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A look at the biggest unanswered questions heading toward the MLS season

Photo by Jennifer Buchanon/USA Today Sports
Photo by Jennifer Buchanon/USA Today Sports

The start of the MLS season looms. Final moves are being made and depth charts are being worked out as each of the league’s 22 teams march towards the start of the regular season.

Still, with preseason in full swing, plenty of questions remain as teams prepare for the start of their 2017 campaigns.

Just a few weeks separate each team from the start of the 2017 season and each individual team has its own set of question marks. From position battles to potential additions, there are several weeks left for each team to finalize and tinker following a busy offseason.

With that in mind, SBI takes a look at some of the biggest questions remaining as the 2017 campaign nears:

WHAT WILL NYCFC DO WITH THEIR THIRD DP SLOT?

NYCFC was always going to be flashy given everything they have on the table. The signings of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo set an early tone, one that signified that the club was going to enter MLS with a bang.

The honeymoon phase is now over and Lampard is now gone. With his departure, NYCFC suddenly has wiggle room, but it remains to be seen how they use it.

MLS is approaching, and, in many ways, is already in a new era. The days of aging Designated Players is all but over as stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro and Ignacio Piatti have proven to be the difference-makers needed to push into the elite.

Given their freedom, NYCFC has options, but none have come to fruition quite yet. The club has brought in several new difference-makers, players scattered throughout the field, but none have the marquee pedigree of a DP tag. Leon’s Maxi Moralez has been linked with a move, showing that the club is targeting players still in the prime of their careers rather than those moving towards their on-the-field end.

NYCFC’s DP opening could last through the summer but, sooner or later, they’ll make a choice, one which will show exactly what direction the club hopes to go in from this point forward.

ARE THE RED BULLS READY TO FULLY RUN WITH YOUTH?

Trading Dax McCarty sent shockwaves through MLS. One of the New York Red Bulls’ most beloved players was moved in a heartbeat as the team looked to usher in a new era.

That era centers around players like Sean Davis and Tyler Adams, players who, between them are a combined 42 years old. They’ve both played in spurts and looked ready for the big time, but the task of being a centerpiece of a midfield unit is a whole new animal.

Moving McCarty shows the Red Bulls believe they are ready to roll with youth, something the club has been on the forefront of for several years. Matt Miazga remains the club’s Homegrown poster boy, a player that developed from prospect to MLS star when the time was right.

Davis and Adams are now being pegged to follow that path, and they will be thrown right into the fire much like Miazga was. How they handle it is anyone’s guess as they make the leap from contributors to focal points.

WHAT CAN CLINT DEMPSEY OFFER THE SOUNDERS?

Clint Dempsey is definitively back. After a scare late last season, Dempsey has returned to the Sounders lineup during the preseason, signaling his intent to be ready by the start of the MLS campaign.

Still, it remains to be seen just what Dempsey can offer the Sounders just months after the club lifted an MLS Cup.

Luckily, it seems a majority of Dempsey’s issue is in the past, as Dempsey has logged solid minutes in the preseason. In those minutes, though, Dempsey hasn’t been at his best and, in many ways, that’s okay. After an extended absence, and in the midst of a preseason, there’s plenty of reason for his game to be far from refined.

Heading towards the season, though, one still has to wonder where Dempsey fits into this particular puzzle. Is he a 90 minute player? Is he capable of rejoining a lineup that is now spearheaded by Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, two players that helped lead the team to an MLS Cup in his absence? At 33, how much does Dempsey actually have left, heart issue aside?

Those are questions that should be answered throughout the year as the Sounders look to figure out exactly what they are in the aftermath of their first championship.

CAN THE TIMBERS DEFENSE HOLD UP?

The Portland Timbers defense was among the worst in the league in 2016 and, thanks to a combination of injuries and departures, there’s a chance the unit could be the club’s downfall once again in 2017.

The injury to Gbenga Arokoyo was, in many ways, catastrophic. Arokoyo was pegged as Liam Ridgewell’s go-to partner as veterans Steven Taylor and Nat Borchers moved on. The addition of Lawrence Olum softens the blow a little bit, but the Timbers backline is still a major question mark.

Luckily, the addition of David Guzman should provide a very necessary shield, one which will protect the backline from the center of the field. However, in the grind that is the MLS season, Guzman likely won’t be able to protect the defense all on his own.

Can Ridgewell stay healthy enough to be the leader that led the team to the 2015 MLS Cup? Is Olum the answer, or will someone like Amobi Okugo or Zarek Valentin step up to be more than a depth piece? Will a youngster like Rennico Clarke fill the void, or is there enough time to hit the market and maybe grab one more piece?

On the attacking end, the Timbers look more than ready, but any challenge will have to come with an, at worst, competent defense, and it remains to be seen how exactly they’ll reach that end.

HOW DO THE NEW-LOOK FIRE FIT TOGETHER?

The Chicago Fire have been one of the league’s worst teams for quite some time, but a series of moves have rapidly pushed the club into the conversation as a potential contender for a postseason spot.

Additions like Dax McCarty and Juninho locked down what once was a shaky midfield, while Nemanja Nikolic has the potential to be one of the league’s more dangerous strikers. Young pieces like Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster continue to come into their own, even if the latter is set to miss an extended period of time.

While the club’s new additions add a major boost in pure talent, there are still questions. Who is going to serve as Nikolic’s primary creator as the club searches for an answer at the No. 10 position? How will the defense fare, especially at a centerback position that looks a big weak? Most importantly, how will the new pieces come together and function with the young core the team has constructed over the last several abysmal years?

The Fire’s rebuild will take time. The club is not going to instantly join the MLS Cup conversation but, overall, the Fire should be a lot better in 2017. The question is how much better and if the team can finally make something resembling a playoff push.

Comments

  1. Fire, no.
    Dempsey, yes.
    No mention of Chance Meyer, is he that far gone, he can’t improve a weak Timbers D?
    Gonna be interesting in NY. Red and Blue. I don’t think they are one of the best, but they are in the East.

    Reply

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