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) Just how much of a game-changer is San Jose’s stadium breakthrough?
The Earthquakes have dreamed of a home of their own for decades, dating back to their original incarnation in the old NASL, and on Wednesday night the San Jose Planning Commission granted them the right to begin building it on a site near the city’s international airport. The $60 million, 18,000-capacity facility will give the Quakes and their fan base room to grow beyond the tight confines of their current home, Buck Shaw Stadium, and should help tap into the Bay Area’s wider soccer community.
10) In the race to become MLS club No. 20, could Orlando really nip NY2 to the finish line?
Much has been made of Commissioner Don Garber’s professed desire for a second team in New York. MLS has kept an eye on other expansion locales too, though, and next week Garber will visit Florida (again) to meet with the city’s mayor and fans of Orlando City, the club which has enjoyed impressive success in USL PRO since moving from Austin, Texas. Don’t bet that New York City will lose this one, however. The Orlando talks are certainly something interesting for the future, but all league rhetoric points to a second team in the Big Apple.
9) Do preseason matches matter?
Heightened coverage and awareness of MLS preseason action makes it easier for fans to track their team – and easier to forget that these results often have very little bearing on the campaign ahead. Just ask D.C. United, whose perfect 4-0 preseason in 2010 generated real optimism that was soon crushed by the worst season in club history. It’s wise to examine the little things instead, like chemistry and combination play.
8) Have United’s offseason activities made them a force in the East?
Attacking chemistry is an enjoyable conversation topic for D.C. fans these days, now that reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario (right) has been secured to a multi-year contract which makes him the capital club’s highest-paid player. Designated Players Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi look like smart counterparts for DeRo, while coach Ben Olsen can call on Andy Najar, Chris Pontius and a range of other wing options in his preferred 4-4-2 system. Now the Black-and-Red have to prove they know how to defend a bit, too.
7) Will Red Bulls striker Luke Rodgers catch a break and rejoin his teammates?
The dynamic, diminutive Englishman was a clutch performer in 2011, but remains in limbo due to delays in his visa renewal process, with New York head coach Hans Backe admitting on Wednesday that they’re “still waiting for an answer from the embassy” and “we don't know much.” Meanwhile, fielding Kenny Cooper in Rodgers’ place seems to change the team’s attacking approach in important ways.
3) Can Eduardo Sebrango become the next Preki?
The Cuban-Canadian striker’s amazing story just keeps getting better. Despite being nearly twice as old as some of his teammates, the longtime USL standout earned his first MLS contract this week thanks to strong displays during Montreal’s preseason camps. The savvy Preki played for Kansas City until the august age of 42 – how much does Sebrango have left in his 38-year-old legs?
5) How will the Eddie Johnson Experiment play out in Seattle?
Last Friday evening, EJ’s allocation to Montreal and subsequent trade drama kept many around MLS glued to their phones and computers well into a three-day weekend. The mercurial striker’s eventual destination shocked many, including Sounders supporters dismayed to see a local product (Lamar Neagle) and a cult hero (Mike Fucito) shipped to Quebec. Coach Sigi Schmid’s bold move is a high-risk, high-reward gambit which could determine the course of the ambitious Sounders’ entire season.
4) So what has the EJ trade done for Montreal?
Just a few days after settling for a provisional 2012 SuperDraft pick in the drawn-out Brian Ching trade with Houston – a very modest return for everyone’s time and trouble – Impact coach Jesse Marsch looked quite clever in using the allocation system to pry Neagle and Fucito away from Schmid. The young, affordable duo represents value and competitive depth for the expansion side.
3) After this week’s talk, is Bobby Convey ready to walk the walk in KC?
Both club and player knew it was time for Convey (right) to move on from San Jose last year, especially after his relationship with head coach Frank Yallop broke down completely. Slightly more surprising is Convey’s decision to toss a few thinly veiled digs in his old club’s direction this week.
“This is a great support system here,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It's an amazing stadium. We have everything we need in place for us to win. It was tough to focus on playing when you have to coach kids in the afternoon to make rent. I feel great here.”
Convey’s remarks should add a bit of extra spice to SKC’s clash with the Earthquakes at Livestrong Sporting Park on May 27.
2) Is 2012 Benny Feilhaber’s year?
When he’s on, he’s one of the smoothest US midfielders in the game, and Feilhaber seems ready to hit the ground running in his first full season in MLS. New England coach Jay Heaps has built the Revolution’s first XI around Feilhaber, nudging him into “the hole” to maximize his creativity and vision with Shalrie Joseph and Clyde Simms as midfield shields behind him. Now he just has to deliver.
1) And what about Dominic Oduro?
This week the Chicago Fire’s rocket-fueled frontrunner earned a long-awaited reward for his standout performances with a call-up to the Ghanaian national team, who will meet Chile in an international friendly at PPL Park on Feb. 29. The opportunity is also a reminder that the Fire’s 2011 team MVP must deal with the burden of raised expectations this season.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.