The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into this week’s slate of league and international matches:
11) Can the newest members of the US squad make an impression on head coach Jurgen Klinsmann during the current national-team camp?
Nick Rimando, Oguchi Onyewu and Danny Williams are each at different stages of their international careers, but this week they share the newcomer’s role as they look to make the most of their first call-ups under the Yanks’ new German boss. Their levels of playing time, or lack of it, in the United States’ friendlies against Honduras (Saturday, 6 pm ET, FOX Soccer/Univisión) and Ecuador (Oct. 11, ESPN2/Univisión) could give an intriguing glimpse into Klinsmann’s early evaluations.
10) Would Omar Gonzalez really consider crossing “the 2-0 parallel”?
The LA Galaxy’s steady defender was born and raised in Dallas and rose through the US Soccer pyramid from elite youth level to NCAA and then MLS in textbook fashion. Perhaps that’s why so many heads turned this week when he admitted that he was “definitely going to listen” if Mexico, his parents’ homeland, were to approach him about a switch of allegiance from the United States. Having thus far been overlooked by Klinsmann, Gonzalez might merely be stirring the pot to underline his credentials, though.
9) Speaking of star-crossed young center backs, can Tim Ream find his form in a US shirt?
Many US insiders fully expect Ream to be an anchor of future American squads, even as he struggles through an at-times spotty sophomore campaign with the Red Bulls. Perhaps the St. Louis native will settle down and put his best foot forward when the Yanks play Ecuador at his home stadium, Red Bull Arena, next Tuesday night.
8) How might the demands of Canada’s qualifiers impact the home stretch in MLS?
On Wednesday, the Canadian national team, which includes six MLSers, flew nearly 3,000 miles to muggy St. Lucia for Friday night’s World Cup qualifier (6 pm ET) – likely to take place in tropical temperatures on a wet, heavy playing surface – before they’ll jet back to Toronto to face Puerto Rico on Oct. 11. D.C. United and Real Salt Lake in particular are surely wondering how drained their Canucks, Dwayne De Rosario and Will Johnson, will be upon their return.
7) Who else will feel the effects of this FIFA fixture date?
Representing your country is always an honor, but this week’s international action probably has some MLS coaches gritting their teeth. Beleaguered FC Dallas boss Schellas Hyndman will be closely watching Brek Shea’s involvement in US friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador, and Sporting Kansas City’s Kei Kamara was called in on short notice for Sierra Leone’s final group match in African Cup of Nations qualifying in South Africa on Saturday, a rapid round trip so long that it might even impact the rangy attacker’s run-up to SKC’s game against New York next weekend.
6) Can Vancouver keep improving – and keep playing the spoiler?
Don’t look now, but with Thursday’s 3-0 spanking of RSL at imposing BC Place, the once-woeful Whitecaps have reached the .500 mark at home, and offered further signs that there is ample material for incoming coach Martin Rennie to work with next season. Suddenly, D.C. United’s midweek trip to BC looks a lot stickier for the playoff-chasing Easterners – and what if Colorado needs a positive result at Vancouver in their season finale?
5) Will the Union overcome their West Coast woes?
The Philadelphia Union apparently aren’t buying into the Left Coast’s easygoing reputation: As MLSsoccer’s Dave Zeitlin noted on Thursday, Peter Nowak’s side is 0-6-3 all-time in the Pacific Time Zone. The six days between Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Chivas USA in Los Angeles and this weekend’s road clash in Seattle presented the club with awkward timing, and Nowak and his staff elected to make two trips, an approach that requires rapid recovery from cross-country travel.
4) Can Seattle prove that trophies come in bunches?
The Emerald City turned positively euphoric on Tuesday as the Sounders defeated Chicago for their third straight US Open Cup championship in front of 35,615 at CenturyLink Field. Now it’s up to the outstanding Osvaldo Alonso and his teammates to maintain that momentum as they chase MLS and CONCACAF Champions League honors. With three of their final four matches at home – starting with gritty Philly’s visit on Saturday – those frenzied fans will have a chance to play their part, too.
3) Who can state their case for a 2012 role when New England host the Earthquakes on Saturday?
OK, so it might be a tad harsh to call it the “Résumé Cup.” Yet these two frustrated clubs have made no secret of the fact that big changes are in store this coming offseason and that means few players on either roster can truly be assured of a place in next year’s plans. Both teams have three more games to show that they’re worthy (re)building blocks.
2) What’s up with South Florida soccer fans?
More than 70,000 fans streamed into Miami’s Sun Life Stadium to watch World Football Challenge exhibition match between FC Barcelona and Chivas de Guadalajara in August. Yet advance ticket sales for Saturday’s USA-Honduras friendly have been less than impressive, raising the same old questions about the area’s suitability as an MLS market – despite the obvious presence of a large and passionate soccer culture.
1) No, really — exactly who is this year’s MVP frontrunner?
It’s hard to recall a more open MLS Most Valuable Player race than this season’s. A range of quality players have stood out among the standings leaders, and even in a historically strong campaign in LA, the contrasting contributions of Landon Donovan and David Beckham may split the vote among voters. By his own 2011 standards, FCD’s Shea has been quiet of late, while other contenders have been occupied by suspension or international play. This contest should go right down to the wire.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.