To clinch second in Group A, Houston must overcome the inconsistency it has shown in the absence of a consistent forward line. Just three days after destroying Atlante, the MLS champions struggled to be clinical against Chivas goalkeeper Ernesto Michel, who had an answer for everything thrown at him, much as he did on Saturday against D.C.
The Dynamo will clinch a semifinal spot with a win but must remain wary of a D.C. United side that is as potent up front as it is susceptible at the back. Against Atlante, D.C. looked threatening going forward but could not overcome conceding goals -- leaving wide-open defensive gaps and failing to close down opposing strikers in the penalty area.
Meanwhile, New England's impregnable defense has seen them the Revs clinch a semifinal spot with a game to go and only defeat at Chivas USA on Sunday would see them fail to advance as group winners. As they have throughout the domestic season, the Revs have based their success on defensive solidity, which has stayed with them despite their move to a somewhat unfamiliar 4-4-2 alignment.
Chivas USA gave itself hope with a win over Santos Laguna thanks to the evergreen Ante Razov's second goal in as many games. Preki's side has adapted well to losing Brad Guzan although, should they advance, they will struggle without Beijing-bound Sacha Kljestan, as will New England if Michael Parkhurst is named as an overage player.
Window of opportunity (for some)
That noise you heard yesterday was the sound of the MLS transfer window sliding open. First into the mix has been San Jose, which has signed Darren Huckerby and Scott Sealy. On the face of it, these are two decent pick-ups for a side that is comfortably the lowest-scoring in the league.
However, Huckerby is the wrong side of 30, while Sealy seems set to head overseas when his contract expires at the end of the season. Still, if they can make the earth move and somehow propel the Quakes into postseason play then their arrivals will have been worthwhile.
Toronto FC are about to add Paul Dickov to their list of former EPL players. The 35-year-old is not a natural goalscorer but his feisty play has irritated better defenders than those he will face in this league and his presence could boost TFC, especially away from BMO Field, where an upturn in form could see John Carver's side secure a high playoff seed.
Going the other way across the Atlantic is Brad Guzan, whose shot-stopping ability has won him a move to Aston Villa. If the U.S. international can learn to command his penalty area more effectively, the starting spot in Martin O'Neill's side could be his.
There is sure to be more activity as clubs assess what they need to challenge in the second half of the season. Among the mooted moves, Columbus enquired about Pat Noonan, while I heard a whisper recently that Preston might be about to resurrect its quest to sign his former Revolution strike partner, Taylor Twellman. Down I-95, New York is looking at adding up to half a dozen new faces. In Dallas, Dutch midfielder Viktor Sikora is currently on trial.
Finally, the most-anticipated transfer of the summer could finally be completed, but only if MLS intervenes. Don Garber admitted at Claudio Reyna's retirement press conference that the case of Brian McBride is a "special" one and that the league would attempt to broker a deal if Toronto and Chicago cannot come to an agreement.
This is the right move and kudos to the league for taking steps to ensure that one of the U.S. national team's all-time greats returns to the league in the same week that one of his equally esteemed contemporaries has called it a day. Hopefully, it will also make the league re-evaluate the way foreign-based players are allocated to its clubs.
Shabby luck for Abby
Abby Wambach's broken leg could spell the end of the dreams of Olympic gold for the U.S. women's national team. Quite simply, you cannot afford to lose the scorer of 99 international goals less than a month before a tournament begins.
It is terrible luck for Wambach and for the women's team, whose coach, Pia Sundhgae, will need all of her tactical nous to get by without her side's best player. Just as Wambach emerged from the shadow of Mia Hamm, so now must her replacement -- whether it is Natasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez or someone else -- show her best form, and fast.
Well played, young man
When FC Dallas took Abdus Ibrahim in the 2006 SuperDraft, Hoops fans likely raised their eyebrows at their club's use of a second-round pick on a 14-year-old, especially because, to get the selection, FCD gave up Ronnie O'Brien.
Consider, then, how the Pizza Hut Park faithful felt on Saturday when the now 16-year-old Ibrahim marked his MLS debut with a well-taken goal for TFC against Chicago. The chances that the 2010 conditional pick Toronto gave up to get the teenager will make up for shipping him out of Texas are about as slim as Dallas' MLS Cup hopes.
A thing that made me go hmmm
Good luck to Chase Hilgenbrinck, the now-retired Revolution defender who has given up the game to enter a seminary to train to become a Catholic priest.
It reminds me of a joke told by the British comedian, Jasper Carrot, upon hearing that former England midfielder, Glenn Hoddle, had announced he was a born-again Christian:
"I hear Hoddle's found God. That must have been a heck of a pass."