With opening day just a week away, here are the top 11 questions for MLS fans heading into the coming weekend...
11) How much – if any – credence should you place in your team’s preseason results?
Some teams are romping this month, while others are sputtering. Slow starts are a natural occurrence at this time of year, and though there’s nothing wrong with getting excited about promising performances, each preseason game (and the lineups it features) should be examined on its own before making larger predictions. Remember the example of D.C. United in 2010, where an imperious February gave way to one of the poorest campaigns in MLS history.
10) Will FC Dallas alum Brek Shea see his first EPL action this weekend?
The blond winger is on Stoke City’s traveling roster for Saturday's visit to Fulham, so US national team fans may have two Yanks to root on in London in the form of Shea and defender Geoff Cameron. By the way, the USMNT can use some help out on the left flank these days...
9) While Shalrie Joseph is in, is Christian Tiffert out in Seattle?
The Sounders took Joseph off Chivas USA’s hands earlier this week, and now the club is behaving cagily with regards to their German Designated Player, who has yet to join the Sounders camp in Arizona. That’s certainly not a like-for-like swap in terms of traits and roles, so it begs the question: What are Sigi Schmid and Adrian Hanauer plotting?
8) What will D.C. United do with their freshest catch?
No one outside RFK Stadium was expecting the Black-and-Red to hook crafty striker Carlos “El Pescadito” Ruiz via the allocation process on Wednesday. That may be exactly what head coach Ben Olsen had in mind as he picked up one of the best finishers – and most hated divers – in league history, though, to quietly bolster his frontline depth by replacing DP bust Hamdi Salihi with a far more proven (and affordable) finisher.
7) Will the injury bug disrupt Caleb Porter’s rebuilding efforts in Portland?
The Timbers and their new boss have made some laudable moves and shown hints of dramatic improvement thus far this winter. Problem is, they’ve also endured a rash of health problems more signed, and other veterans may be on their way to help as well. It’s surely not Porter’s ideal plan of action, however.
6) How high is Olmes García’s ceiling in Salt Lake?
After making some dramatic changes to the core of their roster, Real Salt Lake have gotten younger in several areas, especially up top, where the 20-year-old García (right) impressed coach Jason Kreis enough for the club to pay a transfer fee to Colombian club Deportes Quindío for his services. Time will tell whether the youngster is an understudy to veteran Costa Rican hitman Álvaro Saborío, or perhaps a strike partner.
5) And will Andrew Driver rekindle his promising career in Houston?
The Dynamo say they’ve been tracking the Scottish-English winger for many months, believing him to be an ideal fit for their relentless, physical style. Transplanting from the shores of the North Sea to the Bayou City would seem like a tall order, except that Scottish ties abound around BBVA Compass Stadium, starting with coach Dominic Kinnear himself.
4) Can Tab Ramos and the US Under-20 national team finish the job in Puebla?
The young Yanks booked their tickets to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Championships without lifting a finger on Wednesday, thanks to Haiti’s 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. The group nonetheless needs to show more quality when they meet Los Ticos, and set themselves up for victory in the crucial quarterfinal match next week which will determine whether they book a U-20 World Cup spot.
3) Will Canada’s U-20s dig deep enough to rescue their own hopes vs. Nicaragua?
Coach Nick Dasovic kept it surprisingly positive after the underwhelming loss to Cuba in Canada’s tournament curtain-raiser. There’s now no room whatsoever for error against Nicaragua, though: Only a win will keep their World Cup prospects alive.
2) Is the title talk justified in Columbus?
It’s taken years for the Crew to rebuild to the point where they can legitimately dream of replicating their dominant run to the 2008 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield trophies. Thanks to some growth among their domestic contingent and an infusion of South American talent, they may have arrived at that point. Their preseason displays have been encouraging, yet they’ll be tested early by a tough schedule that sees them playing five of their first seven on the road to start the 2013 campaign.
1) How quickly will Landon Donovan get back into full swing next month?
After months spent in the shadows, the prodigal son has returned – or at least, he’s given a timeline for it. LD will rejoin his Galaxy teammates at the tail end of March, at which point he’ll be keenly watched for signs of hunger and freshness after publically revealing his chronic lack of both last year. To further cloud the picture, his appearance this week at a USC forum event suggested that his philosophical musings about life after soccer are still ongoing.