Starting XI: Can Clint Dempsey stay afloat? Where's Freddy Adu headed?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Will you play your part on the Road to Brazil?
On Friday MLS confirmed the dates and matchups of this unique exhibition series featuring a range of national teams warming up for the World Cup right here in North America. While a visit from defending world and European champions Spain is always a head-turning treat, don't sleep on the range of other international contenders taking part.
10) Where will Freddy wind up?
Freddy Adu, the wunderkind who set the world buzzing in the leadup to his MLS debut at age 14 a decade ago, is now searching for a club to call home. And while his representatives might disagree, it's hard to see exactly what the plan is for kick-starting a career that was bursting with enormous potential not so long ago. Adu himself holds hopes of returning to the US national team picture, but to do so he'll have to transform the general perception that he's lost his way.
9) What's Daigo got left in his tank?
Two years ago, a veteran attacker was let go by the Vancouver Whitecaps and found a happy home in New England, fuelling a playoff run with his skill and creativity and prompting Revs fans to display an enormous “thank you” card to the 'Caps at Gillette Stadium. That man was Lee Nguyen, and now New England are hoping they'll perform a similar trick with Japanese playmaker Daigo Kobayashi, who arrived from Vancouver via a trade this week.
8) And who will rise to the top in Carl Robinson's crowded 'Caps midfield?
Last week, Starting XI touched on the logjam of striking options for Vancouver's young coach. Now that the British Columbians have snared Matías Laba from Toronto FC for a pittance, they have even more choices to make in the engine room: Nigel Reo-Coker. Russell Teibert. Gershon Koffie. Matt Watson. Mehdi Ballouchy. Andre Lewis. And the list goes on, with Chilean playmaker Pedro Morales reportedly on his way, too. Candy store, or chaos?
7) Is Deuce ready for the hard road ahead?
A rough re-introduction to MLS last fall has segued into an odd winter for Clint Dempsey (right), who returned to Fulham FC on loan only to get lost amid managerial changes and relegation fears. Some have urged the Seattle Sounders to reel him back in ahead of schedule, while others fret about the fact that he's set to globe-trot from London to Cyprus to Seattle this week as one of only two MLSers on the USMNT roster for the March 5 friendly against Ukraine. Another busy, pressure-packed year beckons.
6) Are LA changing the way they play?
Incumbent stars Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez remain the heart and soul of the Galaxy. Yet this offseason has featured a range of unexpected pickups – target forwards Rob Friend and Samuel, winger Stefan Ishizaki and former Fire schemer Baggio Husidic – while Donovan is expected to feature primarily in midfield. So is coach Bruce Arena going direct? Or will there simply be more ways for the four-time MLS Cup champs to slice and dice opponents in 2014?
5) And are the Dynamo really going offense first?
There may be a similar shift at work in Houston, where MLSsoccer.com's Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle has noted something of a paradigm shift as Dominic Kinnear prepares a squad full of attacking weapons with questions in defense. Could it be that the traditional Orange meatgrinder will turn run-and-gun this season?
4) What's in store for Austin Berry?
From 2012 Rookie of the Year to allocation-money trade bait: Berry's winter is a study in how quickly things can change in this business. After a 2013 campaign in which his Chicago Fire defense seemed to add up to less than the sum of its parts, he moved to Philadelphia this week with plenty to prove – and equal amounts of upside, given the solid personnel the Union have put in place around him. Can he roar back into the ranks of elite MLS center backs?
3) What's on Magic Mike's mind?
The Chicago Daily Herald reported that Mike Magee (right) was holding out for an improved contract, while the Chicago Fire said nothing of the sort was happening. But whatever the reason, the reigning MLS MVP missed out on several Fire training sessions in Arizona this week but returned to the fold on Wednesday night. What's going on behind the scenes? Will a new deal be forthcoming? Is he ready for match action?
2) Are Sporting Kansas City ready to roll?
Preseason results are all too often misleading. That said, it's hard not to be impressed with Sporting's undefeated mark through their first six matches, during which they've allowed just five goals. As one of three MLS teams facing crucial CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches in less than two weeks, the defending champs have good reason to take every moment seriously and so far it appears that they're giving themselves a good chance to hit the ground running.
1) Should Toronto FC fans be nervous?
Their front office's ambitious offseason has transformed the way the city – and the whole world, really – look at Toronto FC. But so far all those moves and all that money have yet to translate into many goals in the run of play during preseason matches, and the attack's biggest signing, Jermain Defoe, will carry a hamstring injury across the Atlantic as he prepares to join up with the Reds. Is it too soon to panic? Certainly. But the anxiety levels might rise if the nets don't start bulging soon.