The return of Nathan Sturgis is the story to watch in MLS Week 29, but an additional four storylines will complete your weekend preview.
Only five of the nine matches scheduled for the coming days will be covered in great detail. Each of the five selected will be dissected from a unique angle to intensify your viewing pleasure.
So, what exactly warrants your attention in Week 29?
Read on to find out.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to the official MLS Press Box Stats and Standings.
Which match will you—the fan—be watching this weekend?
Before we delve into the featured storylines for this weekend's action, here is the complete schedule and guide for Week 29. The result from Wednesday night's match is posted as well.
Sporting Kansas City are idle.
Toronto FC 1-1 Chicago Fire
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake, 10 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew, 2 p.m. ET, MLS Live
D.C. United vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 4 p.m. ET, MLS Live
New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas, 9 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live
Imagine how happy his teammates will be when he returns this weekend.
According to MLS' official website, Rapids midfielder Nathan Sturgis expects to return to the lineup this weekend. The 26-year-old started 18 consecutive matches before being forced out of lineup in Week 28 with an injury (glute).
Sturgis shared his brief thoughts on the league's official website:
It felt really good today, so it should be good to go. I felt it on Wednesday of last week. It felt ok but I didn't quite feel confident to go on it [on Saturday].
Sturgis has been a main cog in Colorado's midfield this season.
In his first year with the Rapids, the journeyman has already set a career high in goals (four) and minutes played (1,619).
Colorado (42) is just two points clear of the dreaded red line in the Western Conference. Distance can be created with a win, but the club can lose its playoff position altogether with a loss. Especially with a visit from FC Dallas (40) in the offing for this weekend.
It's a timely return for Sturgis, who hopes to make it an opportune victory for the Rapids.
On the pitch, there's no separating these two.
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have scored 20 of the Galaxy's 43 goals this season. Almost 47 percent of the club's productive output has derived from the feet of two of the game's most prolific scorers.
But what happens when Donovan and Keane aren't around to save the day?
Head coach Bruce Arena learned the answer to that question the hard way in Week 28.
With international duty temporarily stealing the services of the dynamic duo, Coach Arena was forced to start a young lineup that featured a pairing of Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal up top.
Youth wasn't served on the evening.
The result begged the question: Is Los Angeles too reliant on Keane and Donovan?
Associate head coach David Sarachan did his best to respond on MLS' official website:
Are the Miami Heat overly reliant on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? There's a drop-off on every level [without them]. ... The next group is good, but are they good enough? It's a challenge. I think we're capable, but we haven't shown it yet in terms of being consistently goal-dangerous when they're not here.
Fortunately for the Galaxy, the duo will be there in Week 29.
With international duty now aside, Keane and Donovan will look to return to their scorching form when D.C. United visits the StubHub Center this Saturday.
Is this Marco Di Vaio's swan song?
Enjoy watching him now.
There's no telling how much longer you will have that honor.
According to MLS' official website, Marco Di Vaio is considering retirement and returning to Italy at season's end:
Maybe [I'll retire], because it hasn't been easy for me. I decided to come here with my family, and my family's not in Montreal anymore. It changes things a lot. Of course, if my family were here with me right now, I'd keep going one more year. But now, it's a family situation. I have two little children, and they need their dad...We'll make a decision together: the family and the club, but mostly the family. It's not easy right now, because I'd like to keep going for sure. But there are lots of things to consider. We'll see.
Family concerns forced Di Vaio to miss league action against FC Dallas in Week 21. Without his services, Montreal failed to impact the scoreboard. The club lacked the punching power its leading striker consistently delivered all season and finished the match in a scoreless draw.
Obviously, it's not easy trying to replace 17 goals.
Since his return, Di Vaio has scored six goals in seven matches. The Impact are 4-2-1 during that stretch and currently sit tied atop the Eastern Conference.
If the end is near for the polished Italian striker, he'll look to go out a polished champion.
It starts with a visit from the Crew Saturday night.
The Dynamo must come together and perform if they hope to return to the postseason.
There are three things in life that are certain: Death, taxes and a late-season surge from the Houston Dynamo.
In 2011, the Dynamo finished the season with only one loss in their final seven matches. The club would capitalize on that run of form and reach the MLS Cup final. In 2012, Houston continued the trend and finished the season with two losses in the final seven weeks of the season. Again, the Dynamo continued streaking all the way to the MLS Cup final.
Is another late-season surge on the horizon in 2013?
It better be.
Especially if Houston plans on returning to the postseason for a third consecutive time.
But one roadblock stands in the way: Results have been problematic as of late. The Dynamo are winless in their last four matches.
According to the club's official website, head coach Dom Kinnear has a simple solution moving forward:
It's really simple. You show up for work, you work hard and you try to improve on your last performance. You can't feel sorry for yourself. The easiest way to stay in [trouble] is to feel sorry about yourself and accept it, the easiest way to get out of it is to just work hard. That's what we need to do.
The Dynamo "need" to win on Saturday.
Houston enters Week 29 tied on points (37) for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union—currently in fourth—are just two points clear. But a Dynamo victory will do more than dramatically shift the standings.
It will serve as a launching point for what could potentially be another deep playoff run.
Another battle is in the cards for Real Salt Lake and Seattle.
What more could you ask for in Week 29?
Real Salt Lake and Seattle will do battle yet again Friday night. The rivalry between these two Western Conference powers has intensified in recent years. Memorable playoff moments have only added fuel to an already burning fire.
In 2011, it was the 3-0 demolition of the Sounders.
In 2012, it was Mario Martinez's wonder-strike.
Elimination won't be on the line this Friday, but the stakes are just as high at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle enters the weekend trailing RSL by two points for the Supporters' Shield lead. A win on Friday could see Rave Green upend their rival and sit atop the standings for the first time this season. Long gone are the memories of Seattle's dreadful 0-3-2 start. Winning seven of your last eight matches will ensure that happens.
If RSL are to remain atop the Supporters' Shield standings, they'll have to neutralize the Sounders' scorching form.
Just don't expect the 50,000-plus on hand to make that an easy task.
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