A pair of intriguing Major League Soccer storylines to watch this weekend:
Nothing friendly about this clash
Any questions about the importance of Saturday's marquee tilt between defending champ Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC were answered when both teams rested key stars and fielded reserves for much of their respective midweek friendlies against Premier League opposition.
TFC, with designated player Michael Bradley on the bench, escaped with pride intact, losing to Tottenham Hotspur by a single goal. Sporting paid the price, however, dropping a 4-1 decision to Manchester City -- an ugly result for MLS even if Peter Vermes also rested a DP (Graham Zusi) and made 12 substitutions after the 30th minute.
For Vermes and Reds counterpart Ryan Nelsen, it was a notably different approach than the Seattle Sounders took when Sigi Schmid deployed a full-strength lineup vs. Tottenham last weekend. Sure, the timing of Wednesday's exhibitions -- just three days before this matchup at BMO Field -- made the risk of embarrassment necessary but also sent a clear message: The games that matter, matter more.
East-leading SKC still trails Seattle in the race for the Supporters' Shield, and after splurging on Bradley and Jermain Defoe last winter, second-place Toronto can't take its eyes off making the playoffs for the first time in its history.
That didn't stop MLS brass from grumbling privately that Vermes, Nelsen and Bruce Arena -- whose L.A. Galaxy side was humiliated by Manchester United in Wednesday's nightcap -- didn't use more competitive sides for these high-profile, nationally televised exhibitions. But in a funny way, it might actually be a sign of their league's growing maturity.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Revs desperate for a win
Just how bad can it get for the New England Revolution? After seven losses in a row, the Revs are on the verge of slipping out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. It might not be so depressing in Foxborough if the club hadn't shown so much promise during a five-game winning streak that directly preceded this disastrous run.
On Saturday, New England hosts Columbus with "must win" stamped all over the game. Coach Jay Heaps isn't just trying to find the best combination to reverse the ugly attacking trend -- he's also working to cover for the absence of the injured Andy Dorman and shore up a problem defense. Last week in Dallas, Heaps made five changes to his lineup, a clear sign of desperation. Despite a promising performance from forward Charlie Davies (in his first start of the year), the turnover did not have the desired effect. The Revolution gave up two goals and failed to score.
Now back at home, questions abound as to how Heaps will prevent New England from dropping its eighth straight game. Will he give Davies another start? Or return 2013 Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves to his usual spot? Can Scott Caldwell carry the load in defensive midfield alone, without Dorman, or does he need help? Which group of attacking midfielders is the best going forward?
The 2014 season for the Revolution teeters on the edge. A win against Columbus could right the ship. A loss, though, and we might soon be talking about what might have been in Massachusetts.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Seattle vs. L.A. Galaxy (Monday, 10 p.m. ET -- ESPN2 and WatchESPN)