Skip to content

MLS Starting 11: Ten-plus story lines to follow this season

Mar 2, 2013, 11:00 AM EST

Timbers Army 3

Major League Soccer’s 18th season is full of the usual plot and subplot. Here are the top stories to follow as the games begin today – with all teams pointed toward a spot in MLS Cup in December.

11. Top newcomers – There’s no David Beckham in this year’s crop of foreign MLS imports, but there are plenty of second-tier namey names, such as Portland Timbers center back Mikaël Silvestre, the former French international who spent so many good years at Manchester United. Nigel Reo-Coker, new to Vancouver, put in the EPL years, too. Claudio Bieler wants to be the prolific striker sorely missed in Kansas City lately. Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri has Portland abuzz. Longtime Tottenham man Carlo Cudicini is guarding goal for the champs in Los Angeles.  And we’re all waiting to see if Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins will arrive into Seattle, as now expected.

10. Portland Timbers and Caleb Porter – No club will look more different stylistically than the men from Jeld-Wen Field, where the teeming Timbers Army (pictured) will see a bunch that plays nothing like last year’s direct-attack pack under Scotsman John Spencer. Caleb Porter, one of the bright, young minds of U.S. coaching, will have the ball on the ground and, according to plan, an attacking mindset. Truly, watching what Porter can make of this team – with a roster that’s been rebuilt, now armed with more technical proficiency and a little less “getting stuck in-ness” – will be one of the truly intriguing, ongoing narratives.

9. Andrew Farrell and other rookies – We love rookies because they are the future. And the league’s top draft pick, New England defender Andrew Farrell has “future” stamped all over him. Along with generally following his progress, the subplot here is watching where Revs coach Jay Heaps plays the versatile University of Louisville man on the field.

8. World Cup qualifying – Strung throughout most of the regular season will be international biggies in World Cup qualifying and in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That means two things: occasional interruptions in the league goings-on for some players, and; individual performance in league matches will be assessed in part with an eye toward getting the international call-ups.

7. Chivas USA – What to make of this club, which once tried to become a tool of development for the Chivas mother club back in Mexico, based around cultivating Latin players. It was a disaster, and Chivas USA adjusted. Now under new management, Chivas USA will once again … wait for it … attempt to become a tool of development for the Chivas mother club back in Mexico, based around cultivating Latin players. Yes, this will be absolutely fascinating. With a roster full of players that few in our parts know much about, even the savviest, most observant MLS executives will tell you privately they have zero idea what to expect from Chivas USA. It could be a train wreck. Or Chivas could take the league by storm. Or it could land at any point in between.

6. Kansas City’s final push: No club has won more regular season matches over the past season and a half than Sporting KC, and no MLS club plays a more high-pressure system, which makes Peter Vermes’ side a cracker to watch. But a smidge of pressure has crept into the SKC effort after crashing out of the playoffs two years running to Houston. Can Vermes’ side concoct a final push past the sticking point?

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s MLS preseason previews and predictions)

5. Attendance and TV numbers – Gone are the days when this was critical, akin to cautiously watching the readouts on hospital room monitoring equipment. We’re past that … but not “there” yet. At 18,807 fans a game in 2012, average MLS attendance is up 17 percent over the last three years. TV numbers are climbing steadily, although still nothing to sing and dance about.  It’s soccer. In this country.  Which means there is always work ahead. And it’s always a story worth covering.

source: Getty Images

4. “Wonder Wondo,” on the hunt for another 27 – Doubt this guy at your own peril at this point. Reigning Golden Boot holder Chris Wondolowski (pictured right) keeps proving everyone wrong, following up on a great two years of scoring with a league record-tying 27 goals last year. The preseason was wrought with injuries for the 2012 Supporters Shield winners, so a slow start could potentially stall momentum on another record chase.

3. The 2013 rebuilds – Toronto FC’s latest makeover (in an alarming series of them) is starting slower than anyone around BMO Field would like. Philadelphia has a wonderful cast of young talent still under construction (although minus Freddy Adu). New England and Montreal are somewhere between “there” and “getting there.” So is Colorado, another one not quite in rebuilding mode but not far from it. Even trusty old Western Conference work horse Real Salt Lake went through a rare mini-makeover. (Portland’s high-profile re-set was discussed above.)

2. Landon Donovan: The LA Galaxy and U.S. national team leading scorer will be back in late March and (presumably) back on the field by mid- to late-April. He’ll be fit – because Donovan has always been fit, and mostly injury free – but we’ll have to see if the Galaxy’s dynamic attacker brings the full backpack of motivation. That’s certainly not guaranteed.

