The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into this weekend’s slate of international matches.
1) How damaging is the loss of Chad Barrett to LA’s MLS Cup hopes?
Tough luck struck the hard-working striker during the Galaxy’s Thursday training session as he dislocated his right ankle barely a week before the MLS Cup final, ruling him out for the showpiece event. His loss leaves Bruce Arena with a bit of lineup juggling next Sunday – will a reserve like Adam Cristman get the call, or does Landon Donovan or Mike Magee move up top?
2) Gregg Berhalter couldn’t possibly be right about Brad Davis, could he?
The Galaxy’s veteran defender suggested this week that Houston might be obscuring the status of their influential midfielder, despite Davis having categorically ruled himself out of MLS Cup with a torn quadriceps sustained in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Championship. With his hint at a surprise comeback for Davis, is Berhalter actually playing mind games about the Dynamo playing mind games?
3) How quickly – and tidily – can Canada wrap up passage to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying?
The Canucks face St. Kitts and Nevis in back-to-back matches during the current international fixture window. While a mere point from either will assure them of advancing out of Group D, coach Stephen Hart and his men will aim to notch all six in order to maintain their calm, confident progress.
4) Will the presence of Branko Boskovic help inspire Montenegro to another upset success?
D.C. United’s creative midfielder has not yet been cleared to play after the serious knee injury that sidelined him for the MLS season back in the spring, but his club did allow him to join his underdog national team for their two-legged UEFA 2012 European Championship playoff against the Czech Republic. He could provide a timely morale boost for the tiny Balkan nation as they seek Euro glory.
5) Which defensive midfielder most deserved a spot on the MLS Best XI team?
Holding mids just don’t sell as many tickets and make as many highlight reels, a fact proven by the conspicuous absence of a true midfield anchor in the Best XI. Osvaldo Alonso and Kyle Beckerman top the list of the aggrieved who play a pivotal role in MLS, which was left out of the honors reckoning this time.
6) How high are the prices for MLS Cup tickets going to climb on the secondary market?
The big game at The Home Depot Center is officially a sellout, and some of the reported prices on ticket-resale sites have already reached stratospheric levels. It will be fascinating to see just how badly Southern Californians want to watch in the flesh as the home team chase the league’s biggest trophy. Exactly how much are they willing to shell out for the privilege will place a quantitative value on that desire.
7) When should Jurgen Klinsmann step out of the US national team laboratory and start focusing on results?
The USMNT boss insisted to MLSsoccer.com’s Greg Lalas that he doesn’t "give a crap" about match results at this stage of his tenure as he implements his tactics and philosophy, even against established foes like France and Slovenia. But it’s worth asking whether fans are obliged to follow suit. If there’s one thing the Yanks are known for in international circles, it’s their winning mentality, something that might suffer if high-profile losses keep piling up.
8) Can this week bring clarity to the US’ defensive front?
The USMNT back line has probably been the leading area of fan discontent, as Klinsmann has stuck with the shaky Michael Orozco Fiscal and ignored contenders like Omar Gonzalez, the recently crowned MLS Defender of the Year. The France and Slovenia games should offer demanding conditions to test Klinsmann’s idealistic plans for his defense.
9) Will the trip to Slovenia resurrect 2010 World Cup ghosts?
These two teams’ 2-2 draw during group play in South Africa was an absorbing spectacle – the squad from the small country on the edge of the Adriatic Sea grabbed a 2-0 lead and generally made life difficult for the Yanks. They’ve managed to stir the pot even more in the run-up to Tuesday’s friendly with promo posters depicting the Statue of Liberty in a Slovenian kit. All that could add a compelling edge to the occasion at Ljubljana’s Stozice Stadium.
10) Will Bill Hamid earn his first US cap in the week ahead?
With several USMNT call-ins this year, Klinsmann has seemingly tabbed D.C. United’s young goalkeeper as a leading contender to inherit Tim Howard’s mantle some day. Some might say Hamid’s hard work in training deserves a taste of match action as reward, even if only in a substitute role. We’ll soon find out if the new boss agrees.
11) How many other young MLS players will take part in European training stints this winter?
Hamid has used his Twitter feed to rave about the experience gained from his recent 10-day spell with English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion, while Brek Shea will begin interning at Arsenal, one of the world’s elite talent incubators, once the USMNT disbands. It’s clear that Klinsmann wants other up-and-comers to take similar chances: Teal Bunbury is the latest to profess a desire to do so, and others will surely follow suit.