By my count, it's only 35 days until the Seattle Sounders host LA Galaxy in the first match of the MLS 2011 season. There are a lot of different questions and story lines coming into the new season. I'm hoping over the next 35 days to write about a few of them.
My first thought coming into this season: Will Chris Wondolowski be able to take his 2010 form into 2011. Wondolowski came out of nowhere last season to take the MLS Golden Boot award, scoring 18 goals. Wondolowski has been described by many as a late bloomer in soccer, now at the age of 28. Prior to his break out season in '10 he had only scored seven goals in his first four seasons in MLS spread across a previous stint with San Jose and some time with Houston Dynamo. Rumored to be on the move in the off season to either another MLS team or to Scandinavian club, Wondolowski is still with San Jose Earthquakes and even appeared in a U.S. international friendly this winter as a reward for his 2010 play.
The Earthquakes have done very little in offseason acquisitions, and obviously hope the players that carried the team into the playoffs last season and upset a much favored Red Bull New York can turn it on again in 2011. We've seen in the recent past that the lack of freshening up a squad in MLS has made several teams do a U-turn in the league, and I have no doubt this will happen to San Jose.
I would love to see Wondolowski put San Jose on his shoulders again this season and carry them to the playoffs; but I can't see this happening. Despite being tagged a late bloomer and having the hot hand last season I don't think Wondolowski can do it on a regular basis over multiple seasons. I don't buy into the late bloomer tag either. He just made good on getting regular playing time, finally, and it shows that hard work goes a long way in this league.
San Jose's biggest offseason signing was that of Steven Lenhart, picked up in trade with Columbus Crew. Though Lenhart has been described as a target man, I find him to lack the vital quality of a target man: Holding up the ball and bringing the rest of the attack into play. Lenhart was the best available, however, for one of MLS's smallest clubs. Lenhart has the size and heading ability already down, but he needs to work on keeping the ball from the opposing defender and making the first pass to teammates joining the attack.
If Wondolowski is to be near the top of the league in goals in 2011 San Jose will need players such as Lenhart and Bobby Convey taking some of the weight off of his shoulders. Convey had a fantastic return to form last season and was rumored to be called up to the U.S.'s Camp Cupcake over the winter. I can't see San Jose doing it two seasons in a row with practically the same squad, and hopefully they won't spend DP money on a player like Geovanni, again. Who wasn't able to give them the push they had hoped for. I don't expect much from San Jose this season, rather, I expect more from this year's expansion teams.