1. Galaxy quest for three-peat – No club has won three in a row. Manager Bruce Arena has the league’s top center back (Omar Gonzalez) and perhaps the best striker (Robbie Keane). They’ll have one of the league’s top midfielders if Donovan returns at “Full Donovan.” Plus, given the aggressive ownership, we can all be sure that another name brand Designated Player will be en route to the Home Depot Center by this summer, replacing David Beckham’s spot now that his cultured right foot is spraying the passes at Paris Saint-Germain.

Latest Posts
  1. Bayern Munich sets record for most points at halfway stage

    Dec 19, 2014, 8:50 PM EST

    FC Bayern Muenchen v SC Freiburg - Bundesliga Getty Images

    With 45 points through 17 matches, Bayern Munich is having the best season in Bundesliga history.

  2. MLS announces home openers for 2015 season

    Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 PM EST

    mls Getty Images

    The opening weekend of MLS play features Orlando City SC and New York City FC facing off in a battle of expansion teams.

  3. Pardew and Poyet call for peace ahead of Tyne-Wear derby

    Dec 19, 2014, 7:10 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Newcastle and Sunderland may be bitter rivals, but their managers are telling supporters to behave on Sunday.

  4. Mourinho says Eden Hazard can become an all-time great

    Dec 19, 2014, 6:20 PM EST

    eden Getty Images

    The Blues’ boss said his Belgian playmaker can become a Chelsea legend, but must win titles first.

  5. Joe Hart signs new contract at Manchester City

    Dec 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EST

    jh Getty Images

    England’s number one keeper finally put pen to paper with a new deal that will keep him at the Etihad until 2019.

  6. Nigel Pearson suspended one match for verbal spat with fan

    Dec 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EST

    Southampton v Leicester City - Premier League Getty Images

    The Leicester City boss was also fined $15,000 by the FA following his altercation with a fan.

  7. Tim Howard’s book details Cristiano Ronaldo’s soccer-obsessive nature

    Dec 19, 2014, 3:55 PM EST

    article-2664329-02DF3BFA0000044D-836_634x497

    CR7 and Howard, it seems, are among the few blessed with tons of talent and even more desire to work.

  8. Americans Abroad weekend preview: Rubin v. Aron, Derby day for Jozy

    Dec 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-SUNDERLAND-NEWCASTLE Getty Images

    In the Premier League, Brad Guzan is tasked with keeping Manchester United off the scoreboard.

  9. After failed odyssey abroad, Brek Shea returns to MLS with Orlando City

    Dec 19, 2014, 2:05 PM EST

    Orlando City SC photo of Brek Shea signing Orlando City SC photo of Brek Shea signing

    Orlando City founder and president Phil Rawlins described Shea as a big addition to the squad.

  10. Lille, Werder Bremen noted frontrunners for Jozy Altidore’s services

    Dec 19, 2014, 1:43 PM EST

    Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Altidore’s production for his country and in the Eredivisie prove he’s a much better player than his horrible spell at Sunderland.

  11. Friday’s transfer rumor roundup: Shaqiri to Arsenal, Benzema a Red for $78 million?

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:52 PM EST

    Xherdan Shaqiri

    According to The Daily Express, Man Utd’s man if Mats Hummels won’t come over from Borussia Dortmund is Nicolas Otamendi of Valencia.

  12. WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 17

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 17.

  13. Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Manchester United

    Dec 19, 2014, 10:50 AM EST

    Britain Soccer Manchester United Angel Di Maria AP

    Villa Park hasn’t been a fortress for the Villans, and that’s underlined when bigger teams visit.

  14. Sporting KC adds former Chilean World Cup vet at goalkeeper; What’s next?

    Dec 19, 2014, 10:10 AM EST

    U de Chile v Palestino - Torneo Clausura 2014 Getty Images

    Sporting also added Hungarian striker Kristian Nemeth and Haitian mid James Marcellin.

  15. Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Everton, Manchester United, Liverpool

    Dec 19, 2014, 10:02 AM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-EVERTON-QPR FBL-ENG-PR-EVERTON-QPR

    Here’s how PST’s lead writer and editor sees things panning out this weekend.

  16. Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace

    Dec 19, 2014, 9:06 AM EST

    mcfc.com mcfc.com

    Mangala on visitors to the Etihad: “Normally, teams that are coming here play more defensively.”

  17. Report: Garcia’s World Cup ethics report to be released after all

    Dec 19, 2014, 8:05 AM EST

    "I've done what?" — Getty Images Getty Images

    And to think, all it took was months and months of continuous anger and frustration from nearly everyone who wasn’t a part of FIFA itself.

Featured video

Man United thrash Liverpool