Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the weekend
The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Will the US national fare better against Brazil this time around?
Like their clash in New Jersey’s Meadowlands in the wake of the 2010 World Cup, the US will once again pack a cavernous East Coast venue as they test themselves against the world’s best this summer. The just-announced May 30 friendly at FedEx Field probably represents the stiffest challenge of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure and, with 2014 qualifying kicking off in June, fans will watch for progress and preparedness.
10) What lessons can be learned from the USWNT’s sold-out appearance at FC Dallas Stadium on Saturday?
Meanwhile, the US women’s juggernaut rolls on towards the Summer Games and fans continue to flock to their every appearance. A capacity crowd is expected for this weekend’s friendly against New Zealand in North Texas – which, from an MLS standpoint, hopefully contains thousands of potential converts to the FC Dallas cause.
9) What does Jesse Marsch really have in mind for Brian Ching?
The most emotional storyline of the offseason has simmered down a bit as Ching (right) grows accustomed to his displacement from Houston, but it continues to provoke chatter with preseason fully underway. The status quo illustrates just why Montreal’s hard-nosed boss grabbed the unprotected striker in the Expansion Draft – he holds all the cards and can wait for the Dynamo to make the next move, or just make use of the quality veteran.
8) With Mac Kandji off to the Dynamo, who is the “mystery Argentinean” replacing him in Colorado?
The Orange took a step to fill the Ching-sized gap in their front line by acquiring the Senegalese forward this week as coach Dominic Kinnear looks to revitalize the career of yet another forgotten talent. The Rapids say they’re set to fill Kandji’s roster spot with a young South American maestro this month, and deserve credit for keeping the playmaker’s identity under wraps to this point.
7) How did Bruce Arena pull it off – and can his stacked team possibly live up to their preseason hype?
The Galaxy are sitting pretty after some scintillating roster moves – highlighted by the surprising re-capture of midfield linchpin Juninho – that have observers harking back to Arena’s mastery of league nuances during his late-1990s D.C. United dynasty. If the LA coach stays that far ahead of the MLS power curve this season, it will be a long one for his team’s rivals … provided the squad handles their business.
6) Are Darlington Nagbe and Bright Dike ready to seize the spotlight for Portland?
They couldn’t quite maneuver their way into the MLS Cup Playoffs in their expansion season, but the Timbers have maintained, and added to, their serious collection of athletic young talent this year. These two might – might – be the picks of the litter. Tuesday’s 4-1 scrimmage win over LA showed promising signs that the Rose City bunch could be more than a handful out west in 2012.
5) Can the Revolution track down José Moreno?
With the signing of the Colombian, New England boss Jay Heaps thought he had secured a No. 9 to build his front line around, only for Moreno to suggest earlier this week that he wanted to stay with Once Caldas and leave the Revs hanging. Is the 30-year-old forward really looking to bail out of the deal he signed, or is just showing the classic “quirky striker” traits?
4) Have Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane’s loan spells served MLS well after all?
Some folks worried about injury risks and a lack of respect when three of the league’s top players embarked on offseason stints in the EPL. But their useful contributions to Arsenal, Everton and Aston Villa, respectively, forced English pundits to suspend their usual condescension toward MLS for a bit. Best of all for their home clubs, all three are headed back to the States on time and with minimal fuss.
3) Are some teams missing out on preseason buzz, or just happy to fly under the radar?
Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake are two of several clubs enjoying quiet preseasons thus far, apparently content to get fit, evaluate their options and avoid headlines. Most coaches prefer to sneak up on their opposition, but there’s a school of thought that believes a bit of awareness-raising hype can help out at the box office when it’s time to play meaningful matches.
2) Is the “Thomas Rongen effect” kicking in at Toronto FC?
Fresh off a life-affirming stint at the head of the once-luckless American Samoa national team, Rongen has brought his unique personality and strong talent evaluating skills to foster TFC's ambitious youth academy. While several years of underachievement have made Reds fans into a hard-bitten lot, the long-term effects of the interaction between Rongen and his fellow Dutchman, head coach Aron Winter, already have many feeling optimistic about a potentially transformative 2012, and beyond.
1) More and more MLS clubs are signing good local television deals. What does it mean?
In a word, evolution. Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas just locked down full coverage of their 2012 schedule, making it easier for fans to catch the action and bolstering both franchises’ places in their respective markets. It’s easy to forget that MLS teams once had to beg for – or buy – a fraction of the TV presence that is now widespread.