The top 11 questions heading into this weekend…
11) Is El Chelís keeping it real, or straying beyond the pale?
New Chivas USA coach José Luis "El Chelís" Sánchez Solá has been a pundit's dream thus far, blasting music, puffing cigarettes and goading his team with shouts of "a muerte!" at practice, all while shooting straight about the squad's identity – and who doesn't fit into it, like veteran midfielder Shalrie Joseph, for instance. The club's intent to venture back towards an explicitly Mexican-American persona remains controversial, and might prove to be 2005 all over again, but at least the season ahead looks like a fun ride.
10) Can Mike Petke end the MetroBulls’ curse?
The Red Bulls stole a page from their Atlantic Cup rivals D.C. United this week, handing the head coaching job to a young assistant and club icon after hunting for a foreign selection for months. If Petke (right) can come to grips with the role as quickly as his former teammate Ben Olsen, RBNY's infamous trophy drought could be in danger. Meanwhile, fans are already celebrating the fact that one of their own is now steering the ship.
9) What's next for Freddy?
Eight clubs in nine years of professional soccer, with a ninth on the horizon. That's a harsh statistic to be associated with, and perhaps not a fair barometer for measuring Freddy Adu's performance with the Philadelphia Union, who have made it clear that the 23-year-old is headed for the PPL Park exit. Should his teammates have finished more of the many scoring chances he created last year? Should he have taken the pay cut requested of him this winter? Things are rarely simple with Adu, and his seemingly clear path to true stardom certainly hasn't been.
8) Is Brek Shea done in Dallas?
Speaking of talented, but oft-troubled, young American talents: The FCD winger's situation down in Frisco looks uncomfortable after his club reportedly agreed on a cut-rate transfer deal with England's Stoke City before league officials – again, reportedly – did not sign off on the selling price. Has Shea fallen out with the technical staff? Is a move of some kind inevitable? Or perhaps the real story is very different? For now, we have more questions than answers on this one.
7) Where will Joao Plata wind up in '13?
The diminutive, dynamic Ecuadorian (right) was a flash of excitement amid the gloom of Toronto FC's recent past, only to leave the team on a loan deal in his homeland last season. His agent says Real Salt Lake could be his new destination – and if that's the case, Plata's jitterbug skills look like a dangerous complement to Javi Morales and Álvaro Saborío in the Real attack.
6) Where would RSL be without Dave Checketts?
The Utah club paid grateful, heartfelt homage to its founder this week as he passed ownership to local businessman Dell Loy Hansen. Given the success he, vice president/general manager Garth Lagerwey and their front office have built on the Wasatch Front over the past five years, it's easy to forget what rough going it was for RSL in the early days, when the team was subpar – to put it kindly – and the hunt for a soccer-specific stadium was on life support. Simply put, Checketts made it happen.
5) Is Daigo Kobayashi just the hot dog Vancouver needs?
Nizar Khalfan, Davide Chiumiento and now Barry Robson: The Whitecaps have sought attacking inspiration from a range of sources over their first two years of MLS existence, but few have stuck around for very long. Now coach Martin Rennie is taking a look at Kobayashi, a classic Japanese playmaker blessed with technical virtuosity and free-kick wizardry, in search of the invention needed to feed his corps of nimble young frontrunners.
4) Which MLSers will seize the spotlight in Houston on Tuesday?
Will Bruin is banging in the goals, Tally Hall is turning heads in goal and Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler "complement each other" in central defense, according to US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who will wrap up his January camp with a friendly against Canada at BBVA Compass Stadium in four days' time. Remember, a big game in the Bayou City could earn some tickets to the World Cup qualifier in Honduras a week later.
3) Have D.C. United broken new ground with their loan deal for Syamsir Alam?
D.C. announced a year-long deal for the young Indonesian on Friday, and while the attacking midfielder has a great deal to prove in his new league, he could conceivably offer a useful understudy to Dwayne De Rosario. There's also the very real possibility of attracting new fans in one of the world's most populous nations. Lots of clubs talk about "building a global brand" – on Friday, United and Indonesian part-owner Erick Thohir (right) made a very real step towards growing their name in distant lands.
2) Did CONCACAF strike the right balance with its Gold Cup venue selections?
Five MLS stadia made the final cut for this summer's edition of the regional championship tournament, with hulking football facilities like Dallas Cowboys Stadium selected in several locales with an eye towards bumper crowds. Something tells us that the tighter, more intimate confines of the soccer-specific venues will be the places to be come July, however.
1) Just what does the MLS-USL Pro partnership mean for North American soccer?
This development will take years to truly manifest itself on a wider level, with its initial impact likely to be relatively subtle this season. But this concrete step towards a more integrated "pyramid" system has benefits for everyone, starting with young professionals in the MLS reserves. There's no substitute for match fitness and intensity, and even MLS' greenest rookies will have no desire to be bested by USL Pro opposition, especially in front of paying fans.