The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) How will Portland welcome Bayern Munich next summer?
On Thursday it became official: These two soccer phenomena – which you could say have finally gotten hot after years of flying (relatively speaking) under the radar – will meet next August. Stumptown's soccer scene will turn out in numbers to welcome just about any match of merit at JELD-WEN Field, and an All-Star duel with the 2012-13 European champions should get the needle jumping nicely.
10) Can Houston pull a PDX in the women's game?
The Houston Dynamo have joined up with the National Women's Soccer League with the unveiling of their women's club, the Dash, following in the footsteps of the richly successful Timbers-Thorns partnership that brought an NWSL championship back to the Rose City earlier this year. While the markets are different, there's ample reason for optimism and excitement about this latest sign of the game's growth.
9) And which MLS markets might follow suit?
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson believes as many as two more MLS clubs might take a similar role with an NWSL sister club over the next two years. It does make sense for teams with facilities that need use and hungry soccer markets that need feeding – places like Toronto, New York and LA come to mind. Who, if anyone, will take the plunge next?
8) What just happened in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft?
Year four of this process unfolded in dramatically different fashion from the first three editions on Thursday afternoon, as a flurry of movement sent a diverse range of players to new addresses – and notably, under similar financial terms to their existing contracts. Could clubs be developing an increased appreciation for seasoned MLS talent which isn't quite, for whatever reason, at superstar standing right this moment?
7) Who got the best deal of a busy week?
The RED prompted just a few of the many transactions that popped up as the offseason officially began and rebuilding cranked into gear. Seattle, for example, have already parted ways with one major creative figure (Mauro Rosales) while bringing on two potential starters in defense (Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei). D.C. United were even busier, snaring half a new backline in a few short minutes of Re-Entry action.
6) Which men on the move can redeem themselves most effectively in 2014?
Plenty of good players have been swapped in recent weeks – and a few more will probably crop up while this is being written – but the harsh reality is that at this juncture, it's mostly because some confluence of factors made them expendable to their previous teams. Figures like Dwayne De Rosario, Bobby Convey and Jorge Villafaña will have plenty to prove in the months ahead.
5) How many more Zips will Caleb Porter scoop up?
The Timbers' stunning snatch of Steve Zakuani away from rivals Seattle sent tremors through the league, and not only for the Cascadian cheekiness of the move. What if Porter can unlock the latent potential in arguably the most gifted of his many former University of Akron students? And which of the league's many other UA alumni not yet in PTFC colors might be on his radar?
4) Who will win the College Cup in Philly?
If you found the quite literally chilling spectacle of last week's taut MLS Cup irresistible, be sure to tune in to ESPNU on Friday and Sunday as the NCAA Division I men's soccer champion is determined at frosty PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union. The diverse and talented quartet of Notre Dame, Maryland, New Mexico and Virginia will battle both the opposition and winter weather – perhaps including a bit of snow – in search of a national championship.
3) ...And what will it mean for MLS?
Talk all you want about the rise of youth academy systems rendering the SuperDraft irrelevant – the college game will continue to groom talent for the league for years to come, especially with the steady stream of overseas prospects eager to finance a quality education via soccer scholarships. So which future MLS standouts might give us a sneak preview this weekend?
2) What made the U.S. Soccer Federation pull the trigger on a plump new deal for USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann?
U.S. Soccer's satisfaction with the charismatic coach – who is now also a technical director – has been evident over the latter stages of a record-setting year for the national team, yet it was still surprising to see the federation award him a four-year renewal six months before the defining task of his tenure, the 2014 World Cup. Was Tottenham Hotspur's rumored interest in Klinsmann strong enough to provoke a precautionary reaction from USSF president Sunil Gulati?
- ARMCHAIR ANALYST: Four more years of Jurgen Klinsmann? It's on another level
1) Does this new contract mean Klinsmann will be liberated, or let off the hook, in Brazil next summer?
Some observers would prefer the German-American's continued employment at least take into account his results on the world's biggest stage, while others feel he's already done more than enough to earn the deal. Either way, these developments do strongly suggest that he's been empowered to play his team the way he wants, and won't be pressured into risk-averse tactics.