2008 YCS MLS Preview

>> Wednesday

It's time once again for my probably horribly inaccurate MLS Preview. In a league with as much parity as MLS, league previews are inherently inaccurate for all but a lucky few. Last year, I boldly predicted that David Beckham, Joe Cannon, and Nate Jaqua were the last pieces of the puzzle, and Los Angeles Galaxy would down DC United to win their third MLS Cup title in six seasons. DC crashed in the first round of the Playoffs. Los Angeles did not even make the playoffs, losing on the last day of the regular season.

As hard as it is to believe, it was only four months ago I was gleefully rejoicing over New England losing their fourth MLS Cup Final in 6 years; essentially making them MLS's version of the Buffalo Bills. But as Winter turns to Spring, so too does the offseason change into a new MLS campaign. The League's 13th season kicks off Saturday with 12 of the 14 clubs in action. The league makes its national TV premiere next Thursday with a doubleheader featuring two of the best rivalries in the league: Chicago vs. New England's unnamed, but ancient blood feud, followed by the return of the California Clasico, pitting San Jose against Los Angeles for the first time since '05.

Teams will once again play a 30-game League schedule; playing each team twice, and four league-office-designated "rivals" for a third extra game before the top eight teams make the playoffs, and the season ends in November at the Home Depot Center; the 27,000-capacity home of Los Angeles Galaxy and CD Chivas USA. Only one MLS team (1997 DC United) have won the title on their home field.

So now, onto the team previews
Eastern Conference 2007 Finish
DC United, New England, New York, Chicago, Kansas City, Columbus, Toronto

Mike's Certain-to-be-wrong Predicted 2008 Finish
DC United, New England, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, Toronto, Columbus

DC United undergoes a total overhaul from last season. Gone is 2006 league MVP Christian Gomez (to Colorado) and stalwart keeper Troy Perkins (to some Norwegian team). In are a slew of new faces (most from South America) most notably led by DC's "Beckham Rule" player Marcello Gallardo, an Argentinian World Cup veteran. Fred and 2007 leading scorer Luciano Emilio lead the way along with longtime veteran Jaime Moreno. While the turnover could prove instability, if DC's 5-0 dismantling of Caribbean Champions Harbour View this past week is any indication of their capabilities, I'd say DC is well on their way to being MLS Cup contenders again. My only concern with DC is their age. While a number of good players were brought in this offseason, many are definitely in the twilight of their careers, and if the injury bug strikes, United could be in deep trouble.

Note: No team has ever won the Supporter's Shield (best regular season record) three seasons in a row. DC won it in 2006 and 2007.

New England Revolution has to be wondering if there are any more ways they can lose an MLS Cup Final. They have lost on golden goal, in extra time, on penalty kicks, and in regulation. Welsh international Andy Dorman has pulled up his stakes and relocated to St. Mirren in the Scottish Premier League. However, Coach Steve Nicol has proven over the years that he can retain the core of his team, but New England doesn't seem to have a core of young players who can contribute aside from Michael Parkhurst. Matt Reis is still one of the best keepers in the league and is the keeper I'd want on my team in a penalty shootout. Taylor Twellman is always dangerous, but the Revs key pickup could be US World Cup veteran Chris Albright, who strengthens them in the back. Still, you gotta wonder how many more chances they're going to have to bring home a league title...

Note: New England has made it to the Conference Finals six straight seasons.

