There was some monumental news – the announcement that Major League Soccer had purchased long-troubled Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes – but apart from that bold headline, last week's offseason serving was relatively light. We may have entered the calm before the storm of opening weekend, looming just two weeks away.
There were new signings in FC Dallas, Columbus, and Chivas USA, while New England traded allocation money and a draft pick to Sporting Kansas City for striker Teal Bunbury.
Elsewhere, Toronto FC forward and Nigeria World Cup hopeful Bright Dike unfortunately suffered a torn Achilles tendon, and Philadelphia long shot Richie Marquez, who was playing Division III college ball last November, inched closer to winning a spot on the Union roster.
If Marquez turns out to be a contributor for the Philly backline in 2014, he’d be one of the better low-profile acquisitions in recent memory.
His strong showing in the preseason is one of plenty of secondary storylines to keep track of as the 2014 season approaches. In the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing a lot about the big signings in Toronto, the new beginning for Clint Dempsey & Co. in Seattle, and Caleb Porter’s Argentine armada in Portland. There will also be plenty of talk about the roster overhauls in Philadelphia and D.C.
And all the talk will be justified, of course. Those are the "A1" stories heading into the 2014 season. But before all is said and done, it could be a lower-profile "B" or "C" thread that twists the plot in the race for MLS Cup 2014.
Here are five of those to keep tabs on:
Columbus Go International
US defender Michael Parkhurst – the 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year – made headlines when he opted to leave the Bundesliga and return to MLS, signing with the Crew. He said it gave him the best chance to make the 2014 US World Cup team.
Parkhurst’s new teammates Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis may not have made the same waves in the media upon joining the Crew, but the Costa Rican duo have both turned out for their national team, and both, like Parkhurst, harbor hopes to travel to the 2014 World Cup.
Columbus would no doubt love to see all three play well enough this spring to book tickets to Brazil; the Crew would gladly trade their midseason absences for a playoff-caliber D when they return.
Robbie Keane is healthy (WATCH his latest golazo here). Landon Donovan is ramping up for a fourth World Cup appearance, and Omar Gonzalez is on track for his first. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas are back to running the center of midfield.
With their spine intact, LA, the club that’s made some of the most high-profile signings in league history (see Donovan, David Beckham, Keane) played it relatively low-key this offseason anchored by a handful of Homegrown signings.
But don’t underestimate the acquisitions they did make. Swedish international winger Stefan Ishizaki, target forwards Rob Friend and Samuel, and midfielder Baggio Hasidic – together with the emergence of second-year winger Gyasi Zardes, who’s looked much improved this preseason – will add weapons and depth to the already-talented Galaxy as they navigate the CONCACAF Champions League and a run at their third MLS crown in four years.
Can Revs Build Momentum?
Jay Heaps’ Revolution were one of the most exciting teams in MLS last season, getting offensive contributions from an array of talented young players such as Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and 19-year-old breakout star Diego Fagundez, who finished with 13 goals and seven assists.
But US international Juan Agudelo left the club in January, and his seven goals and one assist (in just 14 appearances) will be tough to replace. New England execs are hoping that Bunbury and Charlie Davies – backed by contributions from 2014 draft picks Patrick Mullins and Steve Neumann – can get the job done.
Continuity in New York ... Seriously
As Toronto, D.C., and Philadelphia made big-splash signings this offseason, many eyes turned to New York, expecting the club in the nation’s largest media market to answer in kind.
It hasn’t happened yet, but the 2013 Supporters’ Shield winners seem to be sailing along in their preseason preparations just the same (they blanked Montreal 3-0 on Saturday night). Head coach Mike Petke has advocated for continuity and stability – two elements the club sorely lacked during his eight years in New York as a player. Time will tell if their stand-pat approach pays off in the revamped Eastern Conference.
Oscar Pareja: Back in Big D
An iconic player and longtime academy coach for Dallas, Pareja returned to Texas this offseason after two years in Colorado. He’s tasked with leading FCD out of the doldrums of 2013, when they started fast and then faded to a second-to-last-place finish in the West.
Pareja got quick results with the Rapids by trusting his young players, and successfully blending them with the veterans on his roster. He has a similar opportunity in Dallas, with promising youngsters such as playmaker Mauro Diaz, 22, attacker Fabian Castillo, 21, and defender/midfielder Kellyn Acosta, 18, ready to step in next to experienced hands like George John, Blas Perez, and Colorado transplant Hendry Thomas.