Starting XI: US struggle, but MLS stars rep in Hexagonal

The top 11 questions heading into the weekend…

11) Did you notice the MLS influence on MatchDay 1 of the Hex?

You probably did, given that somewhere approaching 20 current or former MLSers were centrally involved in CONCACAF’s trio of World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday, with the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jerry Bengtson, Roger Espinoza, Blas Pérez, Álvaro Saborío, Donovan Ricketts and Jermaine Taylor at the heart of everything good their respective national teams did.

10) How alarmed should we be about the US national team?

There are two areas to consider here: perception of performance, and reality of points. In the latter category, the loss to Honduras is far from crippling, with 27 standings points still on the table (the US finished first in the last Hex with 20 points). As for the former, well, the limited number of positives that can be taken from the Yanks’ display in San Pedro Sula is troubling, as is the continued presence of nagging problems in areas like width, fluidity and central defense.

9) So is the March 22 clash with Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park now a must-win?

Following on the last question, it’s natural to suggest three points are now a mandatory souvenir from next month’s visit to the Mile High City. But really, they always were. The US dropped just two of its 15 potential points at home in the last Hex in 2009, and rode that domestic dominance to the top spot in the group despite road losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. And the margin for error is tighter this time.

8) Where’s Landon Donovan, and what’s on his mind?

As if North American soccer wasn’t missing the guy already, the US setback in Honduras reminded everyone of what a full-strength LD brings to the table that is so special: pace, urgency and a cutthroat attacking mindset. Yet everyone – especially his US teammates – must remove him from contemplation until summertime at the very earliest. He remains on his vision quest for the foreseeable future and even were he to stride back into the game tomorrow, it would take months to regain peak form.

7) What about the next generation, the US Under-20s?

Given his stated long-range goals for his program, hopefully US coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be paying a healthy amount of attention to Tab Ramos’ young Yanks as they enter the CONCACAF U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico later this month. The last such effort ended in ignominious failure in Guatemala two years ago and after last year’s Olympic fiasco, the youth national teams are in dire need of some high-profile success.

6) And for their part, what hopes should Canada’s Under-20s carry into the CONCACAF Championships?

Former Toronto FC coach Nick Dasovic has called in a promising group for his U-20 squad’s World Cup hunt, including eight youngsters with MLS ties. While they might not carry quite the same burden of expectation as their neighbors to the south, the Canucks will probably receive more attention back home due to the rebuilding process recently begun at senior level. Group B, also featuring Cuba and Nicaragua, looks eminently conquerable.

5) How is Mike Petke putting his stamp on the Red Bulls?

The local boy has convinced New York to put aside their recent preference for foreign management and brought in another well-respected American, Robin Fraser, as his No. 2 (though Andy Roxburgh may play a more hands-on role with the team this season than other sporting directors). RBNY’s upcoming round of preseason friendlies will be closely watched for signs of Petke’s trademark grit and good humor.

4) Is Chivas USA outcast Shalrie Joseph really going to land with the Sounders?

Seattle Times reporter Joshua Mayers sent a ripple through the league with a tweet revealing the former Revolution star’s sudden appearance at SSFC training on Friday morning, setting off chatter about a potential PacNW move for the big Grenadian-American. He struggled last season but if anyone can squeeze a few more years out of Joseph, it’s Sounders boss Sigi Schmid.

3) Is Dennis te Kloese’s integration plan a blessing for Chivas USA, or a curse?

Tabbed to manage soccer operations for both the LA Goats and their big brothers in Guadalajara, the Dutchman would seem to have an unworkably large job description. Yet in an interesting conversation with’s Tom Marshall, te Kloese said he actually wants the entire setup at both clubs to work that way, with all of the Mexican outfit’s substantial resources at Chivas USA’s disposal. That could bring real benefits for the MLS side, assuming the proper structures are built to facilitate it.

2) Are the Rapids cursed?

Colorado head coach Oscar Pareja was hampered by injuries (including the long-term loss of captain Pablo Mastroeni) and the inevitable complication of institutional change in 2012, his first year in charge. Unfortunately, the bad breaks have continued, in quite literal form. Playmaker Martín Rivero – last year’s leading assist provider – broke his foot last week while completing a seemingly basic pass under no contact from a defender, while Jaime Castrillón – last year’s leading scorer – will now need surgery for a nagging knee problem, it seems. At least Edson Buddle is on the road back to full speed.

1) Ready for a Saturday MLS test drive?

The Disney Pro Soccer Classic kicks off Saturday with a quadruple-header featuring six MLS teams and lower-division sides Orlando City and Tampa Bay starting at 1 pm ET. If your spectating skills need some preseason training of their own, visit to watch the action and build your couch fitness. After all, First Kick is barely three weeks away.