As we embark on the 18th season of Major League Soccer, there are a lot of questions for both the league and its 19 teams. We kick things off on Saturday with the first match on the docket, Sporting Kansas City at Philadelphia, at PPL Park (4 p.m., Purchase tickets).
Here are some things to ponder as the start of the 2013 season draws ever closer. We start with the Union, where aspirations are high, though some questions still remain.
Can Conor Casey have a reasonably injury free season?
If so, his signing by manager John Hackworth will be considered a steal. Conor should be good for double figure goals, along with providing a physical prowess up top.
Can Sebastien Le Toux return to the form during his previous time in Philadelphia?
No doubt, last year was a struggle, playing for two teams away from his beloved Union. Le Toux was a fan favorite here and a hard worker who had 25 goals and 20 assists in his two prior years here. My guess is that we will see the Le Toux we saw here in the clubs first two seasons. This should make for a 12-15 goal season.
Can Bakary Soumare return to the All-Star form he displayed in Chicago? If that answer is yes, then the Union will be strong on central defense with Soumare and Jeff Parke. If he falters, then Hackworth will have to move Amobi Okugo back there which takes away from the midfield, and also puts one of the club’s highest paid players on the bench.
And your best paid players in any sport shouldn't be coming off the bench.
Finally, can Zac MacMath make more progress in year three?
Goalkeeping is the key to being in all games. Zac had to deal with a concussion, some tension with previous manager Peter Nowak, and an ever changing defense in the first half of the 2012 season. He needs to improve like fellow young keepers Bill Hamid (D.C. United) and Sean Johnson (Chicago) in order to take that next step in his development.
The Union isn’t the only team with questions. Here are some other questions to think about on a league scale in 2013:
Can the Los Angeles Galaxy three-peat? It won't be easy without David Beckham and with Landon Donovan missing the initial part of the season. Robbie Keane could become an even greater player this year. With Bruce Arena leading the team, Los Angeles will always be a contender.
Can San Jose have another dream season with its offensive trio of Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart? No worries about Wondo who has shown his consistency now for three straight seasons. Gordon and Lenhart must remain healthy for the Quakes to have the kind of season they had one year ago.
Can Caleb Porter be successful with the Portland Timbers and how will you measure that success? While they will be improved, a playoff spot will be difficult to claim in the competitive Western Conference.
If they make it the MLS playoffs, Porter will have to be in the discussion for “Coach of the Year.” What about the other new coaches in MLS, like young Mike Petke in New York? Expectations there will always be high, so he's not walking into an easy situation.
How will World Cup Qualifying affect MLS in 2013? Even if MLS teams don't play on those days, players will have to leave their teams, sometimes travel to hostile environments, and play hard games on hard fields. They miss training times with their teams and often come back a bit fatigued so coaches have to monitor them closely.
So many questions for MLS in 2013 as we approach another year with optimism. Things should be better for both the Union and the league itself.
I'm looking forward to Opening Day.