KINGSTON, Jamaica – The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.
11) What drama will unfold in CONCACAF’s two-game soap operas?
Call it “A Tale of Four Cities” – a group-round scheduling quirk has twin, back-to-back matches featuring Canada vs. Panama and USA vs. Jamaica matches over the next five days, starting Friday night. All are important World Cup qualifiers. All feature MLS notables. And it all adds up to a positive sign of regional competitiveness in a part of the world that rarely gets enough credit for its quality.
10) Which kind of history, if any, will be made at Independence Park?
A US national team win would end the Yanks’ run of draws in Kingston (8 pm ET, beIN Sport, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com). From the Jamaican perspective, triumph would end a far longer streak of winless contests against their CONCACAF rivals. While Murphy’s Law would suggest that this points to a draw, there’s a decent hope that Friday night’s qualifier will be absorbing regardless of its end result.
9) Will Deuce start?
As if he wasn’t already a universal US fan favorite, Clint Dempsey’s summer transfer saga from Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur confirmed his status as the USMNT’s most prominent player on the global scene. And it might just earn him a prominent role in coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan for Friday tussle, even though standard coaching wisdom dictates him being a substitute at best.
8) Where does Blas Pérez stand at the moment?
After a sad summer of injury and mourning for his recently departed father, “Super Ratón” is back on the field for both FC Dallas and Panama, and both sides need him to return to top speed as quickly as possible. That’s a tough ask for any player, even a veteran performer like Pérez, though Canada will surely peg him as Los Canaleros’ most dangerous man in these two qualifiers (7:30 pm ET, SportsNet in Canada).
7) Who’s the next rising USMNT star from MLS?
It’s been discussed in many quarters for years, and it remains true: The fortunes of the US national teams and MLS, the country’s premier division, are interwoven. Fifteen members of the current US squad either played or began their careers in Major League Soccer, and pros like Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron (right) have forwarded their own careers by lighting up their domestic league. Who’s next?
6) Can MLS look deeper into the CONCACAF pool?
Similarly, there’s a link between Jamaica’s resurgence and the country’s growing legion of MLS players. With nine members of their current team thriving in the league, Reggae Boyz fans have seen the positive effects and are eager to see their younger prospects earn stateside chances as well.
5) Why should any of us believe that Chivas USA can spring an upset in Seattle?
There’s no easy way to talk about spirit-crushing games like the Sounders’ 6-2 thrashing of Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center last month, a one-sided result that would even seem at risk of being eclipsed when the sides meet again at CenturyLink Field on Saturday (4 pm ET, MLS Live). Chivas simply must show improvement in all areas.
4) Will the Goats fight for Robin Fraser?
Losing games is one thing; the manner and character of the losses is something else entirely. Fraser (right) is a smart, well-respected young coach, but the meekness shown by his team in several recent blowout defeats does his reputation no favors. The discomfort is magnified by the changes at the top of the club’s executive ladder.
3) What do Eidur Gudjohnsen and Christian Wilhelmsson mean for the league?
It’s not often that Scandinavian superstars show up at an MLS team’s doorstep just looking for a chance to catch on, regardless of whether it’s at modest wages and in auxiliary roles. Sure, the Sounders and Galaxy can offer certain unique perks, but it’s encouraging to see signs of a growing appeal to discerning internationals.
2) Can New York, Seattle or RSL disrupt the Supporters’ Shield picture?
The race for the league’s best record has basically been looking like a two-horse race between San Jose and Sporting Kansas City for some time. Only a handful of games remain, so anyone from the aforementioned trio who wishes to buck the curve had best move now.
1) Is Nick Rimando the best PK-stopper in MLS history?
After standing on his head all game, including a sterling save of a Brad Davis penalty kick, RSL’s netminder made a gut-wrenching error that let Houston sneak away with a 1-0 win Thursday night. It’s still worth asking whether Rimando – to say nothing of all his other positive traits – has already assured himself of league legend status by virtue of those outstanding spot-kick skills.