The new MLS season is nearly upon us with first kick only days away. Toronto FC may have a bye to start the 2014 season but that does not need there is not plenty of action to be excited about. For many of a regular readers the rest of the league may be a bit of an unknown so we are here to help.
First up in our series of previews for the 2014 MLS season is a list of players who we are excited to watch over the next couple of months. These are by no means the best players in the league but they are ones that come with interesting storylines or are in position for big years this season.
So without further ado here are the players that four of us WTR writers are excited to watch:
Max Urruti - Very intrigued to see how he does in Portland. Didn't look particularly impressive last season, but with a full pre season under his belt, 2014 will give a much fairer picture. Comparing Urruti to Gilberto will be something I won't be able to stop myself from doing all season.
Clint Dempsey - Didn't get going at all last season, or with Fulham this season. Can he be the star player everyone expected when he came over? If not, can he go as far as playing himself out of a World Cup spot?
Rob Friend - His signing with L.A seemed to come out of nowhere, and I'm really not sure how much playing time he'll get there. I'll admit I'd kind of written him off, much as Canada seem to have, does Bruce Arena know something we don't?
Matias Laba - In a perfect world I'd be watching him (along with Michael Bradley) running the best midfield in MLS; instead he's off on the west coast with Robbo. And even though it pains me to no end seeing him in a Whitecaps kit; I may actually watch some of their games just to see how good he makes their midfield look. And then after watching that I'll weep quietly in the corner.
Stefan Frei - I realize that I'm stuck on former TFC players but after almost two years of not starting or really playing at all I'm very curious to see is Frei is really the keeper that a vast number of Toronto fans think he is - or was it all a mirage. Now he'll be playing behind a pretty good Sounders team as opposed to the nightmare excuse of a team he used to play for.
Matias Laba - Vancouver was already a team of interest, being a fellow Canadian side, but the recent, and controversial, addition of Laba, alongside a smattering of young Canadian talent and Carl Robinson's debut as head coach makes them a must-watch. The young Argentine impressed in his time in Toronto and his further acclimatization to the league, as well as the development of the loan-trade-future considerations, warrants TFC fans keep a close eye on what transpires.
Nana Attakora - Another former Red, Attakora showed well during his stretch with San Jose, but fell victim to a deep back-line and concussion-symptoms after a clash with Doneil Henry last season. Latching on to a new club in DC, another in the Eastern Conference no less (who maintained their Canadian content after allowing Dejan Jakovic to transfer to Japan), means TFC will be seeing a lot more of their former teammate.
The Youth in Montreal - Canadian fans should keep an eye on a trio of talent on the cusps of the first team and another pair lurking in the wings. Karl Ouimette, Maxim Tissot, Wandrille Lefevre, Zakaria Messoudi, and Maxime Crepeau - the first three look to figure more prominently this season, while the others will look to break in for the odd appearance. Note - Lefevre is not, strictly speaking, Canadian... yet.
Claudio Bieler - His first season in MLS was not one to remember but he showed flashes of being a very good player capable of putting up numbers similar to someone like Diego Valeri. He had a great preseason with goals and assists to spare which should help him make his way back into the starting lineup. The scary part with him is that the Sporks (Sporting Kansas City) were already a decent scoring team on their way to the MLS Cup last year so if they get him rolling they might just steamroll the Eastern Conference. If he gets rolling and is also setting up chances for Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong then Peter Vermes' offence will be fun to watch. They already run a good counter attack which is always fun to watch.
Will Johnson - I like the Canadian midfielder about as much as anyone but he is heading into the season with a number of question marks for me. Most of his career he has been a solid central midfielder and did well for himself with Real Salt Lake but he took it to a completely different level last season when he joined the Portland Timbers. He was one of the best midfielders in the league and got deserving mention among MVP candidates but can he continue that kind of form in 2014? If he can avoid dropping back down to his previous level, still a good one, it might just be enough to keep the Timbers around the top of the West. That midfielder with Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Johnson only got better with the additions of Steve Zakuani but for me Johnson remains the engine that will make this team go if they want to be a Supporters Shield Contender. Hopefully he is up for the job.
Maurice Edu - More love for Toronto FC players in MLS. Edu coming back to MLS and joining the Philadelphia Union is loaded with potential storylines. He has struggled to find consistent minutes since Rangers went bankrupt and has never really developed into the consistent performer USMNT fans were hoping he could be. He is back in MLS now though and has a nice new DP contract in hand so now he has to prove that he is worth that kind of money and can be the back bone of the Union's midfield. He is the key piece of their offseason rebuild and will operate right in the engine room of the team. If he lives up to his price tag he should be enough to get the Union back into the playoff mix. There is also the fact that Nick Sakiewicz took shots at TFC over their signing of Michael Bradley to add to the mix. No pressure on Edu at all.