Coaches and general managers are in Florida this weekend, making final assessments at the Player Combine concludes Tuesday, which gives the staffs about 48 hours to reach Philadelphia and plan out their game plans.
Ongoing CBA negotiations will cast a pall over the proceedings, and many players whose options were not picked up or contracts ran out are still negotiating and/or exploring other options.
Here's a short rundown of what teams need to address, whether or not draft picks or related moves can provide solutions:
CHICAGO. The Fire has many needs, starting with a central defender to back up veteran C.J. Brown, who took over when Bakary Soumare went to France, attacking help in lieu of Chris Rolfe (Denmark); and more outside backs to fill the slots of Gonzalo Segares (Cyprus) and Brandon Prideaux (retired). Brian McBride will be 37 this year and somebody needs to be groomed as his replacement. If Cuauhtemoc Blanco stays in Mexico, 2009 pick Baggio Husidic gets first crack; are there other options out there?
CHIVAS USA. During the next week or so we'll get a glimpse, perhaps, of what Martin Vasquez has in mind for his new gig. Another injury-marred season ended with a first-round playoff fizzle, and there are age issues all over the place: Ante Razov, Claudio Suarez, Jesse Marsch, etc. Defender Shavar Thomas left in the expansion draft and didn't get as much credit as he deserved for his play last year.
COLORADO. The Rapids, as did several teams, fluffed their playoff chances in the final gameand can use help in a lot of places, yet finished with the same amount of points (40) than eventual champion Real Salt Lake. In the last three seasons, they've missed on the playoffs on the final day of the season, and their record after conceding the first goal is 0-43-14. Maybe they just need more guys who want to win.
COLUMBUS. The 2008 champion has shed midfielder Brad Evans and forward Alejandro Moreno in the past two expansion drafts, and will go into the SuperDraft with Guillermo Barros Schelotto's status still up in the air. The defense and goalkeeping are well set, but another solid performer in midfield and up top are necessary.
D.C. UNITED. The attack will need shoring up whether or not Luciano Emilio and/or Christian Gomez find other employment. Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta are good starting points but neither is a striker like Emilio. Fred has been retained, so he and Clyde Simms form a midfield framework in need of some dressing up. Back-line help would help. General manager Dave Kasper has announced he'll take his first scouting trip to Africa during this preseason.
FC DALLAS. After sorting out many of its problems during a strong late-season run, FCD can tweak and tuck a few spots, assuming Daniel Hernandez sticks around. His departure would require adding some toughness in midfield though Dax McCarty has shown he can handle the middle. The signing of Ghanian defender Aziz Ansah might shake up the back line, which looked rather solid down the stretch. Just in case Peri Marosevic doesn't progress rapidly, another forward wouldn't hurt.
HOUSTON. He might get lucky, but Coach Dominic Kinnear is forging ahead without midfielders Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden, whose overseas futures are pending. An alternative for right-sided Brian Mullan will be needed sooner or later, and another central defender is a good move just in case Eddie Robinson's recovery from knee surgery is delayed again.
KANSAS CITY. Injuries deprived the Wizards of players throughout the season, and they scored just 33 goals while winning only eight games. Competition for spots will be fierce under new head coach Peter Vermes, who got a good look at his personnel in the last 12 matches of last season during his interim stint.
LOS ANGELES. All the experience assembled by Coach Bruce Arena turned to age in the playoffs, so a few young bucks can push incumbents Eddie Lewis, Dema Kovalenko, et al. Forwards capable of testing Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon are also essential. LA signed three Brazilians on loan, so it may use its picks on the exchange market.
NEW ENGLAND. Kheli Dube scored eight goals in his second season, but nobody else - aside from Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston - did enough up top in the absence of Taylor Twellman, who is still plagued by head/spinal problems. That need persists. Jay Heaps had his faults, and his critics, but his retirement requires a solid replacement even if Chris Albright recovers from a severe hamstring tear that limited him to just one game. Pat Phelan got some time just in case Jeff Larentowicz finds overseas employment.
NEW YORK. The departure of Jorge Rojas opens space for an international player and a playmaker. Young Costa Rican defender Roy Miller has been signed to address glaring holes in central defense, and several remain. The future of Dane Richards and providing Juan Pablo Angel with sufficient support are just two of the issues faced by new head coach Hans Backe, who could also use help in goal.
PHILADELPHIA. The Union got a solid set of solid pros in the expansion draft, and with John Hackworth as assistant coach might be especially prone to use allocation money to add picks to get an additional Generation adidas player. Yet, (a) Philly wants to win right away, a la Seattle, and, (b) this class is rich with attackers, so that might be his plan.
REAL SALT LAKE. How can the champs improve? Well, how can a sub.-500 team (11-12-7) not improve? A forward to replace Yura Movsisyan and complement Robbie Findley is essential and some more midfield spark in case Javier Morales falls into another funk would help. Backup goalie is an open spot with Chris Seitz gone to Philly for allocation money.
SAN JOSE. It took a while, but the Quakes finally got the defense sorted out and so depth is the greatest need in that position. If Cornell Glen and Ryan Johnson start the season healthy, they can get goals. So all that's left is the midfield, which has lost flank speedster Shea Salinas in the expansion draft and seldom featured Bobby Convey to any extent. Andre Luiz and Ramon Sanchez can handle the middle assuming they return.
SEATTLE. The cloud hanging over Fredy Montero's loan has prompted the Sounders to search for another forward, though it is looking for a big, physical player to work up top whether or not Montero returns. The Sounders waived defender Evan Brown and attacker Michael Fucito, who were picked last year, so those positions need shoring up, as does the midfield. Where to play Freddie Ljungberg, who finished the season at forward, is another consideration as Sigi Schmid and his staff prepare for Year Two.
TORONTO FC. Despite three solid drafts, which yielded nearly a full team of starters either for TFC or players traded away, TFC hasn't made the playoffs. It needs a better back line, depth in midfield to fill the void left by Amado Guevara's move to Honduran club Montagua, and another forward just in case O'Brian White's progress is stagnated. There will be some adjustment from turf to grass at BMO Field; TFC should draft accordingly and find as many good feet as possible.