The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the first weekend of the 2011-12 offseason.
11) What is Jesse Marsch up to in Montreal?
With a roster now running 17 deep, the 2012 Montreal Impact are finally starting to take shape, and so far the squad looks a good deal like the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA teams Marsch played for during his career: feisty, hard-working and athletic. While the group will surely evolve in the months ahead, expect Marsch to aim for the immediate success he and the MLS Cup champion Fire enjoyed in 1998.
10) Will the “Ching gamble” pay off for Marsch and the Impact?
Expansion drafts are usually a time to stockpile talent, but every now and then a new club truly rolls the dice. To wit, Montreal’s controversial move to select Dynamo idol Brian Ching. Marsch didn’t make any friends in Houston with the move, and he obviously doesn’t expect Ching to be in an Impact uniform for First Kick. So, just how badly do the Dynamo want to have their icon on the field when they open their new stadium next year?
9) Who will the Rapids tab to fill the league’s only remaining coaching vacancy?
Colorado boss Gary Smith is out and Rapids managing director Jeff Plush says the club’s search for his replacement will crank into full gear in early December. Citing a preference for candidates with MLS and other domestic coaching experience, Plush also wants a gaffer with the “desire to spend time south of the border and mining the tremendous opportunities in the Central and South American countries.”
8) What’s the plan at Chivas USA?
Rojiblancos coach Robin Fraser and his staff didn’t wait long to begin rejiggering a team that finished ’11 with the fourth-worst record in MLS. Ryan Smith is undoubtedly skillful, though questions linger about injuries and his sudden midseason departure from KC. Does Fraser regret his decision not to protect Zarek Valentin in the expansion draft now that he has had to give up Gerson Mayen and 2011 co-leading scorer Justin Braun to get a replacement, James Riley?
7) Can Bruce Arena keep enough of his cup-winning core intact to build a dynasty in LA?
No one in MLS could match the Galaxy’s quality this year and at the moment it’s fair to say that LA’s main challenges are internal ones. David Beckham may or may not be back – more on him in a moment – and midfield linchpin Juninho has been on loan from Brazil’s São Paulo for the last two years, so a hefty transfer fee may be required to keep him. Sean Franklin is out of contract and the futures of Donovan Ricketts, Chris Birchall and several others are also unclear.
6) Can new turf and an open Hawks Nest make Sounders home games even better?
Sounders FC already lead the league in attendance by a substantial margin and now the season-long availability of the Hawks Nest will add another 2,200 seats to the mix at noisy CenturyLink Field. For players and purists, even bigger news hit this week as Seattle announced plans to replace their well-worn FieldTurf surface. Cleaner touches and truer bounces can only help SSFC’s pacey, technical squad.
5) Will Jurgen Klinsmann’s drive toward a year-round schedule affect MLS?
The USMNT boss has urged many current US internationals, as well as those who hold such ambitions for the future, to train with European clubs over the winter. It makes sense for Klinsmann to want his players to keep fit and sharp ahead of January’s national team training camp. But it’s worth wondering whether those extra miles will eventually take their toll on MLS players who could see very limited downtime between now and the start of their clubs’ preseason activities.
4) How is incoming boss Martin Rennie stamping his influence on the Whitecaps?
Vancouver’s new coach didn’t waste much time in revamping things at the ‘Caps. Jeb Brovsky left via the Expansion Draft, and Nizar Khalfan and Bilal Duckett were wavied. ‘Caps fans eager to discover what style Rennie plans to implement may want to note his explanation of Khalfan’s departure: “Generally, we're looking for more production. We like pace and movement, but we like assists and goals more.”
3) What now, Bobby Convey?
Barely a year after winning the 2010 MLS Comeback Player of the Year award and leading the energetic Earthquakes to a playoff upset of the New York Red Bulls, Convey is headed out of San Jose, his relationship with coach Frank Yallop in tatters. San Jose’s top earner this past season, where will the 28-year-old wind up? Certainly more than a few MLS teams would want an 11-year pro with international experience, regardless of the relationship baggage he brings.
2) And what now, Charlie Davies?
Davies began his MLS career with a bang, scoring two goals in D.C. United’s emotional, season-opening win over Columbus. But the campaign ended with a whimper as he struggled to earn minutes for a playoff-chasing United side down the stretch. Neither player nor club has done much to dispel the impression that he’ll soon be moving on; however, D.C. did protect him in the expansion draft, suggesting that he’ll continue in MLS rather than returning to Sochaux, the French club that owns his rights. An interesting winter lies ahead for all three parties involved.
1) And, of course, what now, Becks?
Many MLS players face uncertain futures this offseason, yet none will be as keenly watched as David Beckham. Paris St.-Germain, the habitually underachieving French giants recently invigorated by wealthy new Qatari ownership, seem to be in the lead if Becks decides to leave the Galaxy. PSG are chasing a berth in the UEFA Champions League as well as new fans and global visibility — will their enticements be enough to lure the Galaxy talisman away from a championship team and comfortable family life in SoCal?
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.