Chicago Fire have to find a way to not have their season end in Foxborough. Their loss to archnemesis New England last year in the playoffs marked the fourth year in a row where the Fire's last game saw them walking off the field in defeat at Foxborough. Team President John Guppy has brought on former Fire legend Frank Klopas as technical director (sort of like a GM, but with more development responsibility), and has stated that his goal is to win the Supporters' Shield this year. However, Guppy and Co. have given little evidence they are serious about it. For all the clearing of cap space the Fire did this offseason, they sure did a lot of standing pat. Three of their four highest players are no longer with the team. Captain Chris Armas retired, leaving CJ Brown and Diego Gutierrez as the only players left from the '98 Double-winning Fire team. Costa Rican waste of oxygen Paolo Wanchope has announced his retirement, and Honduran Ivan Guerrero was taken by San Jose in the expansion draft. New Coach Dennis Hamlett's Fire team will shift to a 3-5-2 formation this year from their more defensive minded 3-4-4. Chad Barrett and Polish international Tomas Frankowzski will be up top. Chris Rolfe will be moved back to the midfield with Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Questions remain on the backline as CJ Brown approaches the end of his career, and Wilman Conde is in a trade dispute. GK Matt Pickens has left the team for Queens' Park Rangers of the English Championship, leaving goalkeeping duties to Jon Busch. While Busch has been a capable backup, expect to see rookie draft pick Dominic Cervi by midseason.

Note: Chicago and New England have ended each other's seasons in 7 of the last 8 seasons.

Kansas City Wizards have made a few key pickups, but have also lost a good deal. Nick Garcia was traded away to San Jose for the top pick in the draft. Garcia was a key member of the Wiz the past few seasons, so Chance Myers will be expected to contribute immediately. The Argentine connection begun last season with Carlos Marinelli's arrival in KC is continued with KC's "Beckham Rule" acquisition Claudio Lopez; an Argentine World Cup veteran. Kansas City lost a scoring touch with Eddie Johnson (transfer to England's Fulham FC) but should be able to answer with Lopez. One has to worry about Lopez's age, but if he can give KC 13-16 goals, it shouldn't matter. KC is my wild card team in the East this year. They really can go either way.

Note: While Arrowhead Stadium is under renovation, KC will be playing in temporary digs in Kansas City, KS. This officially makes them the first team from a top-flight major American sports league to be based in Kansas.

Red Bull New York is a team that could win it all, but their history tells me they won't. Injuries and departures have taken their toll on last year's third-place in the East team. However, if the right elements come together, New York can be a dangerous team. While some commentators say coach Juan Carlos Osorio's arrival in the Big Apple makes them instant MLS Cup contenders after the Rescue job he performed on Chicago last year, I have to disagree. Chicago's resurgence was equally due to Cuauhtemoc Blanco's arrival. New York does not really have that injection of star power this season. While Juan Pablo Angel remains one of the best players in the league, New York's other DP, Claudio Reyna has been a colossal waste of money. With his salary, not only is Reyna failing to provide for RBNY on the pitch, but is also prohibiting the cash-rich Red Bull owners from making a splash on the international transfer market with a big signing. If American teenage phenom Jozy Altidore leaves for Real Madrid after the Olympics this summer as has been rumored, New York could really struggle to score goals aside from Angel, since last year, Angel was responsible for 19 of RBNY's 47 goals.

Note: New York is the only team in the league to boast two Beckham Rule players. They traded former league MVP Amado Guevara to Chivas USA for their DP slot. Chicago and DC are rumored to be debating acquiring second-DP slots.

Toronto FC exploded on the scene in MLS last year. Season tickets sold out again this year, and talk has already begun about possibly expanding their home ground of BMO Field on the shores of Lake Ontario. Sadly, the play on the pitch as been nothing short of an abomination. TFC finished last season with the worst goal differential in the league (-24), and the Reds have done little in the offseason to change that team. While injuries certainly played a role in TFC's poor inaugural campaign, the simple fact is they were just plain outclassed on a number of occasions. Maurice Edu and Danny Dichio lead the way for the Canadian side, but outside of perhaps winning the Canada Cup of Soccer (detailed below), it appears to be a trophy-less summer up north.

Note: In addition to their league campaign, Toronto FC will play a four-game, round-robin series against A-League sides Vancouver Whitecaps and Impacte de Montreal to determine Canada's representative in the new CONCACAF Champions League, set to kick off this fall.

