering from a shoulder injury? Galaxy fans should hope so.
One player who has looked sharp in recent weeks is Romain Alessandrini, who should benefit more than anybody from the return to the lineup of Dos Santos and Zardes.
DON'T MISS ... TORONTO FC vs. ATLANTA UNITED
Remember when we told you Toronto FC and Atlanta United would each be involved in exciting matches last week? Forget we said that (both teams wound up in 0-0 draws). We really mean it this week, with Atlanta United heading north to take on a TFC side with just one win in four matches (though still technically undefeated).
Atlanta United should have Miguel Almiron back in the starting lineup, with Kenwyne Jones expected to be able to step into the lineup after recovering from international duty last weekend. Toronto FC should welcome Jozy Altidore and Armando Cooper back into the starting lineup as well, and Altidore will be key to helping keep Atlanta United's defense from throwing numbers at Sebastian Giovinco, who is still searching for his first goal of the 2017 season.
Atlanta's defense turned in an impressive performance last week in Seattle, showing there's much more to the expansion team than just attacking soccer. Shutting down TFC's attack won't be so simple, especially with Altidore back in the lineup, but look for Gerardo Martino to test TFC's defense by attacking rather than sitting back, which is what most teams do when they visit Toronto.
NEW ERA BEGINS FOR PETKE, RSL
Real Salt Lake is in free fall, and Mike Petke has arrived just in time to show whether he can turn things around before folks in Utah experience the type of nightmare season they haven't seen since John Ellinger coached the team in its early years.
A rash of injuries to the team's center-back pool is one of the chief culprits behind the team's woeful start, but even that didn't help explain away a painful 4-2 loss against a Minnesota United team that had been playing the role of punching back in its first month in MLS.
Enter Petke, a tough guy as a player and a man who appreciates how important defending is to success in MLS. He should help RSL's defense improve, particularly when the likes of Aaron Maund, Chris Schuler and Justen Glad return from injury, but this week could be a rough debut for Petke, with Vancouver heading to Rio Tinto Stadium having just manhandled the LA Galaxy a week ago.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Miguel Almiron vs. Michael Bradley. You are not going to want to miss this one, a battle we last saw play out in the group stage of the 2016 Copa America, though Almiron played on the wing for Paraguay against Bradley's United States.
Sacha Kljestan vs. Antonio Nocerino. Even if Jesse Marsch sticks to the 4-4-2, we should see Kljestan and Nocerino cross paths plenty of times. The Italian midfielder has the tenacity to frustrate Kljestan, who hasn't quite found the form yet early in 2017 that he enjoyed during an MVP-caliber season in 2016.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Wil Trapp. Schweinsteiger will look to build off his impressive debut, but will find the going much tougher against the Crew central midfield combo of Trapp and Artur, which neutralized Orlando City last week.
David Villa vs. Steve Birnbaum. Villa got the best of Birnbaum the last time these teams met, but Birnbaum is at home this time. That might not be enough to stop Villa though.
David Accam vs. Harrison Afful. Ghana teammates square off in what should be a fun matchup to watch, and will be key to determining the winner, especially if the midfields neutralize each other.
Darlington Nagbe vs. Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a quiet performance against New England, Nagbe will face a similarly difficult challenge trying to get past Rosenberry, who Nagbe spent time with in the recent January U.S. camp.
Matt Hedges vs. Christian Ramirez. One of the best stories of the season's first month, Ramirez will face much tougher competition this week than he faced last week, and Hedges will offer the kind of test that will tell the rest of the league just how talented Ramirez really is.
Osvaldo Alonso vs. Anibal Godoy. One of the best players in the season's early weeks, Godoy sat out last week's loss to NYCFC as he recovered from international duty, but he should be back and ready to face the always-tough Alonso, who will do his best to keep Godoy from adding to his collect of goal of the week winners.
Shkelzan Gashi vs. Graham Zusi. Zusi's transition to full-time right back continues as he faces another challenging assignment in the ever-dangerous Gashi, who could struggle for looks if the Rapids lose the possession battle, as expected.
Yura Movsisyan vs. Kendall Waston. If RSL is going to turn things around, it needs the attack to open up, and Movsisyan needs to spearhead that charge. He will have his hands full with the big and physical Waston, but he's mobile enough to create some chances for himself.
WEEK 6 PREDICTIONS
LA GALAXY 2, Montreal Impact 0. Dos Santos regains his mojo, scoring a goal and setting up another as the Galaxy get back to their winning ways.
CHICAGO FIRE 2, Columbus Crew 1. The Crew have looked good during their three-match unbeaten streak, but they'll face a tough road test against a Fire team made more dangerous by the presence of Schweinsteiger, who has another strong game in a win.
New England Revolution 1, HOUSTON DYNAMO 2. Playing on the Gillette Stadium turf is always a challenge for visiting teams, and the Revs showed their defense can step up against a dangerous attack, but we'll still give the Dynamo the nod to keep their recent run going.
D.C. UNITED 1, NEW YORK CITY FC 3. It won't be the 4-0 drubbing we saw the last time these teams met, but don't assume RFK Stadium will somehow not suit NYCFC and all their attacking weapons. More room to operate should mean more chances, and only another blinder from Bill Hamid will keep D.C. from falling in this one.
Philadelphia Union 1, PORTLAND TIMBERS 2. The Union keep it close, but the winless woes continue as Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi continue their torrid early-season form.
TORONTO FC 2, Atlanta United 1. As good as Atlanta's attack is, TFC's defense should stand up to the challenge, and the Altidore-Giovinco tandem will prove too much for Atlanta to handle. Giovinco finally finds the net.
FC DALLAS 3, Minnesota United 0. Will there be a CCL hangover for Oscar Pareja's men? Don't bet on it. As good a story as the Loons earning their first win last week was, this week's challenge is much, much tougher.
Real Salt Lake 0, VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 2. Mike Petke's influence should help RSL defend better, but the team's injuries in the back are still too much to overcome against a dangerous Whitecaps attack.
San Jose Earthquakes 1, SEATTLE SOUNDERS 2. The Earthquakes are unbeaten at home so far this season, but the Sounders are the toughest test they have faced. Clint Dempsey returns to the lineup and has a field day, while Nicolas Lodeiro finds success attacking the right wing.
Orlando City 1, New York Red Bulls 1. Cyle Larin adds another goal, but the Lions can't post the shutout as Bradley Wright-Phillips adds to his account as well.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2, Colorado Rapids 0. Did the Rapids risk messing with their chemistry by trading away Sam Cronin and Marc Burch? It's possible, and if that's the case then Sporting KC should have a field day, with Dom Dwyer snatching a double.