Starting XI: Can Sigi Schmid get his groove back? Who's the man in Dallas? Is Eric Lichaj ready?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Can Sigi Schmid get his groove back?
Another disappointing playoff exit in Seattle has prompted endless frustration and second-guessing among the league's largest fanbase, with a great deal of it directed towards the head coach. With the front office making their displeasure clear as well, Schmid's future seemed to be in doubt for the first time since he arrived in the Emerald City. But Adrian Hanauer and Joe Roth affirmed their faith in him on Thursday, giving him at least one more year to solve the puzzle of SSFC's pricy roster.
10) And just how will those “tough decisions ahead” play out for the Sounders?
Hanauer used those words in an apparent allusion to the salary-cap and pay-raise issues that face the club, and almost simultaneously, he issued a non-denial of the reports that striker Eddie Johnson is a trade candidate. A confluence of factors have presented Seattle with myriad cap quandaries and there simply doesn't appear to be room for everyone to stick around at the wages they desire.
9) Will Major League Soccer's new Caribbean venture pay dividends?
We've seen the major impact made by Jamaicans and Trinidadians over the league's history, and now MLS is opening up opportunities for young talent from the smaller nations of the West Indies via a partnership with the Caribbean Football Union. While it may take time for this initiative to pay dividends, a January combine in Antigua will provide an early glimpse of the possibilities in an often-overlooked soccer hotbed.
8) Who's the new man at FC Dallas?
FCD's coaching vacancy remains unfilled, though former Colorado boss Gary Smith says he's hopeful of making the club's shortlist and the Rapids report that they've “respectfully declined” another (unnamed) MLS club's request to discuss the position with their head coach, Oscar Pareja. Apparently half a dozen candidates are on Dallas' list, with Hunt Sports Group vice president Dan Hunt giving away little in the way of hints other than to note that some contenders for the job are still involved in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
7) Can Gregg Berhalter lead a revolution in Columbus?
The Crew's new boss arrived in Ohio to a hero's welcome, with everyone from ambitious new investor/owner Anthony Precourt on down proclaiming him the club's ideal choice. That said, there's plenty for Berhalter still to prove. He was unable to complete Hammarby's quest for a return to Sweden's top flight, dogged by suggestions that his tactics were too defensive in nature, and his coaching experience is thin beyond that job. Will his career-capping stint with the LA Galaxy be enough to ensure a smooth transition into MLS?
6) Is this Eric Lichaj's moment?
The most overlooked American Export of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as US national team coach has finally gotten a callup for the twin friendlies against Scotland and Austria. With Fabian Johnson sidelined by injury and both first-choice fullbacks still midfielders playing out of position, can the Nottingham Forest man seize his chance?
5) Or will someone else grab the spotlight in Europe?
These matches kick off the USMNT's final phase of auditions for Brazil 2014, meaning that the already-tight window in which players can prove they belong on the World Cup roster is now only open for a few occasions before the big decisions are made. For the next six to eight months, at least, there are no meaningless friendlies.
4) How can Clint Dempsey snap out of his funk?
This year he's been named captain of his national team and starred in one of the biggest transfer dramas in US soccer history, though not too much else has gone according to plan for Deuce. One injury after another has prevented him from playing the impact role we've grown accustomed to seeing for both club and country, with this week's calf injury the latest setback. Would a winter loan move be the answer, or just another danger?
3) Can Robbie Rogers find the game in 2014?
It's been a “crazy year” and “emotional roller-coaster” for the Galaxy winger, in his own words, as he made worldwide headlines as one of the first out gay athletes in men's professional team sports history, only to struggle through a rash of injuries and inconsistency. Now he's aiming to “move forward and just be a soccer player” going into next season as both he and his club seek to work him back to his devastating best.
2) Can MLS' most indestructible team get it together in time for leg two?
Yes, we're talking about the Houston Dynamo here. Dominic Kinnear and his men have proven yet again that they can soak up whatever postseason abuse their Eastern Conference rivals have to offer, and hand it back in equal or greater measure. The international break arrived just in time for the Orange to rest up after an exhausting stretch of six important matches in 17 days, yet even that may not be enough time for key men Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin, who are racing to be available for the decisive Conference Championship second-leg match at Sporting Kansas City on Nov. 23.
1) Can the Timbers do it?
No one likes to be down two goals (4-2 in this case) on aggregate halfway through a two-leg series, even heading home for the decider. But the Portland Timbers' attacking nous, and home-field advantage, are such that they look eminently capable of weaving some memorable magic when they host Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship's second leg at JELD-WEN Field on Nov. 24. That said, almost every break will have to fall in PTFC's favor for their miracle to materialize.