With players slowing coming back from international duty, we should get a more complete picture of how MLS teams are really looking. The matchup of the week, Rapids-Galaxy still lacks some star power as Landon Donovan remains with the United States Gold Cup team, but should still be good.
Don't look now, but the hottest team in MLS might just be the Earthquakes. They have won two straight by a collective score of 6-2 and haven't lost in six straight, a stretch of matches in which they've claimed 14 of a possible 18 points and posted a +8 goal difference. That comes on the heels of a start that saw them win just one of their first eight and claim just five points. The biggest change has been the return to health of Steven Lenhart, who has started the Quakes' past seven and has scored four goals in his past two games. To a much lesser degree, Sporting is also recovering from a horrid start. SKC is coming off their second win of the season and are now riding a four-match unbeaten streak. They'll also be looking for their first win at Livestrong Sporting Park. Pick: SKC 1-0.
Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m., Saturday
When last these two teams met, the Sounders were coming off a match in which Steve Zakuani was lost for the season. Perhaps riding an emotional high, they turned in their best performance of the season and beat TFC 3-0 at Qwest Field. Since then, results have been considerably more even. They've gone 2-2-4, but have left points on the table against the likes of the Fire and Whitecaps. TFC has gone on a bit of a roller-coaster themselves since then, amassing a 1-2-5 record that has included a 6-2 loss at home to the Union and a 2-2 tie with the Galaxy on the road. Which team shows up is anyone's guess. Pick: Sounders 2-1.
Where did the season go wrong for the Revolution? A decent start was followed by some relatively high-profile acquisitions. But the season has gone south ever since. The Revs are now mired in a five-match winless run that has seen them claim just one point, and are coming off a midweek tie at home against Toronto FC. They are also missing Benny Feilhaber and Ousmane Dabo, and while Rajko Lekic is still playing, he's essentially gone absent as well (no goals or assists in his past eight). Since the dismissal of coach Carlos de los Cobos, the Fire have looked downright decent (no goals allowed in three matches), find themselves on a four-match unbeaten run and are coming off their second win of the season. Pick: Fire 1-0.
Despite what can easily be called a disappointing extended run of poor play (a combined two wins in 15 matches dating back to April 29), these two teams find themselves in the thick of the playoff race and are actually tied for the third automatic spot in the Eastern Conference. Neither of these teams have been playing anywhere close to what should reasonably qualify as playoff-caliber soccer, but that only makes this match all the more important. The Dynamo are expected to have Brian Ching back in the starting lineup for the first time since April 2. The Crew continue to have an injury list that is among the longest in the league. Pick: Dynamo 1-0.
Brian Mullan received what effectively counted as a 10-match ban after his leg-breaking tackle on Steve Zakuani. The Rapids will be playing their 10th game without his services this week and have a chance to improbably go undefeated during that stretch as they are currently 2-0-7. It hasn't always been pretty, but at times lacking Conor Casey, Omar Cummings as well other major contributors, the accomplishment would be nothing short of remarkable. They'll face their toughest test this week as the Galaxy come to town with the best record in the league and riding an eight-match unbeaten streak of their own. Neither team will be entirely at full strength, but this should still be one of the better matches of the week. Pick: Tied 2-2.
Just when it seemed like United were about to break out and go on a run, they seem to fall flat on their face. The latest example was a five-match unbeaten run that included wins over the Sounders and Timbers and ties against FC Dallas, the Rapids and the Galaxy only to follow that up with a loss at home to the Earthquakes. With RSL not looking nearly as unbeatable at home as they did just a few weeks ago, maybe a result here wouldn't be so hard to believe. Pick: Tied 1-1.
Shea Salinas, the former Union player, guaranteed a victory for his new team this week. With no wins since First Kick, the Whitecaps need any edge they can get. The Union are currently on a four-match unbeaten run that has seen them tie the Rapids and RSL in consecutive weeks and are playing as a complete game as they have been all year. If Salinas is right, make sure you call him for stock advice as well. Pick: Union 1-0.
Chivas USA vs. FC Dallas, 10:30 p.m., Saturday
What happened to the Toros last week? After going nine matches without a loss and looking very much like one of the best teams in the league, they inexplicably lost at home to a Sporting KC team that had gone 10 straight without a victory. Let's assume that was not indicative of their season suddenly crumbling around them. Chivas USA has so far exceeded many prognosticators' expectations, but they are still very much a work in progress and have not been particularly good at home (2-3-2). Pick: Dallas 2-1.
Apparently, Jeld-Wen Field isn't quite the fortress is was promising to be. Two straight losses at home -- and three overall for the Timbers -- have taken a bit of the shine off, but that hardly makes it an inviting environment for visitors. The Red Bulls are still considerably short-handed due to Gold Cup call-ups and haven't been playing up to their early season standards anyway. The Timbers, though, are showing some legitimate weaknesses and are without Mamadou Danso's services this week. Pick: Tied 1-1.