Columbus Crew brings up the tail end of the Eastern Conference. Frankie Hejduk is one year older, and their failure to land Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski during the offseason speaks volumes. Losing Andy Herron to Chicago for a song did not help matters. Goal production will be a challenge. Will Hesmer is a solid player in goal, but there will not be much offense at Hunt Park. A healthy Columbus could have a say in who goes to the playoffs, but they will not be there themselves barring a spending schmorgesborg in the summer transfer window.

Note: Columbus has not won a playoff series since 2002.

Western Conference 2007 Finish
CD Chivas USA, Houston, FC Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles, Salt Lake

Mike's Certain-to-be-wrong predicted 2008 Finish
Houston, CD Chivas USA, Los Angeles, Colorado, FC Dallas, Salt Lake, San Jose

Houston Dynamo looked every bit the champion as they took apart Guatemalan powerhouse CSD Municipal in the Champions' Cup last week. The return of a core group of players including Alejandro Moreno, Pat Onstad, Dwayne DeRosario and Brian Ching has the Dynamo primed for another MLS Cup title run. Bobby Boswell joins the back line from DC United. Defense is Houston's strength. Last year they surrendered a league-low 23 goals. Including the team's years as the San Jose Earthquakes before they were relocated Baltimore Ravens-style, these players have won four of the last seven MLS Cups. While Houston traditionally starts slow, they usually finish strong, and return most of their MLS Cup-winning team this season. My only concern with Houston is fixture congestion. Houston will be participating in four different competitions this season (MLS, CONCACAF Champions Cup, US Open Cup, and the new CONCACAF Champions League). MLS teams have shown that the talent from players 1-13 is good enough to compete with any team in the world. However, players 14-23 are a little shaky, and if fatigue or injuries pile up in the stretch run, it could derail Houston's chances.

Note: No team has ever won MLS Cup three years in a row. DC United came closest, winning titles in '96, '97, and '99, and losing the Final in '98 to Chicago Fire.

CD Chivas USA will once again be a major factor in the West, and if this were not an Olympic year, they might even be my pick to advance all the way to the MLS Cup Final. However, the Beijing Olympics and World Cup qualifiers may strip this team in August and September. Maykel Galindo (Cuba), Sacha Kliejstan (USA), Brad Guzan (USA), and Jonathan Bornstein (USA) will all be with their national teams for Olympic and WCQ duties. Guzan may not even be with the team come mid season as a $4 million transfer offer from the EPL's Aston Villa fell through on work permit grounds this past offseason. Villa have indicated they will try to buy the American keeper again in the summer. With El Guzano gone, Chivas looks shaky in the back. However, Swiss World Cup vet Rafael Wicky (VICK-ee) should provide some veteran leadership for this young team. Rumor also has it that a certain Mexican legend will be joining the team midseason, so Chivas should be in the hunt for MLS Cup once again. Chivas is the mainstream soccer media's trendy pick to win it all this year.

Note: Chivas USA is participating in this year's SuperLiga, and there is a pretty good possibility they could play their sister club, Chivas de Guadelajara.

Los Angeles Galaxy finally gets to play a normal schedule this year after last year's ill-fated David Beckham moneytrain. Becks returns, and from all appearances is healthy. After bending the MLS salary cap rules once again in order to land FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz, Beckham may finally have a strike partner who can finish those picture-perfect crosses he served up last year. I have a hunch Landon Donovan is just a couple good games away from going on a serious tear, possibly making a run at MVP. LA will miss Joe Cannon in net (gone to San Jose), as the keeper position falls to the capable but inexperienced Steve Cronin. LA returns most of a solid cast that went through the flames and the circus atmosphere of last season and is my dark horse pick for an MLS Cup finalist to emerge out of the West.

Note: David Beckham gave his name to the "Beckham Rule," but LA has three such players on their team. Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz were grandfathered in, and as such, do not count as designated players (DPs).

