By AVI CREDITOR
Ousted World Cup participants are expected to receive a hero's welcome during Major League Soccer's Week 14, as Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Jonathan Bornstein, Roger Espinoza and Andrew Boyens return to their respective clubs.
Most eyes will be on the Los Angeles Galaxy-Seattle Sounders tilt to see if Donovan and Buddle make their on-field returns to the league's top team, though Bornstein's return to a floundering Chivas USA side may be just as, if not more, important to his team.
Elsewhere, Toronto FC tries to keep its home unbeaten streak alive against Houston, and Columbus and Chicago square off in a showdown of traditional Eastern Conference powers.
Here's a look ahead at the entire Week 14 slate and how we see things playing out:
TORONTO FC (5-4-3) vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (5-7-2)
Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes
What happens to MLS teams when they go through customs en route to Toronto? The Reds haven't lost a home league match at BMO Field in more than a calendar year and are 5-0-2 at home this season. Houston, coming off a U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday, has a tall hurdle to overcome in order to steal the three points.
The other wrinkle in this nationally televised match is Dwayne De Rosario facing his former team. Last season De Rosario managed to score against the Dynamo in one of their two matchups, and he happens to be in stellar form this season. It's Canada Day, so Toronto can't lose, right? De Rosario beats club and international teammate Pat Onstad twice, and Stefan Frei notches his third straight clean sheet in another home win for Preki's side. TFC 2, Dynamo 0.
REAL SALT LAKE (7-3-3) vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (3-8-2)
Friday, 10 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
Memories of last season's 6-0 result at Rio Tinto might be rekindled, as these two teams are headed in opposite directions. Salt Lake has excelled even without the injured Kyle Beckerman (who was upgraded on the injury report to questionable) and Findley, who both may return to the lineup. New England, meanwhile, is perhaps the most injury-prone team in the league and hasn't had the depth to overcome some personnel losses.
Matt Reis should be a little more settled in goal after returning to league play last week, but he'll need to find his All-Star form of old to stop the MLS Cup holders. Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola each score and reigning MLS Player of the Month Nick Rimando has an easy but effective night in a clinical rout. RSL 3, Revolution 0.
COLUMBUS CREW (7-2-3) vs. CHICAGO FIRE (4-3-5)
Saturday, 8 p.m, Fox Soccer Channel
These perennial Eastern Conference contenders square off at Crew Stadium with plenty to play for. The Crew could pull 10 points clear of the fourth-place Fire with a victory, while the Fire could keep the pressure on Toronto FC, New York and Columbus with a road upset over a team that is mostly at full health and hitting its stride.
Marco Pappa scores for the fourth straight game, but defense and goalkeeping make the difference in this one, and the Crew get the edge in both departments. With Frankie Hejduk likely to return to the lineup and Chad Marshall at full fitness, the home team makes goals from Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers hold up. Crew 2, Fire 1.
FC DALLAS (4-2-6) vs. KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (3-6-3)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
Well look who's back in the playoff picture? After a dismal start, FC Dallas has turned the corner under Schellas Hyndman and finds itself currently tied for the sixth-most points in the league.
The Wizards, however, have fizzled out after their eye-opening start and have yet to win on the road (0-4-1). That streak will continue, with David Ferreira tallying the lone goal at Pizza Hut Park. Stephane Auvray's probable return to the midfield and Espinoza's potential return to the back line helps the Wizards keep things close, but Kevin Hartman notches the clean sheet. FC Dallas 1, Wizards 0.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (5-4-3) vs. D.C. UNITED (3-9-1)
Saturday, 10 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
San Jose might have a goalkeeper controversy on its hands after Jon Busch delivered a clean sheet against Real Salt Lake last week in his first MLS start for the Earthquakes. Regardless of if Busch or Joe Cannon gets the start, San Jose's defense should be able to hold up against United, which was at Columbus last weekend, returned home for a U.S. Open Cup game Wednesday night, only to fly back across the country for this weekend's tilt.
Bobby Convey continues his All-Star push against his former team with two more assists, and Ike Opara and the rest of the Quakes' defensive unit find a way to stifle Chris Pontius and Andy Najar. Earthquakes 2, United 0.
CHIVAS USA (3-9-1) vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (3-7-1)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
Two cellar-dwellers meet in Los Angeles, though the gritty Union have a little bounce in their step after opening PPL Park in style.
Chivas will gladly welcome back Bornstein to stabilize the back line, but it's unclear how much he'll play in his first game back with the club. Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga are both in good form, and Chivas will be hard-pressed to keep both off the scoreboard, regardless of if Borstein plays.
The Union's struggles on the road are well documented (1-7-0), but this is a winnable game for them. Justin Braun makes things interesting with a late tally, but the Union hold on for road win No. 2. Union 2, Chivas 1.
COLORADO RAPIDS (6-3-3) vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-5-0)
Sunday, 9 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
Two strikers in good form highlight this match at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, with Conor Casey and Juan Pablo Angel each having scored in three of their last four matches.
Casey and Omar Cummings will give Tim Ream & Co. fits, but Angel and Salou Ibrahim return the favor as all four strikers find the back of the net. The Red Bulls are the only team in the league to avoid a draw — until this week. Rapids 2, Red Bulls 2.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY (10-1-3) vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-7-3)
Sunday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Direct Kick
The big mystery is how much, if any, playing time Donovan and Buddle receive in their return from South Africa. The Los Angeles Times reported that both are expected to be available for the match, but do the Galaxy even need them this week? The Sounders are all out of sorts, sandwiching the World Cup break with losses at home to D.C. United and at Philadelphia. Fitness may be an issue as well after the Sounders had to grind out a U.S. Open Cup win over rival Portland after 120 minutes and penalty kicks on Wednesday.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, recorded their 10th clean sheet at Toronto last week, have the most enviable depth in the league and already defeated the Sounders at Seattle this season, 4-0. Donovan may sit this one out, but Buddle comes on as a second-half substitute and scores an insurance goal in another Los Angeles shutout. Galaxy 3, Sounders 0.
How do you see Week 14 playing out? Any potential upsets you have your eye on? Hope Donovan and Buddle both play?
Share your thoughts below.