I have questions about Major League Soccer. Lots of them. It’s my job.
Halfway through the month of December, most of the questions bouncing around in my brain are still categorized as unanswered, which is understandable. It’s December! The international transfer window is still closed. Preseason is but a twinkle in fitness coaches’ eyes. We’ve got more than two months until Concacaf Champions League and the 2020 MLS season kick off.
But that doesn’t change the fact that teams need a head coach, that Designated Player spots are going to get filled, that Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs replacing, that the Chicago Fire have a new crest and brand but no sporting director, coaching staff or a star player to play in Soldier Field.
It took some whittling to get this list down to what I consider to be the five biggest questions in MLS at this very moment. Some – like “Will the Whitecaps get the Lucas Cavallini deal over the line?” – got knocked off the list in real time. If I missed one, feel free to remind me of my mistake in the comments. If you think you’ve got the answer to one of these, do tell.
One final note: the elephant in the room across the league is the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Namely, that there isn’t one for 2020 and beyond. That is the biggest question in MLS at this very moment until both sides put their John Hancocks on a new one.
Who will be Inter Miami’s head coach?
At this rate, Miami are going to get Fort Lauderdale Stadium built before they hire a head coach. I mean, you can already technically play a game in the building. The pitch has been laid for weeks.
It’s a joke, obviously, but that stadium is flying up at record pace and we’re still lapping up Marcelo Gallardo updates — he told his River Plate squad he’s not leaving — and wondering how Patrick Vieira might be able to get out of his contract with Nice in France. There have been rumors, lots of them, and lots of teases along the way. But no coach, not officially, at least.
I know one thing: Inter Miami will have a head coach. As for who that coach will be, it’s still very much TBD. And honestly, I’m not that concerned about it. General manager Paul McDonough will get the roster to a place where whover Inter hires has a chance to win. David Beckham can pick up the phone and sell just about anyone on playing professional soccer in Miami. You don’t need a head coach for either of those things.
But it’d help, right? You’d think so. Oh, by the way, there are still two DP spots to be filled as well …
What will the Chicago Fire look like when they return to Solider Field?
No sporting director. No head coach. No Designated Players. And barely a peep – just FC Basel’s former head man interviewing for the job – on the rumor front.
That could be a good sign! Or it might not be. Either Nelson Rodriguez is keeping his business under wraps, or there’s just not much to report, in Chicago or elsewhere. Let’s hope it’s the former, since 2020 is clearly a formative year for the club.
Filling the sporting director role is step one. Then comes a head coach and bolstering the squad. The Fire may not need a “splash” in the front office or on the sideline, but it sure seems like they could use one on the field. Rodriguez may be moving away from the sporting side, but there’s no doubt he’ll have some irons in the fire. You have to play the long game to get the big names, and he’s still the guy who brought Bastian Schweinsteiger to the Windy City.
Perhaps more than for any other team, the clock is ticking in Chicago.
How will the LA Galaxy replace Zlatan?
First of all, they won’t. Guillermo Barros Schelotto said as much in this highly recommended interview from The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas. There is only one Zlatan, and, as I’ve previously written, that’s probably a good thing for the Galaxy.
But you’ve still got to replace all those goals somehow, and Schelotto told Cardenas he’s currently looking around South America for a new No. 9, one who will do a little more than just demand the ball and put it in the back of the net. Who the club chooses to take on that mantle will tell us something about who they want to be in the years A.Z. (after Zlatan).
Reports a couple weeks back had the two parties attempting to negotiate a new deal, along with Diego Polenta and Daniel Steres. Polenta announced he was leaving the club, and Steres just signed a new deal. Alessandrini would give Schelotto two proven difference-makers on the wings, but Cristian Pavon is now taking up the DP spot the Frenchman, the team’s best player in 2017, previously held, and the third spot will likely go to the Zlatan "don't call it a replacement" replacement.
Who will helm NYCFC in their maiden Concacaf Champions League voyage?
The old-timey sailor theme in the question was intentional. The seas are calm for the time being, but that can change in an instant. Come February, it’ll be time to batten down the hatches as the swell grows to levels this club has never seen. #CCLFever has sunk far more experienced sides. Just ask Sporting Kansas City.
Like Miami and Chicago, New York City FC don’t have a head coach. They do have David Lee, recently promoted to sporting director. He’ll have the ship in order, but he’ll need a captain.
The rumor that felt right – maybe a little too right, it turned out – was City Football Group’s Giovanni van Bronckhorst crossing the Atlantic to take on the blue side of New York. Seems like that’s not happening now, and no credible reports filled the gap.
Whoever takes the job will have one of the best and most balanced squads in MLS. They will not have a team with a history of winning in the biggest moments. It will be their job to change that, starting in February with a trip to Costa Rica (and then perhaps into the crucible that is El Volcan).
Which players will be bought and sold in January?
Don’t look now, but transfer records are falling around MLS. You better believe more players are headed this way come January. The only thing better than the games are the games before the games. I’m here for the rumor mill. New toys are on the way.
I feel confident saying that because MLS clubs are getting pretty good at the buying part, but that’s only half of the equation. MLS wants to be more of a selling league. Then, by definition, you’ve got to sell.