MLS Western Conference Preview
Predicted Order of Finish
1- Real Salt Lake
Jason Kreis made few changes to an a squad full of accomplished veterans and promising youngsters. Nick Rimando continues to be a solid keeper while last season’s late additions of Robbie Russell, Clint Mathis and Will Johnson will really pay dividends this year. Javi Morales will continue to dominate in the midfield and that’s why RSL is the team to beat.
No DeRo means no title, but I’d never count a Dom Kinnear managed side out of contention. Unlike other MLS sides whose performance in CONCACAF was insulting to the game, Houston advanced to the knock out stages of the Champions League setting up a potentially productive 2009 with a younger team. Stuart Holden and Geoff Cameron are the players to watch this season for the Dynamo. The signing of backup keeper Tally Hall will allow the Dyanmo to manage 41 year old titan Pat Onstad’s schedule a little better.
Had it not been for the foolish signing of Freddie Ljunberg, this would probably be the team to beat out west. Freddy Montero will quickly emerge as one of the top forwards in MLS, with Kasey Keller becoming the league’s best keeper instantly. Top to bottom this teams looks formidable and if Ljunberg somehow produces well, look out MLS!
4- San Jose
Frank Yallop and John Doyle”s decision to build from back as an expansion team paid dividends as the Quakes stayed in the Western Conference playoff hunt until late in the season. Darren Huckerby is without question a top foreign talent in the league and the addition of Bobby Convey gives the Quakes a strong left sided midfielder to compliment Huckerby and Arturo Alvarez (both of whom ironically are also left footed.) The Quakes aren’t very strong but in a weak Western Conference they have a chance to chase a playoff spot.
Gary Smith did an outstanding job almost getting the Rapids to the playoffs a year ago, but this team appears short on talent and the ownership has been loathe to spend money in the past to upgrade the squad. But MLS is a mediocre league, and Smith an English manager with a good football background could make hay if he gets one or two more parts. I’ve got the Rapids outside the playoffs, but put this in pencil and not ink, because I have a lot of faith in Gary Smith and believe tactically he is one step ahead of most managers who are reared in the game stateside.
6- Los Angeles
From the look of the roster this is the worst team in MLS hands down. But this team is managed by Bruce Arena who is the best manager ever produced in the United States. Arena will get more out of this unit than any other manager can. Eddie Lewis and Chris Klein will provide veteran leadership to a young group and Landon Donovan’s return means the best American field player in a generation will be calling the Home Depot Center home once again.
7- Chivas USA
Preki has done a remarkable job of patching together a resourceful hard working side for the past two seasons. But this year it may be a little too tough even for a magician who scored the winning goal in the US’ only triumph over Brazil. Jesse Marsch and Ante Razov are two of the best players in league history but are also now a year older. The backline appears to be a mess and it looks like this team will rely heavily on untested youngsters. But if anyone can win with a group like this, it is Preki.
8- FC Dallas
The addition of Dave Van Den Bergh makes this year’s Hoops side much more compelling and potentially dangerous. Kenny Cooper and Jeff Cunningham return to form a lethal scoring combo. But Dallas is still weak at the back to be considered a real threat in the west. That’s why trading Adrian Serioux made little sense to me. In a conference where parity reigns, a defense as bad as that of the Hoops means a likely last place finish.