Starting XI: When will MLS MVP Mike Magee return? Are Toronto FC's DPs ready to shine?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Are Toronto FC ready for the big stage?
One of the most fascinating offseasons in MLS history comes to a close on Saturday afternoon when Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Toronto FC open their 2014 campaign at Seattle (4:30 pm ET, NBCSN, TSN/RDS2). Head coach Ryan Nelsen has been soft-pedaling expectations, but there's no escaping the hot spotlight on this expensively refurbished squad.
10) Can Stefan Frei seize the moment?
The Reds will look across the CenturyLink Field turf and see a familiar face guarding the Sounders net. Frei was TFC's goalkeeper for five loyal but luckless years, and he's surely eager to put a damper on the rebirth that is taking place just as he left town, let go after two injury-blighted seasons.
9) What does the Pablo Mastroeni era have in store for the Rapids?
Yet another freshly-retired club icon will make his MLS coaching debut this weekend as Colorado's longtime captain takes up the heavy mantle of technical-area leadership. Though the Rapids were one of 2013's most enjoyable stories, precious little is expected of them after a tumultuous winter dominated by Oscar Pareja's contentious escape to Dallas. Can they spring a surprise in the New York Red Bulls' home debut (Saturday, 4 pm ET, Univision Deportes, MLS LIVE)?
8) Can Montreal find some redemption in Space City?
A few hours later (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), the Impact return to the scene where their previous campaign ended in dischord and dishonor on an fittingly ghoulish note last Halloween. That would be BBVA Compass Stadium, the venue for the Knockout Round playoff game in which Montreal were dominated by the Houston Dynamo in a 3-0 thumping that closed with a flurry of scraps and ejections.
7) Are the Union for real?
Resurgent Philadelphia refused to play patsies in Portland last weekend, coming within seconds of a stunning upset of the Timbers and settling for a 1-1 road draw. Now the Union can underline that impressive first impression when they welcome the New England Revolution to PPL Park for their own home curtain-raiser (Saturday, 4 pm ET).
6) What's the deal with Mike Magee?
The Chicago Fire undoubtedly missed the presence of their charismatic MVP in last week's frustrating 3-2 loss to Chivas USA, and coach Frank Yallop has made it clear that Magee is still short of optimal match fitness thanks to hamstring troubles and a stint away from the team at the tail end of preseason. All the same, the veteran goal ace will be chomping at the bit for a runout in the unique environs of Providence Park on Sunday (3 pm ET, UniMas) as the Fire visit the Timbers.
The two South American frontrunners for 2014's first edition of AT&T MLS Goal of the Week are two relative newcomers who've taken very little time to show off their flair for the spectacular. Hopefully they're ready to top themselves as Vancouver and FC Dallas hit the road for eastern Kansas and Southern California, respectively.
4) What's the key to your Week 2 rampage in MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager?
For Starting XI's own squad, it's two transfers, a switch to a more aggressive formation and a resolution to keep a careful eye on opportunities for real-time substitutions as the weekend's action unfolds. (That's the plan, at least.) How are you going to seize the initiative in this year's feature-rich – and habit-forming – edition of FSM?
3) How do Sporting and San Jose approach weekend action ahead of their CONCACAF Champions League deciders?
While the LA Galaxy are idle between the midweek CCL quarterfinal legs, SKC and the Quakes must juggle their rosters in Saturday night home encounters (against Dallas and Salt Lake, respectively) that appear, for the moment at least, far less crucial than Wednesday's decisive clashes in Mexico. Expect to see plenty of rotation as Peter Vermes and Mark Watson try to keep their regulars fresh.
2) Can the Red Bulls and Revs bounce back?
The Northeastern old guard were well and truly walloped on opening day, each shipping four goals and looking like a faint shadow of the championship contenders most of us made them out to be. (We'll let off D.C. United for now, since they're idle this week.) While there were some extenuating circumstances in both cases, results like that raise questions that can only be answered by drastically improved displays in the next go-round.
1) Just how good are these Whitecaps?
Did you predict that Carl Robinson's bunch would start off with last Saturday's splashy spanking of the reigning Supporters' Shield holders? If so, you're entitled to a bit of boasting. Vancouver were ruthless up front and they showed it in a pleasing variety of situations that suggests there's more talent at the Welshman's disposal than previously acknowledged. Forward-leaning Chivas USA appear likely to provide another stage for fireworks on Sunday (3 pm ET, CTV2 BC/MLS LIVE).