2011 MLS Season Previews: Stories to Follow

2011 MLS Season Previews: Stories to Follow

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On February 23, 2011
  • 2011 MLS Season, 2011 MLS Season Preview, 2011 Season Preview, David Beckham

Matt Pickens and Marvell Wynne look to prove that winning the MLS Cup was no fluke for the Colorado Rapids. (Getty Images)

We’re moving on in our 2011 Major League Soccer previews. So far we’ve taken a look at the five breakout players and the five Home Grown players to watch. Today I want to dive into some stories that are going to be worth following this season in MLS.

Some of these stories/questions are obvious to follow, while some others are interesting ones that I find could be worth picking up on before long. That is why I’m not doing just five like in the other previews.

1. Can Colorado Repeat?

Going into any year the big question is always, can the champion repeat? This year’s reigning champion is a first time winner that could struggle at times with the pressure if Gary Smith doesn’t keep the club on course. Now last year the Rapids were essentially the seventh best club in the league but were able to win the MLS Cup due to a nice hot streak late in the year (hmm, where have we seen that before?).

Smith has kept most of the MLS Cup winning roster the same but as added a couple decent pieces:

Joseph Nane (trade with TFC), Sanna Nyassi (trade with VAN), Tyrone Marshall (Re-Entry Stage 2), Eddie Ababio* (SuperDraft #18), Michael Holody (free agent), Steven Emory (undrafted free agent)[/one_half]

Ross Schunk (waived), Julien Baudet (trade to SEA), Danny Earls (trade to SEA), Claudio López (option declined), Ciaran O’Brien (option declined), Peter Vagenas (option declined)

You be the judge is getting rid of Earls and Baudet was the right move, while bringing in Nyassi, Nane and Marshall. I view some of their moves as positive ones but will they be enough to go through the CONCACAF Champions League later in the season.

2. Can RSL (or Columbus) win the CCL?

Boy, one thing I am certainly glad about is the fact that RSL and Columbus had to face one another in the quarterfinals in the CCL and now some other clubs respectively. Reason being was simple, the game was ugly and one that felt like a bad preseason game for the two clubs. I’m sure things will change in the return leg in Sandy, UT, but boy do they have a ways to go here.

Anyways, I still believe RSL will come out of this series and move on to the semifinal. They’ve made a lot of talk about how they want to win the CCL and move on to the FIFA World Club Cup. Bigger question is can they do it? And if they don’t can Columbus some how manage do get to the final and at least make MLS look decent against a Mexican side?

It’s all about gaining respect in our region, particularly with the Mexican sides for MLS. Winning this year’s tournament would go a long way in doing that for either of these two MLS teams. As a MLS fan we should all be rooting for whomever comes out of this series.

3. Will this be the year for LA and David Beckham to finally win it all?

Beckham hasn’t helped his club win a league title since he was in Spain back in 2007. I’m sure that is more time than he or LA wanted when he first came over to MLS a few years ago. It seems like it was just yesterday that he was on all the morning shows here in the States, talking about how he wanted to make MLS better and be an ambassador to the game and all that nonsense. Fast forward to right now and LA looks very dangerous as a club, much more so than the first time he stepped on the pitch with them.

It is pretty evident that LA boss Bruce Arena is throwing in all his chips for a title this season. With Beckham on board for what should be a full season (could it possibly be?), LA should easily be in the discussion for a MLS Cup trip in 2011. New additions like Juan Pablo Angel, Frankie Hejduk and even Chad Barrett should help out.

4. Can Kansas City handle that long road trip?

We’ve seen it time and time again, when a club is waiting for their new stadium to finish they go out on the road for a long road trip. So far, the clubs that have had to do it haven’t fared so well. Let’s take a short look back at all the clubs that had to “wait it out”.

  • The Columbus Crew had the most success with a 5-2-0 record to start 1999.
  • The LA Galaxy went winless in eight matches (0-4-4) in 2002.
  • The Chicago Fire did alright in 2006, going 2-3-4.

Other clubs like Philadelphia at least had a couple home games in other venues to break up their road trips.

But KC has 10 games on the road before they touch base at home for the first time. Yes 10 games! That’s crazy! They say they are good with it but I have a feeling it will take it’s toll on this club.

5. How will the Gold Cup and other FIFA dates shake up the league?

Thankfully MLS schedule at least a little around a couple FIFA dates this year. So we have that to be thankful for later on. However they were not able to schedule around this year’s Gold Cup, which shouldn’t be too much of a shock. They can only really do so much in terms of scheduling around events such as this anyways.

I do think MLS will have some impact in the Gold Cup but the impact of the Gold Cup itself on MLS won’t be as much as in year’s past. It all comes down to call-ups by national team managers and with the expanded rosters this year, I see the impact only coming down to affecting a couple clubs at the most. Teams will be able to use younger players in this situation, which isn’t the worst thing if they are some home grown talent waiting in the wings.

6. How many Designated Players will come this year?

This is always a story to follow in MLS now. DPs command a lot of attention for any club and I’d imagine we’ll see at least three or four sign with various clubs this season. Houston, New England, Dallas and Toronto all look like decent DP candidates. NY could surprise us and sign a third even though they’ve claimed they won’t just yet. Maybe we’ll see a surprise club like Portland or Colorado jump into the DP mix too.

7. Will the majority of clubs have Home Grown players signed by the end of the season?

We’re getting down to only a few clubs that have yet to sign any HGPs. RSL, San Jose, Seattle, Columbus, and Portland. To be fair Portland just started up so they’ll probably wait another year or so to sign one but as for the others I hope to see at least one for each.

8. Who’ll be the better expansion side, Portland or Vancouver?

As the league grows with expansion clubs, we are always curious to see if those expansion clubs made the right moves before their inaugural season. Portland on paper seems like the logical choice here to be the better club of the two newbies. Offensively they have a nice spark with Kenny Cooper, Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Pore, and Eddie Johnson. I think as long as they have a decent midfield game behing them they’ll be fine.

Vancouver seems interesting. I don’t know of another way to put it just yet as they’ll be tested early on in the west with this lineup. It seems they are taking the build from the back approach, which is fine by me. I just worry about who will actually score for them considering they won’t have their top draft pick Omar Salgado until later in the season.

Figuring out expansion clubs is a crapshoot really. Seattle was the exception to that a couple seasons ago. I know Portland and Vancouver tried to mirror their rival’s success as an expansion team but at the end of it all they are still that, an expansion team.