Colorado Rapids picked up Christian Gomez, finally landing the kind of dynamic player they haven't had since Marcello Balboa left the team years ago. Sadly for the Colorado faithful, it may not be enough. Coach Fernando Clavijo is on the hot seat, and reinforcements do not appear to be coming anytime soon. The cost for Gomez was the giving DC United the right to use Colorado's DP slot at any time in the next three years. Colorado should underwhelm again, and as usual, will be one of the most boring, vanilla teams in MLS.

Note: Colorado is one of two teams team in MLS from the 10 Survivors (The 9 remaining charter teams plus Chicago) that has NEVER won a trophy in any major domestic competition (New York is the other).

Real Salt Lake needs to turn it on this year. Dwindling attendance and even lower fan optimism had led to rumors of the club's relocation before funding for a new stadium was secured. That will come to fruition this fall when they open their new soccer-specific stadium. A playoff berth could lead to a successful renaissance on the Wasatch front. To get there, RSL will need to tighten up on defense and in the defensive midfield. No keeper in the league faced as many shots (183) as RSL keeper Nick Rimando did last season. If Kyle Beckerman (right) wants to work his way into Bob Bradley's camp when World Cup Qualifying begins this summer, he will need to put together a solid campaign.

Note: Salt Lake has never been to the Playoffs in their three year history. No MLS team has ever missed the playoffs four seasons in a row.

The San Jose Earthquakes team that takes the field this season is a far cry from the last incarnation of the team that won the Supporters' Shield in 2005. Returning Cleveland-Browns-style from a two-year hiatus, the Earthquakes will learn their expansion lessons the hard way, just as Toronto did last year and Chivas USA/RSL did before them. The last three expansion teams went a combined 15-59-18 in their first seasons. Joe Cannon provides a solid presence between the sticks, but he can only do so much as was proven last year in LA. Nick Garcia, Ronnie O'Brien and Ivan Guerrero will try to control things in the midfield, but it could be a long year for the Terremotos, due in part to their woeful lack of depth, and not too much strength in the attack.

Note: San Jose will play most of their games at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University, but will play a handful of games at McAfee Coliseum against bigger draws (LA, Chicago, etc.)

League MVP: Juan Pablo Angel (RBNY)
Leading scorer: Juan Pablo Angel (RBNY)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Brad Guzan (CDC) if he stays the whole season, Pat Onstad (HOU) if Guzan leaves midsummer
Newcomer of the Year: Marcello Gallardo (DCU)
Rookie of the Year: Julius James (TFC)
Supporters Shield Winners: Houston Dynamo
US Open Cup Winners: Chicago Fire
SuperLiga Winners: Houston Dynamo
2009 CONCACAF Champions League Qualifiers: DC, Houston, New England, Chivas USA

MLS Cup Playoff Teams
East: DC, New England, Chicago, Kansas City, New York
West: Houston, Chivas USA, Los Angeles

DC over Kansas City
Chicago over New England
Houston over New York
Los Angeles over Chivas USA

Conference Finals
Houston over Los Angeles
DC over Chicago

MLS Cup Final
DC United over Houston


George Shook 12:12 PM  

it's Chance Myers

Vinnie 12:23 PM  

Try as I might, it's hard to take a league seriously when its projected champ (granted, I'm sure you'll be wrong) is named the Dynamo. Minor league area football, anyone?

Vinnie 12:24 PM  

*arena football

Patrick 12:30 PM  

Could this be the longest post ever on YCS.......and its about soccer

Vinnie 2:17 PM  

Maybe longest as in it would cover the most distance if you rolled it out in scroll form. But it also has a ton of pictures. In terms of word count, I'm sure we've topped this.

Mike 3:13 PM  

That it is, George. Thanks for dropping by our little site. I'll probably be heading out to KCK in the fall for the Fire-KCW game.

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