Landon Donovan's return; Colorado cooling off; Portland's playoff hopes
Another weekend of Major League Soccer action is upon us; Jason Davis looks ahead to a week chock-full of thrilling matchups.
Donovan could return vs. Orlando City
In a normal week, there would be plenty of storylines to follow in a game featuring Bruce Arena's LA Galaxy and Jason Kreis's Orlando City. Another tactical tete-a-tete between American soccer's reigning mastermind and one of the rising stars of the coaching ranks -- especially considering the talent at their respective disposals -- is intriguing. Both teams will have plenty to play for with their playoff lives still hanging in the balance, promising a spirited contest. LA will have Robbie Keane back from international duty, and though he has looked a step slower this year, the Irishman is always capable of putting on a show. Giovani Dos Santos is in excellent form, off the back of a brace against RSL on Wednesday. Orlando brings the talents of Kaka and Cyle Larin to the battle -- the Canadian striker is fifth in the league in goals after setting a new league record for rookies last season.
But this is not a normal week. As of Friday morning, Landon Donovan is once again an active member of the LA Galaxy. After two years in retirement, the all-time MLS leader in goals and assists returns to the game to add an extra element to his old team in their stretch run. The first chance for Donovan to get on the field for the Galaxy since 2014 comes in Saturday's game against an Orlando City team flying across the country. It's incredible to think Donovan could go from his couch (metaphorically speaking) to the field so quickly, but if anyone is capable of doing it -- and making an impact in the process -- it's probably Donovan.
How's that for a wrinkle for OCSC to deal with? Not only do they have to prepare for Dos Santos, Keane and the rest of the Galaxy talent (and depth), now they have to concern themselves with the possibility Donovan will be on the field. There's almost no way to know what to expect.
Hot FC Dallas hosts cooling Colorado
A few weeks ago, this would have been a top-of-the-table clash in the Western Conference. But a dip in form for the Colorado Rapids and a surge by FC Dallas now has the Texas team in first place while Colorado sits behind Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy in fourth. The Rapids have two games in hand on everyone in front of them, but even wins in those two games wouldn't allow them to catch FC Dallas -- the gap is eight points between the two.
Colorado is still without Jermaine Jones in midfield, a problem that is getting bigger with each game he misses. Last time out in New England, the Rapids were flat out beaten through the middle of the field and fell 2-0 at Gillette Stadium. The Revolution found plenty of joy in areas that would normally have been covered by Jones, and on the attacking end, Colorado missed the U.S. internationals energy and aggression. Jones does not appear to be in line for a return this week, leaving the task of beating the top team in the conference to players like Michael Azira, Sam Cronin and Dillon Powers.
And the task is a big one. FC Dallas is unbeatable at home so far in 2016, boasting a 10-0-4 record at Toyota Stadium. Mauro Diaz is on one of those runs that makes him look like the best player in the league and the attack is getting major contributions from all over the field. Walker Zimmerman should be getting attention as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. With their internationals back in the fold, Oscar Pareja's side will be back to full strength.
Portland face RSL, while clinging to playoff spot
The Timbers took one on the chin against FC Dallas last week in a 3-1 loss, but will have key man Darlington Nagbe back in the lineup when they host Real Salt Lake at Providence Park on Saturday. Portland has a three-point cushion over their closest competitors for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, but dropping home points at this stage of the season could be dangerous to their chances of qualifying for the postseason. Time is running out for the defending champs to improve their seeding in the West, so any charge towards avoiding the play-in round needs to happen now.
No matter the day, or how RSL is going at the moment, the players to watch for Jeff Cassar's side are attackers Joao Plata and Juan Manuel "Burrito" Martinez. The former scored twice -- once from the penalty spot -- in a comeback 3-3 home draw against the Galaxy on Wednesday. The latter scored a goal of his own against LA, and is capable at any moment of jaw-dropping skill that can split open opposing defense. Diego Chara will need to be excellent to support a backline that should have their hands full.
These two teams have a vibrant history against one another, one that has is on the verge of a rivalry born on the field in recent years. So far in 2016, they've played to two 2-2 draws, the last coming back on June 18 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Portland's home field record is relatively strong, but RSL is one of the league's better road teams and will not be cowed by the atmosphere.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.