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) Which Eddie Johnson is returning home?

Talented, inconsistent, inspiring, unfocused, exceptional, infuriating – those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the latest prodigal son to rejoin the league. At one point he ranked among the most-feared and best-paid attackers in MLS, but his career has stagnated badly since then and he has much to prove this season.

10) The Brian Ching saga finally played out this week. Did Jesse Marsch and the Impact blink?

Months of intrigue, teeth-gnashing and long-range sniping between Houston and Montreal ended on something of an underwhelming note on Thursday when Ching was dealt back to the Dynamo for a single, conditional 2013 draft pick. Not only did Houston give up less than expected, Ching accepted a pay cut to ensure the move, while Impact fans are left wondering if their club surrendered its leverage in the final stages.

9) Does Chivas USA’s high-altitude jersey unveiling foreshadow a successful season for the Goats?

Both meanings of the term “runway” were in effect on Wednesday as Juan Pablo Ángel, Dan Kennedy and Jorge Villafaña modeled their team’s 2012 uniforms during a Volaris flight between LA and Guadalajara. CUSA earns credit for the savvy marketing move, but Thursday’s 3-2 scrimmage loss to the Galaxy offered an uncomfortable reminder that, for now, they’re still stuck in the “little brother” role at The Home Depot Center.

8) Will the Crew’s mainstays heal in time for their season opener?

Columbus debuted their new, Barbasol-emblazoned jerseys this week but a spate of training-camp injuries may have had them reaching for other drug-store staples – like aspirin, for example. Eddie Gaven, Rich Balchan, Dilly Duka, Will Hesmer and Danny O’ Rourke are among those nursing knocks and fielding a first-choice lineup at Colorado on March 10 could be (ahem) a close shave for manager Robert Warzycha.

7) How will the costs and benefits of Olympic competition impact MLS this spring and summer?

US Under-23 coach Caleb Porter has called his Olympic shortlist into a Texas training camp this week, a group featuring 15 MLSers. The full makeup of Canada’s team remains unknown, while several other CONCACAF nations could call in league members (Honduras is negotiating with D.C. United for starlet Andy Najar, for example) for the region’s Olympic qualifying tournament, which begins during the fourth week of March.

6) Is Graham Zusi ready to become a marquee player?

Sporting Kansas City happily locked in their midfield schemer to a new contract this week, a key step in manager Peter Vermes’ plan to keep his young core at Livestrong Sporting Park. Zusi has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year and showed well for the national team last month; the next challenge is to cement his place among the MLS elite.

5) When will FC Dallas have their Colombian creator back up to speed?

David Ferreira had an encouraging visit with FCD’s team doctors on Wednesday, but is being worked into the preseason mix with great care, especially in light of coach Schellas Hyndman’s revelation that playing with pain in his healed ankle will be a constant reality for the foreseeable future.

“It may never get back to the way it was,” said Hyndman, “and he may just have to understand that the pain is gonna be there.”

4) Would Raúl really make the move to MLS and, if so, which teams could afford him?

Hinting at a move to MLS has become a top negotiating tactic for veteran European stars, but the former Real Madrid legend has been connected to – and talked about – the league too many times over the years for it not to be a real possibility. This week the rumors kicked up again, with the Spaniard’s relationship with German side Schalke 04 looking precarious. But the list of MLS clubs with the necessary money and cap space is short.

3) Is Martín Riveros the man to key the Rapids’ renaissance?

New Colorado coach Oscar Pareja has been hunting for a No. 10, and in capturing the 22-year-old on loan from Rosario Central this week, he believes he’s found the right one. Rapids fans can only hope that this Argentinean playmaker works out better than their last one, when Christian Gómez made his ill-fated move from D.C. to Commerce City in 2008.

2) What about Scotland’s latest contribution to MLS, Barry Robson?

This week’s dismal news regarding Rangers FC’s impending bankruptcy immediately set off MLS rumors about Carlos Bocanegra and the rest of the Glasgow giants' American contingent. Yet it was a Middlesbrough-based Scotsman who became the league’s latest DP in Vancouver, with Whitecaps boss Martin Rennie excited to add Robson’s 15 years of pro experience to his young squad come summer. The 33-year-old has scored eight goals in England’s second tier this season; will he anchor the midfield or bomb forward?

1) And have the Timbers quietly pulled a coup with the signing of Franck Songo’o?

Portland welcomed a DP addition earlier this winter in the form of striker Kris Boyd, though they’ve been more circumspect in their handling of Songo’o, a 24-year-old Cameroonian with an impressive pedigree who has been turning heads in preseason training so far. His craftiness could add a new dimension to a side which tended to be rather direct in 2011.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.