Starting XI: SuperDraft, offseason chatter nears fever pitch
11) The 2013 schedule is out: Which dates have you circled?
They've gotten some grief in past years, so this time around let's give MLS schedule-makers some much-deserved credit for cranking out the league-wide calendar – a truly mammoth task – early this offseason. A few extra weeks of notice can make all the difference for fans eager to plan their year around their team's slate, so expect the numbers of traveling supporters to continue to climb in '13. MLSsoccer.com's own Andrew Wiebe offered his take on the tastiest-looking matchups – what's your list?
10) The next All-Star party is headed to Kansas City. You in?
WATCH: Kansas City to host 2013 All-Star Game
Anchored by Livestrong Sporting Park, one of the finest soccer venues on the continent, the Kansas City soccer scene's dramatic turnaround has been rewarded with hosting rights for the 2013 MLS All-Star Game and tickets for the midsummer showcase are already selling at a rapid clip. Some would contend that the best part of the event takes place in the pre- and postgame nightlife hotspots, an area where KC is surprisingly stacked. If you make the trip, give yourself enough time to soak in the ambiance.
9) Can the league's latest Argentine playmaker cut the Cascadia mustard?
Diego Valeri joined the Timbers this week, continuing a long tradition of maestro movement from the land of tango to MLS. While Portland's hopes of a renaissance under Caleb Porter might not hinge entirely on improved contributions from the attacking midfield spot, the club's investment in their latest Designated Player, and their fans' hunger for success in 2013, means Valeri's learning curve – new league, new city, even a new playing surface – will be steep and slick.
8) Will FC Dallas' goalkeeping gamble pay off?
Veteran Kevin Hartman aged like fine wine between the posts for FCD over the past few seasons, only to be told to hit the road this winter. Now the North Texans have brought in Peruvian netminder Raúl Fernández to compete with Chris Seitz for the starting job. Is this a timely tap of the "refresh" button, or a needless risk for a club with plenty of other areas to address in the weeks ahead?
7) Can Rafael make RFK Stadium the Gladiator's arena in 2013?
D.C. United placed a bet of their own this week with the acquisition of promising Brazilian striker Rafael Teixeira de Souza as a young DP. You can just call him by his first name, though fans at his former club, Bahia, took to calling him "Gladiador" in a nod to his power, heart and finishing skills. If he can finish off a decent percentage of the many chances the United midfield typically creates, the Black-and-Red will be entertaining indeed.
6) But is Andy Najar good as gone?
D.C. fans are hoping the RFK entrance doesn't turn into a revolving door with the news that their club's prized Homegrown winger is getting an extended look from Belgian power RSC Anderlecht. Najar (right) has already logged 90 minutes in a friendly against Dutch side SC Heracles Almelo and looks like a good fit for the team that is home to US international Sacha Kljestan. Expect United to drive a hard bargain should Anderlecht's interest accelerate.
5) Will anyone upset conventional Combine wisdom in Ft. Lauderdale?
The MLS Combine opens Friday in sunny South Florida, an event which over the years has been known to hurt some players' SuperDraft stock more than it helps others'. Nervousness and limited preparation time with mostly unfamiliar teammates can complicate the players' attempts to stand out from the crowd in three games over five days. But most clubs already have their favorites in mind, in which case only a few opinions really matter. Just ask Nick DeLeon, the talent who underwhelmed many scouts in last year's edition, but nonetheless earned D.C.'s trust and went on to carve out a banner rookie season.
4) The age-old draft question: Snag talent, or fill needs?
Most MLS coach-general manager types will tell you that they usually select "the best player available" when it's their turn to pick on draft day. This time around, that might not be as logical a choice as usual, given that it's a senior-heavy talent pool bursting with role players who've had four years of college ball to hone particular skills like left back or attacking winger. Then again, pro clubs rarely hesitate to slot youngsters into totally new positions.
WATCH: What will Chivas USA do on Jan. 17?
3) Has Chivas USA's re-embrace of "Pura Sangre" painted them into a corner in the SuperDraft?
The Goats own the second overall pick in next week's draft in Indianapolis, their first and only selection, and scuttlebutt suggests that they'll take either Carlos Alvarez (full bio) or Mikey Lopez (full bio), two Mexican-American midfielders with SoCal roots. Chivas got lucky that this year's crop offered up two talents who check all the boxes required for the club's renewed emphasis on ethnic identity, a mindset that nonetheless complicates their approach to the draft and all the wheeling and dealing that surrounds it.
2) Will Eriq Zavaleta wind up as a striker in MLS, or a center back?
Zavaleta is arguably the most game-ready, all-around talent on offer in this year's Generation adidas class, and he showed his class in leading Indiana to College Cup glory last month. His position at the pro level may depend on which MLS coaching staff gets their hands on him first.
1) Is Kekuta Manneh for real?
File this one under "truth is stranger than fiction." The shy Gambian teenager (full bio) has skyrocketed from youth goalscoring machine to GA contract nearly overnight, as his exploits with two Texas clubs in the US Soccer Development Academy convinced MLS officials that he's too promising a prospect to pass up. He's undersized and, to some, unproven, heightening the importance of his Combine performances.