The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) Is Alessandro Del Piero headed to Montreal?
The league’s newest club has been wooing the Italian legend for some time, but less than two months ago, even Impact officials admitted that his representatives said “Alessandro would rather focus on New York or Los Angeles,” with Del Piero himself noting that a Galaxy move would allow him to “go see the Lakers” in his downtime. But explosive new reports from Italy have him headed to the banks of the St. Lawrence, which would represent a powerful statement from Impact owner Joey Saputo and his staff. Then again, Saputo poured cold water on that rumor on Friday. File this one under wait and see.
10) And if so, can he and the Impact’s other additions spur a playoff push?
Compared to their expansion forebears, the Impact haven’t played particularly badly thus far. They do have only 12 points, though, and sit 15 points off the pace in the Eastern Conference. Making up that ground is asking a lot from Marco Di Vaio and whoever else joins the Quebec side in the coming weeks. Perhaps the opening of their refurbished Stade Saputo home will help.
9) What about a certain long-haired Brazilian?
The recent news that former FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho has sued, and left, his club Flamengo over an alleged $20 million in unpaid salaries has certainly not gone unnoticed among MLS front offices. The 32-year-old attacker, previously linked by rumors to the Galaxy, is certainly the type who would move the proverbial needle as a Designated Player on these shores.
8) How will struggling LA approach the summer transfer window?
For weeks now, everyone has been expecting the defending champs to show their true selves and start winning games, to no avail (LA haven’t won a match since April 21). Perhaps it’s time to view this team through the lens of its 3-8-2 record and last-place position, rather than its talented roster and 2011 feats. If so, the club’s ambitions will surely compel it to secure reinforcements from abroad. In fact, according to this unconfirmed report, it could even be the aforementioned Del Piero.
WATCH: Get to know the Revs' Clyde Simms
7) What kind of show will Chicago and New England put on at Gillette Stadium on Saturday?
As the weekend’s sole league match, the spotlight is on this long-running Eastern Conference rivalry best known for some tight, feisty meetings in the MLS Cup Playoffs over the years. But the modern versions of these teams are a bit more expansive and play should flow in Foxborough.
6) With midfield destroyer Clyde Simms still sidelined by ankle troubles, how will the Revolution fend off the Fire’s counterattack?
In need of a road result, Chicago coach Frank Klopas’ crew of speed merchants can be expected to lie in wait for the increasingly attack-minded Revs to leave gaps they can exploit on the break. That threat will have to be addressed with discipline and communication from veteran Shalrie Joseph and whoever partners him in the center of the New England midfield.
5) Can the Union use the next few weeks to get their season back on track?
Philly will be a bit busier than most other MLS clubs during the international break, with US Open Cup and league matches against D.C. United bookending two friendlies against local clubs Reading United and Harrisburg. That could help Peter Nowak and his coaching staff rebuild the squad’s confidence and test out new ideas, especially in the attacking end. The Union are tied for last in the league in goals scored.
4) Who can avoid the upset trap in Tuesday’s US Open Cup fourth-round matches?
This quirky, consistently underrated tournament is down to its Sweet 16, and thanks to last week’s upset mayhem, only eight MLS clubs are among them. Two all-MLS matchups feature D.C., Philadelphia, Kansas City and Colorado, while Seattle, Chivas USA, New York and San Jose meet lower-division opponents whose hopes will be buoyed by those previous results. Remember, a CONCACAF Champions League berth awaits the champion.
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3) Will there be lingering repercussions from those USOC stunners?
Clattering out of the cup piled on the existing misery in LA, Portland and Dallas, and arrested momentum in places like Houston, Salt Lake and Columbus. It remains to be seen whether the tournament, and the performances shown in it, are given enough weight to make already hot seats hotter for certain coaches and players.
2) Has a straightforward path to a fourth straight USOC title opened up for Seattle?
Few clubs, or fanbases, treasure the Open Cup like the Sounders, who have adeptly navigated it to build their trophy collection and access international competition since joining MLS. Next week, they’ll host the last remaining amateur side and look to advance through a side of the bracket which has been shorn of all but two of its MLS entrants. It’s worth noting, however, that the final – should they reach it – falls in early August, in the midst of a busy slate of both league and CCL matches for SSFC.
1) How will the US and Canadian national teams kick off their World Cup qualifying campaigns?
It’s relatively rare for these two neighbors, who face off in a friendly in Toronto on Sunday before wading into CONCACAF action next Friday, to meet in this manner. Sunday’s clash will offer up some fascinating intra-MLS matchups all over the field, and it’s important for both sides to come away with confidence and fitness before they begin the always-draining process of regional qualification.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.