The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Four weeks and a day to go: How's your team looking this preseason?
Exactly one month ahead of opening day 2014, all 19 teams are beginning to take shape, and fans can actually track much of that progress thanks to growing access to preseason activities via social media updates, live streaming of scrimmages and more. Forgive Starting XI for playing the “in my day...” card, but MLS fans have never had it better at this time of year.
10) Will youth be served again this season?
For better or worse, they almost never earn the advance hype that established stars do. Yet fresh faces could influence the upcoming campaign just as much, or more, than last year. US youth international Benji Joya could make waves in Chicago, Cameroonian starlet Charles Eloundou has finally joined Colorado, Toronto FC have brought up another promising Homegrown in Jordan Hamilton, Christiano François is already making waves with D.C. United – and that's before we even delve into the 2014 SuperDraft class.
9) Who else is coming home this year?
US and Canadian internationals returning from abroad: It's perhaps the biggest talking point of the offseason, and more still might be headed this way. USMNT standout Fabian Johnson looks like a long shot at the moment, but a few others currently in Mexico and Europe may yet find themselves looking in a homeward direction.
8) How many seats are really left on the USMNT's plane to Brazil?
Jurgen Klinsmann emphasized this week that the US national team's World Cup squad is far from a finished product, publicly urging players on the bubble to make their case at club level between now and the FIFA roster deadline in May. While it's clear that most of the places are essentially taken, this underlines the intriguing subplot for the first few months of the MLS season as the likes of Mike Magee, Chris Wondolowski and Maurice Edu stake their claims.
7) Are the Whitecaps MLS' biggest enigma?
No getting around it: It's been a weird offseason in Vancouver, starting with a coaching change and continuing with myriad comings and goings highlighted by the odd Camilo and Andre Lewis sagas. So many fans north of the border are bracing for a rough 2014 at BC Place – yet new boss Carl Robinson does have an array of intriguing talent and a solid relationship with his players.
6) Will the Union's “sunshine policy” pay dividends?
Credit to Nick Sakiewicz, CEO & operating partner of Philadelphia's ownership group, for opening up to reporters this week with some frank quotes about the club's past and present management decisions. While it won't outweigh results on the field should Philly struggle out of the gate this year, presenting a more open face to the outside world suggests that the Union are keen to refresh their relationships with both fans and media.
5) What are the Red Bulls hiding up their sleeves?
It's not like the New York Red Bulls to be quiet and understated, but there's been precious little buzz or gossip emitting from Mike Petke's group as they train in Florida this month. Sure, there's a general sense that the 2013 Supporters' Shield winners have a solid unit in place. Yet the transactions page reveals a high number of offseason departures. Will high-profile replacements reach Red Bull Arena later in the year?
4) Is Bruce Arena the top gaffer in US soccer history?
The LA Galaxy boss and four-time MLS Cup winner deserves a salute as he marks a contract extension with his current employers. No other MLS coach can (yet) claim his levels of longevity and consistent success, and he shows no signs of stopping any time soon. More often than not, the road to MLS championships lead to, or through, Arena's teams.
3) Can D.C. United get their transformed lineup ready to go from day one?
Last year's stragglers have taken major steps to escape the basement in the upcoming season. Yet early reports out of the United camp highlight just how much work coach Ben Olsen and his staff have to do before their team is a finished product – and with several members of the team noting the importance of being competitive right from opening day, the Black-and-Red face a race against time, perhaps more so than any other club in MLS.
2) How will David Beckham make it work in Miami?
If you thought the arrival of NYCFC inspired lively discussions among North American soccer observers, it may be dwarfed by the next few years of debate about the league's return to South Florida. This is the definition of a “high risk, high reward” project, though the same can be said about many of Beckham's other achievements in the game, and he's gotten most of those right. It promises to be a fascinating ride.
1) Is Atlanta next?
The rumors of a future MLS expansion to ATL were fed again this week by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report quoting Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay telling a local business group that, “We’re far along in negotiations with [the league],” as the NFL franchise looks to bring in a soccer club in a model not unlike the Sounders-Seahawks partnership in Seattle. Is it time for MLS to forge into the Deep South?