"There's a better chance of a national health plan being passed by Congress than of a major pro (soccer) league in America."- Art Spander, San Francisco Examiner, 6/5/94.
"The World Cup, should no one get killed, is a fabulous event. Enjoy it. And enjoy the next one. And if, in between, you patronize any and all pro soccer leagues that begin here, enjoy them too. They'll be gone faster than the girl over there with the hula hoop."- Sportswriter Phil Mushnick, New York Post, 6/15/94.
My annual MLS Season Preview is noted for two things. How few people read it, and how big of a crapshoot it is, making me look like a total dumbass by the end of the season. So I figure if I'm going to look like a dumbass, I might as well drag three other dumbasses down with me; three of the many who anticipated 15 years ago that MLS wouldn't last three seasons, let alone seek to kick off its 14th campaign on Thursday.
Playoff spots are increasingly hard to come by. As recently as 2004, all but two teams in MLS made the postseason tournament. This year, 8 of 15 teams will make the tournament, a ratio more in line with the NBA and NHL. This year, the top two teams in each conference and the next four teams regardless of record qualify for the playoffs.
The top four teams in the regular season who have not already qualified for the Champions League qualify for SuperLiga. With that, it's time for the preview.
2008 Finish: Columbus, Chicago, New England, Kansas City, New York, DC United, Toronto FC
2009 Predicted Finish: Chicago, Columbus, Toronto FC, New England, DC United, New York, Kansas City
Sure, it may be the homer in me, and yes, they have some trouble with age (Brian McBride, Cuauhtemoc Blanco are both deep in their 30s) but I am going to go out on a limb this year and say that Chicago Fire will win the Supporters' Shield as regular season champions and qualify for the Champions League for the first time. No team is as complete back to front as the Fire. The Fire's backline was one of the league-leaders last year, the midfield is solidly staffed by stars Chris Rolfe and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and filled in with great role players like John Thorrington and Logan Pause. Brian McBride up top should be able to consistently deliver, especially if paired alongside another forward (either moving Rolfe up top from the midfield or with speedy striker Patrick Nyarko, who showed great promise last season before going down with an injury. Chicago also has 2008 Goalkeeper of the Year Jon Busch, and some solid young talent in Baggio Husidic from UIC, and Marco Pappa from Guatemala. If one of them can come on for Blanco at about the 70-minute mark, the Fire should be clicking on all cylinders.
MLS Anthem Dance Remix Video For 2009 First Kick from MLS Rumors on Vimeo.
Final Standings (if I had to guess)
- Chivas USA
- Toronto FC
- New England
- San Jose
- DC United
- New York
- Kansas City
- LA Galaxy
East #1 and #2: Chicago and Columbus
West #1 and #2: Chivas USA, RSL
Wild Cards: New England, Toronto, Houston, San Jose
Champions League Teams
Chicago, Toronto (via Canadian Championship), Houston (Open Cup), Columbus (via some method of qualification), Chivas USA (MLS Cup Finalist?)
RSL, New England, San Jose, DC United