Key questions facing the Western Conference
Here is a look at some key questions facing the Western Conference teams during training camp:
Will Dwayne De Rosario stay a forward? The Dynamo's exodus of forwards is well-documented, with Nate Jaqua, Joseph Ngwenya and Paul Dalglish heading to Europe. With Brian Ching the only established forward on the roster the defending MLS champs may have to consider moving De Rosario to forward permanently. The move isn't really a stretch considering De Rosario spent his early career as a forward and he has played there for the Dynamo at times. The Dynamo's wealth of talented midfielders makes the move an easier one for De Rosario, but there is still the belief that De Rosario plays best in an attacking midfield role.
Does Alecko Eskandarian have anything left? That sounds like a strange question for a player who is only 25 years old but when you're moving to your fourth team in a calendar year (D.C., Toronto and Real Salt Lake being the others) it is a fair question to ask. Eskandarian has endured concussions and knee problems, which have cost him a step. He has produced nine goals in three seasons, a pace that won't be good enough for Chivas USA.
Is Duilio Davino good enough to stabilize the D? When FC Dallas introduced Mexican veteran Duilio Davino as the club's biggest offseason acquisition, the club made it clear that it plans on Davino being the team's anchor in the back. Is he really good enough? That question will be answered in preseason as Davino adjusts to a new team and new league, and shakes off the rust after being out of action since last spring. If he proves to be good enough, the Hoops can challenge Houston for the West. If he isn't, things will get ugly at Pizza Hut Park.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
Will the defense come together? It is no secret that the Galaxy's defense just wasn't good enough in 2007. Whether that will change in 2008 will depend on head coach Ruud Gullit's ability to piece together a serviceable group. The arrivals of former Nigerian international Celestine Babayaro and Greg Vanney coupled with the impressive early form of rookie Sean Franklin have the Galaxy feeling bullish about its back line, even with the shocking retirement of young defender Ty Harden. The Galaxy will need Abel Xavier's knees to hold up or rookie Julian Valentin to grow up fast.
REAL SALT LAKE
Is Javier Morales ready to be the man? Argentine playmaker Morales played just seven games for Real Salt Lake last season -- which was apparently a good enough sample to make RSL feel comfortable enough to pass on former MLS MVP Christian Gomez and stick with their own Argentine. With a revamped defense and Kyle Beckerman playing along side him, Morales will have every opportunity to succeed.
Can the forwards step up? The Rapids bet the ranch on acquiring former D.C. playmaker Christian Gomez; now it will be up to the team's erratic forwards to make the deal succeed. Herculez Gomez led Colorado forwards in goals with a paltry four while Conor Casey managed two goals in 15 matches after being acquired from Toronto. Nicolas Hernandez's production was even worse (one goal in 21 matches). Gomez will need the preseason to develop a rapport with the forwards. Whether the forwards actually start finishing the extra chances they should get is another story.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Where will the offense come from? San Jose has done an excellent job of piecing together a solid defense to go in front of star goalkeeper Joe Cannon, but the lack of quality forwards and midfielders is alarming. You would imagine San Jose coach Frank Yallop has some signings on the horizon, but he will need to squeeze some offense out of the foursome of Kei Kamara, Gavin Glinton, Ivan Guerrero and Ned Grabavoy. If Kamara or Glinton emerges as a reliable starting forward, San Jose could avoid an awful start. If neither forward shows much in preseason, Yallop and the Earthquakes could field one of the worst offenses in league history.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.