Starting XI: Jan. 4
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Starting XI: Movers, shakers emerge as offseason heats up

The top 11 storylines heading into the weekend...

11) Is Ryan Nelsen headed back to MLS?

It might just be a case of a famously creative British tabloid recycling an old storyline, but the Daily Mail says the former D.C. United captain will return to his old club in a coaching role this month. D.C. boss Ben Olsen, however, promptly shot those rumors down, leaving us to wonder if Nelsen might be headed for a run with Toronto FC and former United president Kevin Payne instead.

10) Speaking of defenders, have the Rapids and Revolution found the right anchors for their backline rebuilding?

There was a time in MLS when using a precious international roster spot on a defender would’ve raised eyebrows. Those days are long gone, as Colorado and New England displayed with Thursday’s signing of Diego Calderón and José Gonçalves, respectively. If they can do for their new teams what, say, Víctor Bernárdez did for the Earthquakes last year, then watch out.

9) Will the Galaxy feature three Designated Players this season, or stand pat with two?

Or perhaps (whisper it in SoCal) will a Landon Donovan retirement/sabbatical even leave them with just one? Kaká, Frank Lampard (right) and the occasional out-of-left-field big name have been mooted as David Beckham’s replacement, but until the current international transfer window closes, plenty of questions will swirl around the upper crust of the LA roster which has brought the club so much hardware, and cold hard cash, over the past few years.

8) Can Andrea Pisanu inspire the Impact attack in 2013?

The Italian maestro is officially headed to Montreal on loan from Bologna. The acquisition would continue IMFC’s unique love affair with Serie A talent and – it’s hoped – provide artistic prompting for a front line that was good in flashes but oftentimes plodding last season. Now who’s the new coach?

7) Which of the first four 2013 Generation adidas signings have caught your club’s eye?

The opening wave of GA picks offers some interesting propositions for teams holding high SuperDraft picks, and there should be plenty more to come later this month. Virginia Commonwealth product Jason Johnson is the least-known of the early quartet, but the Jamaican youth international might prove to be the most intriguing raw talent in this year’s rookie crop.

6) Have you planned your preseason vacation yet?

In a few short weeks, the hard work of MLS preseason begins at a range of balmy locales around the continent (and possibly beyond) – and while their heroes sweat, fans can relax. If you’re looking to get out of town during February, consider following your team to training camp. You’ll get a head start on your own preparations for First Kick 2013, and there’s usually plenty of warm sunshine to soak in.

5) Do you agree with Grant Wahl’s latest “MLS Ambition Rankings”?

In a nod to the league’s increasing size and diversity, Sports Illustrated’s longtime soccer scribe has struck up an annual reckoning of what he believes are its most aggressive movers and shakers. While space constraints prevent it from fully encapsulating the myriad nuances in this discussion, this week’s list makes for grim reading for a few clubs facing both on- and off-field issues.

4) Would Fredy Montero really gain more international exposure with Colombia’s Millionarios than with Seattle?

This rumored loan move, which seemed so improbable when it first came to light, is apparently close to becoming a reality. The Sounders striker (right) is reportedly eager to improve his Colombian national team prospects and impress European clubs by playing in the prestigious Copa Libertadores – though with some of the best attendance numbers in the world, Seattle isn’t exactly off the global radar. Is there more to this tale than meets the eye?

3) How will Caleb Porter kick off his first year in the pros?

Though he was named to the post months ago, Portland’s new coach will reportedly be officially introduced in the Rose City next Tuesday, Jan. 8. Curiosity is rampant among Timbers fans as they wait to see what kind of tone the former NCAA wunderkind sets on Day 1.

2) And where is New York’s next boss?

When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, it means the offseason is effectively over (if it ever really ends) for MLS technical staffs, because the combine and SuperDraft, then the start of preseason, are just around the corner. The Red Bulls have clearly been making plans, it’s just that the announcement of a head coach is not one of them. It’s not exactly the ideal way to prepare for the draft.

1) Who are Jurgen Klinsmann’s dark-horse picks for the US national team’s January camp?

Names like Eddie Johnson, Omar Gonzalez, Alfredo Morales and Alejandro Bedoya have already been bandied about for this roster, along with murmurs that a surprise selection or two will be among those announced by US Soccer this weekend. Have you got the prognosticating chops to guess correctly?

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