With the 2008 Major League Soccer season almost upon us, it is time to break down what is in store for fans as they look ahead to the new campaign.
A revolving door situation has seen several players coming into the league and many depart for Europe, but how will it alter the MLS landscape?
Here are the names, games and story lines to watch in 2008.
FIVE KEY STORY LINES
1. The South American invasion – A massive influx of South American players fits in with the overall blueprint of the league and will be put to the test this season. Marcelo Gallardo at D.C. United and Claudio Lopez with the Kansas City Wizards are the biggest names to monitor.
2. Beckham's second coming – Crowds around North America flocked to get a glimpse of David Beckham in 2007 – even when he wasn't playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy due to injury. Will that momentum be sustained this time – especially in the handful of markets he has already been to?
3. Can Houston three-peat? – Dominic Kinnear and his loyal band of players are on the brink of a dynasty after holding their nerve in the playoffs for the past two seasons. The Houston Dynamo's highest-profile signing in the offseason was in the boardroom, with boxer Oscar De La Hoya bought in. But Kinnear trusts his core group and will have them in the hunt once more.
4. The Olympic factor – Several teams will be without their young stars for a month toward the business end of the season. Perhaps even more importantly, three players aged over 23 can also be selected. Landon Donovan is said to be interested in going to Beijing, and his absence would have a huge effect on the Galaxy.
5. Teething troubles – Toronto FC's difficulties last season, despite its fantastic crowd support, showed how tough it can be for expansion franchises. With Seattle arriving in 2009 and Philadelphia a year later, all eyes will be on the San Jose Earthquakes and how competitive they can be this season.
PREDICTED TEAM OF THE SEASON
DEFENDERS: Gonzalo Peralta (D.C. United), Duilio Davino (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (New England Revolution), Nick Garcia (San Jose Earthquakes).
MIDFIELDERS: David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Dwayne De Rosario (Houston Dynamo), Marcelo Gallardo (D.C. United).
FORWARDS: Claudio Lopez (Kansas City Wizards), Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls).
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
1. Los Angeles at New York, July 19 – Last time it was a magical 5-4 New York Red Bulls victory in front of 66,000 at Giants Stadium. What will Beckham's second visit to the Big Apple produce?
2. Houston at New England, March 29 – Last year's finalists square off on opening day. The Revs have a massive point to prove after another MLS Cup final heartbreak.
3. Chicago at Chivas USA, June 19 – Cuauhtemoc Blanco's historical rivalry with fans of Chivas's Mexican sister club ensures a hot atmosphere.
4. San Jose at Los Angeles, April 3 – The Earthquakes re-enter the league with Frank Yallop visiting his former club.
5. D.C. United at Chicago, Aug. 16 – A rematch of last season's pulsating playoff clash as D.C.'s Argentine posse takes on Blanco and Co.
FIVE PLAYERS LIKELY HEADED FOR EUROPE
1. Brad Guzan – The Chivas goalkeeper's transfer to Aston Villa in the English Premier League broke down due to work permit problems, but he will soon have enough U.S. national team appearances to qualify for a U.K. visa.
2. Jozy Altidore – Foreign interest in the Red Bulls youngster shows no sign of slowing down as this could be his MLS farewell tour.
3. Michael Parkhurst – Questions remain about whether the New England defender's lack of height will enable him to cut it in England, but it may be only a matter of time before the Revs are made an offer they can't refuse.
4. Carl Robinson – The Toronto midfielder and Wales international is reportedly keen to return to a club in the United Kingdom.
5. Stuart Holden – Several teams in England and Scotland are keeping tabs on the Houston youngster to see how he develops this season.
FIVE PLAYERS LIKELY HEADED FOR MLS
1. Andriy Shevchenko – His brief stint in the Chelsea starting lineup was ended by Didier Drogba's return from the Africa Cup of Nations. If a move back to AC Milan falls through, then MLS would be his next preferred destination.
2. Thierry Henry – The Barcelona striker is still telling anyone who will listen how much he wants to finish his career in New York. It is just a case of when.
3. Kasey Keller – With a Seattle franchise joining the league in 2009, Keller is almost certain to get the chance to make a dream return to his home state.
4. Benny Feilhaber – The U.S. Gold Cup hero's preference is to remain in Europe. But he appears to have no long-term future at Derby County, and the offers are not exactly flying in.
5. Brian McBride – If Fulham is relegated from the Premiership, then a return to MLS would be an attractive proposition for the veteran striker.
- Houston Dynamo
- Major League Soccer
- David Beckham