There's plenty to watch in Major League Soccer this weekend. In addition to Clint Dempsey's return to New England, here are four more intriguing storylines to follow:
Adieu for a spell
There's something of a "last day of school" vibe to this week's round of MLS games. With a host of MLS players set to join USMNT "summer camp" next week, teams across the league are heading into matches pondering temporary goodbyes to key players for a stretch of their schedule.
The unknowns are many. While a handful of players are locks for Jurgen Klinsmann's 30-man camp roster (Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez, Kyle Beckermn, et al), plenty of players sit on the bubble. While they might know their fate, everyone else will find out who is headed to join the USMNT on Monday afternoon. There's also the matter of just how long players will be gone -- a few might return after after the pre-World Cup camp if they don't make the final 23-man roster. Those who are headed to Brazil could be back as soon as the last week of June, or might be gone for a longer stretch if the United States manages to escape the Group of Death.
Is there extra pressure to get three points out of games that will feature the last full-strength lineup for six weeks? Possibly, though the league position of the teams that will be hit hardest (Seattle, Sporting, Real Salt Lake) is strong. The Galaxy are the lone exception, sitting just below the playoff spots in the West, and won't have Omar Gonzalez against Portland thanks to a knee injury.
Sporting actually gets an extra game out of their USMNT stars thanks to a midweek game against Philadelphia after Saturday's match in Montreal. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake is in Houston to face the Dynamo, who will be wondering if they'll be without Brad Davis come Wednesday.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Landon Donovan’s current 10-game scoring drought (including playoffs) isn’t the longest of his MLS career. Despite averaging almost a goal every other game during his 14 seasons in the league, the 32-year-old has been streakier than most realize, going long spells -- 17 Galaxy games in all competitions in late 2012 and into 2013 -- without finding the net.
Now, though, the problem is timing. The U.S. national team convenes for its pre-World Cup camp next week, making the Galaxy’s visit to Portland on Sunday Donovan’s final chance to break the slump and become MLS’s all-time goal king before the tournament starts. While Donovan still seems likely to make the final roster either way, nothing is guaranteed.
“He has to prove he’s doing better with every game that’s played and at the end of the day, that he deserves to go to Brazil,” Klinsmann told "60 Minutes" in April. “I think he’s not looking 100 percent yet to me.”
Donovan didn’t score that day, but the match against Chivas USA ended up being one of his better all-around performances this year. Since then, reviews have been mixed.
That leaves just one more game to make a statement, one more chance to show the coach that he’s approaching top form. If he does, it just might convince Klinsmann that the country’s most decorated player is worthy of a fourth World Cup trip next month.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Wondo's missed opportunity
The faint shake of the head by Chris Wondolowski said it all. His bid for a late game winner against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night was touched onto the post by Rapids keeper Clint Irwin, and the San Jose Earthquakes were left to rue more dropped points at home thanks to a 0-0 tie.
It was also a missed opportunity for Wondolowski to generate some precious momentum in terms of his aim to make the U.S. World Cup roster. Granted, it’s not as if he has been suffering through a goal drought. He’s managed five tallies on the season in eight matches, with just one of those coming from the penalty spot. And Klinsmann has made it clear that in deciding who will be on his final 23-man roster that goes to Brazil, he’ll look at a player’s entire body of work. But every goal Wondolowski scores plants another seed in Klinsmann’s mind that the San Jose forward should be there.
Wondolowski now has just one game left until the start of U.S. training camp, but the perfect opponent could be headed to San Jose this weekend. FC Dallas began this season 5-1-1, but has now lost three games in a row, and the injuries are piling up. Playmaker Mauro Diaz will now be sidelined for six to 10 weeks after undergoing knee surgery, while the back line has been injury-hit as well, with center back Stephen Keel missing the past two games due to a foot injury. If Wondolowski can capitalize, he’ll enter the U.S. World Cup training camp on a high.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@jeffreycarlisle)
Timbers need momentum
After securing their first win of the season last weekend, the Portland Timbers are looking to build some momentum when they host the LA Galaxy on Sunday.
The Timbers' 3-2 win against D.C. United had a tinge of home-field luck to it -- with several calls going their way before the stoppage-time winner -- but the three points were a big shot in the arm for a struggling side. Nine games without a win and the confidence in Caleb Porter, 2013's Coach of the Year, would've been at an all-time low despite his reputation as one of America's most innovative coaches. But now the 39-year-old faces a bigger challenge as LA heads into town.
Yes, the Galaxy haven't inspired at all this season, but they still have a star-studded core of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez. With the club's American stars likely being called in next week for the U.S.' 30-man World Cup preliminary squad, it isn't hard to imagine both stepping up their games as a proper send off similar to what Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley did earlier this week.
Still, if the Timbers want to make consecutive appearances in the postseason, a win against one of the bigger teams in the West can only help morale in the locker room. The club's roster issues, lacking a top striker and a suspect defense, still remain. But if the Timbers can stay competitive, it could set up an interesting summer for them as several high-profile recruits will be available after the World Cup. But first, LA this weekend...
-- Alex Labidou (@LabidouESPN)