The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Who’s going to stop – or outscore – the Galaxy?
The return of Edson Buddle has many pundits ready to peg LA as odds-on favorites to defend their championship, thanks to the fearsome range of attacking options available to coach Bruce Arena. The back line still looks thin without Omar Gonzalez, though, suggesting that there may be fewer 1-0 wins being ground out at The Home Depot Center this year.
10) Does Peter Nowak have a fan insurrection on his hands in Philadelphia?
Hard-nosed and hardworking, Nowak mirrors the attributes of his club’s gritty city. Yet the Polish shot-caller experienced the flip side of Philly’s passionate fanbase this week after suddenly shipping Sébastien Le Toux, perhaps the Union’s most productive and popular player in their two years of existence, to Vancouver for allocation money. Le Toux’s frustration with the situation has helped prompt a wave of venomous fan dissent, which could increase the pressure on Freddy Adu and the team’s other talented youngsters.
9) Conversely, how will the Whitecaps arrange their wealth of striking options?
Credit to new ‘Caps gaffer Martin Rennie: Upon taking over the lowest-scoring team in MLS, he’s added a host of new attackers as possible components in his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Le Toux, Darren Mattocks and Lee Nguyen have joined quality incumbents like Eric Hassli, Camilo, Davide Chiumiento, Long Tan, Omar Salgado and Atiba Harris, promising keen competition for playing time in British Columbia.
8) Can Oscar Pareja find the right formula to transform the Rapids?
Speaking of 4-3-3 – a shape which has historically been a dicey proposition for MLS teams – Colorado’s new Colombian coach seems to want to arrange his squad the same way, and is reportedly hunting for a No. 10 to orchestrate play at its heart. Pareja’s plans to evolve the Mile High club from their English tendencies toward some Latin-inspired “tiki-taka” promises to be a compelling MLS plot line in 2012.
7) Can Tressor Moreno pull the strings in San Jose?
Yet another Colombian has made his way to MLS, this one a midfield creator who the Earthquakes hope will serve up the cultured passing that can help Chris Wondolowski maintain his impressive scoring pace of the past two years. He’ll need to bring others into the attack as well: Wondo has scored 34 of San Jose’s 74 goals during that period.
6) Where will events in Egypt carry Bob Bradley’s reign as the national team’s head coach?
The shocking and quite possibly premeditated violence at Wednesday’s league match between Egyptian clubs Al-Masry and Al-Ahly in Port Said threatens to re-ignite chaos in a volatile nation, which could scupper the former US national team boss’ plans to steer the Pharaohs to their first World Cup berth since 1990. Yet Bradley and his wife Lindsay showed real courage and empathy in joining thousands of Egyptians who marched in the streets of Cairo on Thursday to protest the violence.
5) Is former D.C. United star Ryan Nelsen preparing for a summer return to the Black-and-Red?
The 34-year-old New Zealander, dogged by a knee injury over the past year, transferred from Blackburn Rovers to Tottenham Hotspur at the close of the international transfer window. On Thursday, though, Rovers manager Steve Kean revealed that the burly center back nearly made a shock return to the club he led to the 2004 MLS Cup title – and might still.
"He had an offer to become a player-coach at an American club, a situation that he was very excited about," Kean told media. "It was over a two-year period and then right at the very last minute Tottenham came in and offered him a short-term contract until the end of the season.
"I don't know if the opportunity in America will still be there, I would imagine so, so he's decided to take a short-term contract.”
4) What does DeRo think of D.C. signing another Designated Player this week?
Dwayne De Rosario is expected to be the main man in the nation’s capital this season, but he, United and the league still haven’t come to terms on a new contract after weeks of talks. And in an unsettling parallel to what happened with Mista during his time in Toronto, the Black-and-Red have signed a foreign DP, Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi, in the meantime. D.C.’s season could hinge on whether the reigning MVP stays settled and happy.
3) What derailed "El Trencito" in Portland?
The Timbers’ initial excitement about securing José Adolfo Valencia as a young DP had been tempered by a drawn-out series of testing, and and the latest news is that a recent MRI showed that "El Trencito" will require knee surgery and will be out six to 12 months.
Valencia will remain on the club's disabled list and the Timbers' agreement with Santa Fe for the player has been reworked.
“Our No. 1 priority is ensuring the long-term physical health of José,” said Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson. “[...] We feel strongly about our long-term commitment to José and see him as a big part of the future success of this team.”
Now that we all know what Valencia's physical ailment was, two questions remain: How long will Portland fans have to wait to see Valencia in a match uniform? And how does it affect the Timbers' plans going into the 2012 season?
2) Do fans in Chicago and Kansas City have reason for their preseason optimism?
Obviously, the next six weeks could bring many new wrinkles around the league. But at this point both the league’s Midwestern mainstays are looking around and feeling quietly confident about their prospects in the Eastern Conference, as they make smaller tweaks to promising existing rosters while many of their rivals are in a state of flux.
1) Finally, where is the real Sigi hiding on Twitter?
In one of this week’s more surreal MLS tidbits, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid revealed to the Seattle Times that he tracks news – and his players’ social media activities – via a clandestine Twitter account. Considering that Schmid has already inspired a blog based on a “fake” version of himself, it’s enough to make even the most web-savvy heads spin.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.