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Friday, 9 March 2012

MLS Preview – The Big Questions

    Asking a major on-field question about the campaign and an aside for each of the nineteen MLS clubs as the league embarks on its seventeenth installment.

Eastern Conference:

Chicago – Will the goal-scoring of Dominic Oduro, the Pavel Pardo-Sebastián Grazzini spine, the fine keeping of Sean Johnson and the addition of Arne Friedrich at the back continue the good form that followed Frank Klopas’ appointment midseason almost allowing the Fire to make the playoffs continue and be able to last the entire campaign?

    Will on-field success bring the legions of fans back to Toyota Park?

Columbus – Can Robert Warzycha’s Crew overcome the nagging injury concerns to defensive stalwarts Chad Marshall, Will Hesmer, and Danny O’Rourke enough to provide a stable framework from which their younger players such as Dilly Duka, Tony Tchani, Justin Meram, and Ethan Finlay and their international reinforcements Milovan Mirošević and Olman Vargas can excel?

     Can the positive business moves continue to invigourate a stagnating franchise?

DC – Have United done enough to address their inconsistency by reinforcing their attack with Hamdi Salihi and Maicon Santos, retaining key experienced players in Dwayne De Rosario and the fit-again Branko Boškovic, solidifying at the back via the acquisitions of Robbie Russell and Emiliano Dudar, and having a large group of future stars with an extra year under their belts such as Andy Najar, Chris Pontius, Bill Hamid, and Perry Kitchen in this the second year proper of Ben Olsen’s tenure?

    Will the stadium problem find an acceptable resolution?

Dallas – Will Brek Shea, Fabián Castillo, and Blas Pérez, as well as a soon to be fit David Ferreira provide the goals that last season’s revolving attack had difficulty finding, does Kevin Hartman have another season at the top of his game in him and have the renovations that have taken place under Schellas Hyndman, including the transition of leadership from Daniel Hernandez to Ugo Ihemelu, been enough to rebuild the club?

    Just where have the fans gone and will they come back?

Houston – Will the relatively unchanged perennial contending Dynamo under Dominic Kinnear rebound from the Brian Ching-affair, using their new urban stadium as motivation and the continued evolution of Tally Hall into a top-notch keeper to again reach the summit in the East, despite not being able to find that number one striker they have been desperate to find?

    Will the traveling ban on supporters bring them together or stifle what should be a celebratory season?

Montreal – How will the Impact’s ragtag collection of disparate players – MLS vets: Donovan Ricketts; Club legends: Eddie Sabrango; Hometown boys: Patrice Bernier; International experience: Nelson Rivas; and rookie talent: Andrew Wenger - Jesse Marsch, and their fan base, having spent so much energy in the buildup on Ching and the search for a big name DP react to the trials and tribulations of a daunting virgin campaign?

    How will this club shape itself for the future and just what will the first Francophone-club in MLS add to the culture of the game in North America?

New England – The Nicol-era ended, will Jay Heaps’ rebuild of the Revolution, under the drive of a stellar midfield containing Shalrie Joseph, Benny Feilhaber, and rookie sensation Kelyn Rowe, the growth of exciting prospect Diego Fagundez and international additions such as Saër Sène and John Lozano to overcome the underperforming tag that has tainted them of late and use success on the field to drive off-field progress towards a more satisfying situation?

    Was the hiring of Heaps just another budget decision or will he find success for one of the struggling original clubs?

New York – Will this be the year that the Red Bulls Austrian overlords find that success it so desires in the form of high priced talent such as Thierry Henry, Rafa Márquez, Kenny Cooper, and a potential third DP to be named later, what will be the fate of Luke Rodgers, and has coach Hans Backe finally wrapped his mind around the peculiarities of the MLS system and found the necessary depth to last a full campaign?

    Will anything bring the fans out in number to the glorious Red Bull Arena?

Philadelphia – Will the Union’s youth movement featuring the likes of Zac MacMath, Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, and Freddy Adu – to name a few - under Piotr Nowak build on a successful sophomore season to contend this year or will the controversial loss of old heads such as Faryd Mondragón and Sébastien Le Toux see them fall back into the pack of the Eastern Conference this season?

How will the notoriously vocal city react should the season start out slowly?

