Starting XI: Tracking the top topics with less than a month to go before preseason 2014
The top 11 questions around MLS as the countdown to preseason begins...
11) How deeply will the Earthquakes' identity change in 2014?
As we speak, a new stadium is taking shape across the train tracks from the Mineta San Jose International Airport. And while it won't be inhabitable until next year, it's already helped usher in a sense of renewal at the Bay Area club, with a new logo and new uniforms set to be unveiled at the end of the month. How will the winds of change show themselves on the field once the whistle blows on opening day?
10) What will D.C. United do at the SuperDraft?
OK, so – at the moment, at least – last year's stragglers only have three picks in this year's four-round affair. But the Black-and-Red hold the No. 1 overall pick, the biggest card in the whole game. Their offseason moves have given some observers the sense that they'll use it to select a defender. Yet the brightest attacking talent on offer (Maryland striker Patrick Mullins) is a familiar face who made his name in College Park, just a short drive down the Beltway from RFK Stadium.
9) What's Plan D for FC Dallas?
If reports are to be believed, it appears that a taut drama has been quietly unfolding behind the scenes in North Texas and the Front Range as FCD persistently pursue Colorado Rapids coach (and former Dallas employee) Oscar Pareja. One way or another, the Rapids have kept their man in burgundy so far this winter, but the situation's lingering uncertainty means it will hang over both teams' heads until the Texas club's vacancy is filled.
8) Who will bring the Goats hope?
TV personality and former MLS great Alexi Lalas often reminds ESPN viewers that a flawed plan is better than no plan, and at the moment Chivas USA fans will surely agree. The Rebaño Angelino continue to watch and wait for news of not only a new coach, but a new leadership's vision for the club and the squad as it stands today.
7) Can Portland proceed?
He didn't win the MLS Cup, but it's hard to think of much else on the Portland Timbers' to-do list that Caleb Porter didn't achieve in his first season in Stumptown, and the 2013 MLS Coach of the Year gong was his logical reward. Fast-starting rookies have a nasty habit of hitting sophomore slumps in this league, however, and avoiding a similar sidetrack will present a tall order for both club and manager in '14.
6) How much tinkering can the Red Bulls handle?
One of the more enduring traits across the New York club's varied 18-year history has been overhaul and upheaval in the offseason, even after encouraging campaigns like the one that wrapped up at Red Bull Arena less than two months ago. At present, coach Mike Petke appears likely to field a significantly different starting lineup in March than he did in November – and it will be impossible to clearly evaluate those decisions for months to come.
5) How will the odd couple get on in Montreal?
Impact owner Joey Saputo is one of the league's most unique executive personalities, to say the least. The latest curveball? His club's decision to hire former Chicago Fire man Frank Klopas as head coach. They have almost no history together, but must work together to coax the best out of a relatively long-in-the-tooth IMFC roster.
4) Will LA be ready for Los Xoloitzcuintles?
The Galaxy will once again hunt for CONCACAF Champions League glory this spring in a quarterfinal duel against a Mexican side. But this time it's against Club Tijuana, a battle that also holds myriad ramifications off the field thanks to the clubs' burgeoning battle for hearts and minds across Southern California. And as usual, they must be ready for two of the year's most important games barely a week into the new season. Both frustrating and inevitable, this reality will pile on the pressure over the next two months.
3) How steeply will Jeff Cassar's learning curve cant?
A succession process like the one now taking place atop Real Salt Lake's technical staff is more than just an organizational flow chart. Myriad moving parts will undergird Cassar's move into the space vacated by New York City FC pioneer Jason Kreis, and even in light of his ample experience as both a player and a coach, RSL's 2014 season will hinge on the former goalkeeper's adaptation to life in the proverbial corner office.
2) Can Sigi Schmid make this thing work?
MLSsoccer.com's own Armchair Analyst has emphatically branded the Seattle Sounders as the most compelling storyline of the year ahead, and it's hard to argue after a glance or two at the list of decisions and tasks facing Schmid. The Emerald City's outsized expectations aren't dropping one bit this season, and nowhere in MLS will as many eyes and camera lenses be focused on one head coach and his expensively-assembled lineup.
1) What lies in store for Mike Magee?
Friday brought the Chicago striker and reigning league MVP another long-overdue piece of acknowledgement as US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann called him up as part of an MLS-heavy January camp roster. Magee's sustained excellence, first for the Galaxy and now the Fire, has finally opened up an opportunity that eluded him for years: Does he have enough time to cash it in for Brazil 2014?