Starting XI: Is this the wildest MLS offseason ever? What's next on expansion front?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Is this the wildest MLS offseason ever?
Attention-grabbing, bank-breaking signings. A steady stream of startling expansion news. And now, the league's purchase of Chivas USA, a stunning sign of new hope and fresh possibilities in Southern California. The wintry gap between MLS Cup and opening day has rarely been more eventful.
10) How long will the expansion “pause” at 24 teams really last?
It was telling that in his Thursday conference call regarding the Chivas USA deal, commissioner Don Garber not only fielded expansion questions, but solicited them. The topic seems to catch attention and build buzz like few others, and Garber hinted that the current leap to 24 teams – two slots have already been filled by NYCFC and Orlando City – won't be the last. Which begs the question: Will MLS grow to NFL- or NBA-level size?
9) What will be the prime pick of Jersey Week?
OK, so uniforms are just clothes, at the end of the day. But they are also physical embodiments of everything teams represent, and few other harbingers of the new season get fans as fired up. So we'll be watching closely to see which clubs show off the sharpest duds as most of MLS unveils their newest gear in the week ahead.
8) Which MLSers will get Jurgen Klinsmann's call for the USMNT's March 5 friendly in Ukraine – and will the match even take place?
The US national team has just one FIFA fixture date before the World Cup roster is announced – just one opportunity to gather most of Klinsmann's top players for an important run-through. The match in Kharkiv is awkwardly placed for the MLS-based members of his squad, arriving just before the 2014 season's opening weekend, and now the waves of political violence convulsing through the Ukrainian capital of Kiev have forced U.S. Soccer to contemplate alternative plans. Stay tuned.
7) Who will lead the line for Vancouver on opening day?
With Designated Player Kenny Miller racing against time to regain full health, Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson has an interesting set of options up top, especially if he fields the 4-2-3-1 formation that the 'Caps have been working with this preseason. Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh, Omar Salgado and now even Erik Hurtado offer a range of interesting – and youthful – striking options for Robinson.
6) Is Caleb Porter's Argentine contingent the missing link for the Timbers?
Last year's Western Conference regular-season champs haven't sat on their laurels this winter, as an influx of reinforcements have arrived in the hopes of pushing Portland over the MLS Cup hump. But Norberto Paparatto and Gastón Fernández figure to be the most closely watched of the bunch, as their quality may be the key to sustaining PTFC's 2014 push for trophies on multiple fronts.
5) Is Columbus ready to contend?
With new ownership, a brand-new manager, a raft of new players arriving and a branding update coming soon, the Crew have turned the page in so many ways in recent months. Projects like this usually take time to bear fruit on the field, but coach Gregg Berhalter (pictured, right) is implementing some intriguing philosophies this preseason and a dark-horse playoff contender could rise in central Ohio.
4) Will Oscar Pareja spark the same sort of youth movement in Dallas that he did in Colorado?
Regular Starting XI readers will be familiar with the development of the “Rapkids” – fresh faces like Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown and Chris Klute who helped Colorado power into last season's playoffs. Reports suggest that Pareja, the primary architect of that development, may be applying a similar mentality at FC Dallas and a successful implementation could affect the race for the 2014 postseason.
3) So, how's your MLS Fantasy team looking?
MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager is bigger and better than ever this season, and MLSsoccer.com has plenty of info and advice to help set you up for success. It's a great way to deepen your knowledge of the league and its players...and there's also the not-so-small matter of $10,000 in prizes on offer.
2) What does Friday morning's news from D.C. mean for D.C. United's stadium hopes?
If it was easy, it would have been done long ago. The Washington Post is reporting that D.C. city council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser has registered her opposition to the plan, led by Mayor Vincent Gray, to build United a new home in Southwest D.C. It looks like a setback in the Black-and-Red's elusive quest for a soccer-specific venue of their own, and a timely reminder of how difficult that road can be – as many other MLS clubs can attest.
1) What can Wilmer Cabrera and his Goats do on Chivas USA's last ride?
SoCal's second club has been a punch line all too often in recent years, and it would be no great surprise if they struggled again in what will inevitably be a unique season of transition. Yet Cabrera's abilities, combined with the interesting array of personalities he's gathered for the Chivas USA roster, may make them a romantic's favorite in the stacked West.