Kansas City – Was last season’s rebirth under Peter Vermes in the luxurious confines of Livestrong Sporting Park just a flash in the pan or will the young attacking group of Graham Zusi, CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara, and Teal Bunbury and the defensive core of Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin be bolstered by the experienced additions of Bobby Convey, Jacob Peterson, and Paulo Nagamura?

    What will the support manifest itself as in the second year of the new ground?

Toronto – Does Aron Winter’s Dutch revolution having retained the services of Richard Eckersley and Joao Plata and added defensive numbers in Miguel Aceval have what it takes to sustain that good form brought on by the additions of Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans that closed out last season to finally make the playoffs or will that familiar failure again be tasted by the Reds?

    This could be the final chapter of the Julian de Guzman story in Toronto, all sides look amenable to a longer term solution, but just what will this season bring for the prodigal son?

Western Conference:

Chivas – What exactly is the plan for the Ameri-Goats, scattered offseason acquisitions of Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolaños, the loss of key figures such as Zarek Valentin and Justin Braun, the youthful additions of Casey Townsend and Jorge Villafaña; Robin Fraser knows this league inside and out, but will he finally turn these black sheep into a prized contender or will Dan Kennedy be called upon again to keep this side respectable?

    Does the club need its own ground to finally launch out of the shadows of their more glamourous neighbours?

Colorado – How will the transition from English-style 4-4-2- under Gary Smith to Oscar Pareja’s Latin 4-3-3 with a relatively unchanged squad of players - save for the addition of playmaker Jaime Castrillón and draft pick Tony Cascio - stand the Rapids in their attempt to put last year’s disappointing injury-plagued title defense in the rear view?

    Will the new found organizational harmony influence play on the field and numbers in the stands?

Los Angeles – Can anything stand in the way of Bruce Arena and the Galaxy’s collection of attacking stars - David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Edson Buddle – winning everything they set their minds too this season or will they fall short of expectations?

    How will the loss of Omar Gonzalez influence their formerly staunch defense?

Portland – Will the goal-scoring prowess of Kris Boyd alongside the likes of Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Perlaza provide John Spencer and the Timbers with the offensive punch the recently departed Kenny Cooper could not last season and allow them to maximize their impressive home form in a push for more success in their second go-around or will the thrill of Season One be met with a sophomore slump?

    Can anything stifle the passion of those Forest Green-clad fans?

Salt Lake – Has the stable core of Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, and Will Johnson, having lost the likes of Robbie Russell and Andy Williams, though bolstered by some new recruits – Johnny Steele, Enzo Martinez, and Emiliano Bonfigli, sufficiently overcome the disappointment of last season’s Champions League loss to mount a strong campaign on multiple fronts this season or will Real’s strike force of Fabian Espíndola and Álvaro Saborio struggle to find the back of the net?

    How will Javier Morales’ return from the devastating ankle injury progress?

San Jose – With a new home looming on the horizon, can Frank Yallop and Chris Wondoloski having reinforced the squad with Tressor Moreno, Marvin Chávez, Victor Bernárdez, and Sercan Güvenışık, produce an Earthquakes side worthy of contention in the difficult Western Conference?

    Which of Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart will be the strike partner for Wondo they sorely lacked last season?

Seattle – Will Eddie Johnson gel with Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero in attack sufficiently and be prove to be the difference maker that the Sounders have needed to clear that final hurdle and move from US Open Cup Champions to serious title contenders or will this be another season spent chasing the class of the league?

    Is patience wearing this for Sigi Schmid’s lack of tangible progress in MLS play?

Vancouver – Is Martin Rennie the man to lead the Whitecaps, chalk full the attacking talents of Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento, Sébastien Le Toux, Darren Mattocks, and Omar Salgado, improved defense in former of Korean full back Yung-Pyo Lee and Martin Bonjour, and added depth in oh so many former Carolina RailHawks, past the failings of last season and into the stratosphere of serious contender in league and international competitions?

    How will the attacking battery be configured and can everyone be kept happy and on track?

The League – How will the unbalanced schedule affect the imbalance between the two conferences? Will this be the year a club can find the international success in the CONCACAF Champions League that MLS so desires? Will a Canadian team finally reach the hallowed ground of the postseason?

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