Starting XI, December 9, 2011

Starting XI: Salgado setting the stage for 2012?

The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.

11) Will the American soccer community ever agree on Landon Donovan?

For some, like Sporting News soccer writer Brian Straus, this topic is done and dusted: The Galaxy’s No. 10 has done the business in MLS, on his EPL loan stint with Everton and on the globe’s biggest stage, the World Cup. But the debate that unfolded when accomplished veteran Brad Friedel questioned that legacy this week shows that LD hasn’t won everyone over, and perhaps never will. It’s a fascinating state of affairs.               

10) Which future MLS stars will state their case at the College Cup this weekend?

A minor-league baseball stadium in central Alabama doesn’t often become the center of the US soccer universe, though that’s exactly the case this weekend as Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., hosts the NCAA men’s soccer finals. Plenty of MLS shot-callers will be present to see which SuperDraft contenders seize the day — will it be consensus blue-chipper Billy Schuler of UNC, UCLA playmaker Eder Arreola or a surprise standout?

9) It’s international scouting season. Which clubs will strike paydirt next?

Chicago and D.C. are two of many MLS sides scouring the massive overseas market this month, with Switzerland, Spain and Ghana just a few of the many destinations for coaches and executives in search of that missing ingredient they hope will take their team to the next level. Attacking invention usually tops the list of qualities most sought after abroad, with value for money a leading factor as well.

8) Meanwhile, are the Whitecaps looking east?

New signing Lee Young-Pyo got a rapturous reception in Vancouver this week, the sort that few defenders prompt, regardless of their pedigree. Add in the promise shown by young Chinese striker Long Tan in 2011, and it seems clear that the ‘Caps have ample reason to continue strengthening their ties to their counterparts around the Pacific Rim.

7) Will Nicolas Anelka wind up in MLS – and will it be sooner, or later?

The mercurial French striker looked like a perfect fit as the first-ever Designated Player for the ambitious Impact, but he seems to have chosen a move to China instead. Expect the speculation to resume eventually, though. In the right situation, Anelka’s skill and physical gifts could light up MLS.

6) Could 2012 be Omar Salgado’s year?

Speaking of the Whitecaps, how about that highlight-reel run Salgado produced to set up the Generation adidas squad’s second goal against Ajax’s reserves in Amsterdam on Thursday? More of that sort of assertiveness will earn last year’s top SuperDraft pick a much bigger role in Vancouver’s attack next season.

Highlights: Ajax Reserves vs. Generation adidas squad

5) How is Peter Nowak going to shoehorn all that attacking talent into Philadelphia’s 2012 lineup?

After a long courtship, the Union finally landed Costa Rican frontrunner Josué Martínez this week, a player Nowak said offers “a different quality that we might need.” The Philly boss can also call on Freddy Adu, Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga, Sébastien Le Toux, Veljko Paunovic … and the list goes on. Playing time up top already looks like a prized commodity in ‘12 – a good problem for Nowak to have. 

4) Will Shalrie Joseph and Jay Heaps find the right formula for the Revs?

The Revolution’s new coach was surely elated to see the front office step up in a big way by re-signing Joseph as a DP. Coaching one’s former teammates can be a dicey task, though, and Heaps has to learn on the job as he charts a new course for a club that this week he admitted had “hit rock bottom for a while” in recent seasons.

3) Should George John stay, or should he go?

FC Dallas’ big center back was as good as gone this summer before a transfer to EPL side Blackburn Rovers collapsed at the last moment. His agent says he’s not moving this winter, but in the same breath alluded to a potential European move when his current contract expires next summer. More of this uncertainty will surely affect FCD’s roster construction plans for 2012.

2) Will there be further fallout from this week’s allegations of potential match-fixing during last summer’s Gold Cup?

On Thursday,’s Grant Wahl reported that global betting patterns around certain matches in CONCACAF’s showpiece tournament betrayed strong signs of tampering. It’s too early to know for sure, but the story should serve as a wakeup call that this nagging plague in world soccer knows no national boundaries.

1) With the eyes of the world on the Spanish clásico, which MLS rivalry comes closest to measuring up to Spain’s grand showcase?

It’s a question that provokes passionate responses among US fans who treasure local showdowns like the Seattle-Portland hatefest, the Atlantic Cup between New York and D.C. and LA’s Chivas-Galaxy Superclasico. Will there come a day when hundreds of millions around the planet will watch one of those MLS rivalries as keenly as Saturday’s mega-hyped meeting between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid?

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