It is the eve of Major League Soccer's 12th season and there are several questions out there that need to be addressed. The only way I see it appropriate is to look at them team by team. So here we go and I'll try to be as unbiased as possible.
Houston Dynamo: As MLS's second only back-to-back championship winner, the 2008 edition Dynamo are the team to beat this season. As last year's cup winners, the Dynamo have already been tested in the Pan Pacific Cup and the CONCACAF Champions Cup. So what you will about the PPC, but I give props to the league for trying something new and trying to extend its brand to areas of the globe that aren't targeted much by other leagues. The CONCACAF Cup continues to be of importance as the young club continues to gain credibility amongst the large Hispanic/Latino community in South Texas. The Dynamo also play in Super Liga against the best clubs from Mexico. The main question here is: can a squad with so many older players already stay healthy over the course of such a marathon season? Despite its depth every where else, the team still needs a true goal scorer with a knack for finding the back of the net.
DC United: The club of our nation's capital continues to be the class of MLS both on the field and in the front office. The signing of DP Marcelo Gallardo fits in well with DC's already South American heavy roster. DC is expected to do well in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and be in contention for the Supporter's Shield once again. I'm all about teams signing the best players they can afford, but does anyone else feel that DC has gone overboard on the Latino players? After all, part of the genesis of forming the league was to help develop American players. Maybe that's just me.
Chivas USA: Fantasy Chivas as I like to call them remains L.A.'s best team despite the fact I hate having two teams in one city. Their financial support from their parent club allows to not have to worry about issues facing other clubs. Chivas field another strong squad led by skipper Brad Guzan who always has an eye on the league's next young prospects.
NE Revolution: The Revolution has been to the MLS Cup 4 out of the last 6 seasons. Does MLS have it's own version of the Buffalo Bills? Scotsman Steve Nicol beefed up his team in the back, but the loss of Pat Noonan to Europe thinned out the attack. The clock is ticking for the Rev's to have a legitimate shot at the title.
Chicago Fire: A lot has changed on the Fire roster from the days of Pole Peter Nowak and the current days of Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco continues to take MLS to new levels with the Hispanic fan base, but can he stay fit and healthy to endure a season where is expected to be a trivial part of the attack on a regular basis? He has to be if the Fire wants to be a contender instead of a pretender.
FC Dallas: The Hoops parted with Carlos Ruiz which despite criticism was a step in the right direction if you ask me. FCD definitely still has an identity crisis as it tries to market its brand to suburbanites with players none of them have ever heard of. Mom, can I get another orange slice please? Does anyone else think the location of Pizza Hut park is absurd? From a performance-on-the-pitch perspective (alliteration): FCD has no room for error.
New York Red Bulls: I'm all about commericalism in sports, because its how I make a living. I'm all about jersey sponsors and big time investors, but actually naming the club after an energy drink is right up with FCD building its stadium 35 miles from the city that bears its name and wonder why no one comes to your games. Some one tell RB that just because you know how to sell caffeine- that has no bearing whatsoever on your ability to operate a successful professional soccer club. Personally, I thought it was shady that Juan Carlos Osorio took the Chicago gig just to kill time until the NYRB job became available. Now he's in the hot seat to get results and prove he's every he says he is. Former natty team captain Claudio Reyna either needs to start playing or start looking at real estate in Fort Lauderdale.
Kansas City Wizards: God Bless the late Lamar Hunt for being such a big investor in MLS and keeping it alive during those first few tough seasons financially. However ... naming the team the Wizards, playing in the Chief's stadium, then going to a minor league baseball park! WTF! Thank God you guys have a great stadium and commercial development project on the horizon because for the longest time it seemed guys could do nothing right. Boss Curt Onalfo strengthened up the back line, but was veteran Nick Garcia worth a first-round draft pick? Will his other moves pay off? The Wizards franchise does have post season experience, but only time will tell.
L.A. Galaxy: Despite it's on-field performance and never ending drama between GM Alexi Lalas and head coach Ruud Gullit, the Galaxy are still considered to be the league's most important franchise for reason (or should I say player) and one reason only: Mr. David Beckham. Becks has generated more publicity for the league in the past 10 months than in its first 10 seasons combined. Sellout crowds where ever his team plays, endorsements, jerseys, etc. There has been an interest in our domestic league that had not existed until now. But despite all the PR and commercial benefits, at the end of the day- it's about results and winning championships. Becks will never silence his critics unless he helps LA bring home a trophy. This year, the Galaxy could be the most exciting to watch or the most horrific.
Columbus: The Crew used to be the pride of the MLS with its gem of a "soccer specific stadium" that was the first of its kind in American. But historically, this team is just flat out bad. The team is completely dependent on one player- Guillermo Barros Schletto- and coach Sigi Schmid continues refusing to play young players.
Colorado: Didn't the Rapids create some unique partnership with Arsenal a while back? If so, you'd think they might have a little bit better of a team- a team worthy of the great venue it plays in. Hopefully the Gomez combo of Christian and Herculez will provide a much needed spark on offense. If nothing else, play former Hoosier Jacob Petersen.
Real Salt Lake: RSL is my sleeper for the 2008 season. I think they will do far better than most believe. Former MLS standout Jason Kreis has hand-picked his squad and what better way to break in that new stadium than with a playoff run?
San Jose: The Earthquakes couldn't get a stadium deal done in round 1, why do they think they can pull it off during round 2. The defense for the resurrected Quakes is solid and will things close, but if you like watching games with a ton of goals- this isn't the team for you.
Toronto FC: TFC is without question the most financially successful club selling out season tickets entirely for 2008, but the fans deserve to see a winning club and in all honesty their roster looks exactly like it did a year ago.
Congratulations on Seattle getting a team for '09 and Philly for '10.
St. Louis- you're next!