With weeks of labor talk dominating the MLS headlines, the start of the season has been sneaking up on me.
Seems like a good time for a preview.
1. Columbus Crew- It’s hard to bet against them winning the Eastern Conference this year after watching them – in the preseason, no less, take Toluca to the limit in a CONCACAF Champions League match.
The core group is solid with Chad Marshall and Frankie Hedjuk anchoring the back and Robbie Rogers and the ageless (37) Guillermo Barros Schelotto working in the midfield.
With rampant coaching and personnel changes in the East, the Crew look like the safest bet.
2. Toronto FC - I keep waiting for the team with, arguably, the best fan support in the league to finally produce a team worthy of their supporters’ passion.
Maybe Preki will be the manager that pulls it off.
Julian de Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario are the two biggest names in a lineup that won’t blow anyone away on paper. But again, this seems like a wide open race to me. And Preki, for my money, is the second-best manager in this conference behind Steve Nicol.
3. Chicago Fire- The Fire made headlines this week by waiving veteran keeper Jon Busch, so Andrew Dykstra will be between the pipes for the Fire in the season opener.
It’s a bold move for first-year coach Carlos de los Cobos, and one that could eventually define his legacy in the Windy City.
It’s also a move that makes me nervous about de los Cobos and his hold on the locker room. Toss in the combustible Collins John, and it’s a chemistry mix that I’m going to need to see work before I place too much faith in them.
4. New York Red Bulls – Can a new stadium, new manager and a few new players right the ship for the fighting energy drinks? We’ll see.
The 3-1 win over Santos, while only an exhibition, featured a far different looking side than the pitiful one that often took the pitch in 2009.
New manager Hans Backe has some better players and a glorious new home stadium to defend. Could be good times in (or is it near?) NYC.
5. New England Revolution – I won’t do it. I won’t rank a Nicol team any lower than this.
The roster looks a little thin, though. Corey Gibbs comes in, but a raft full of players like Jay Heaps, Chris Albright, Jeff Larentowicz and Steve Ralston left.
Nicol’s a high-quality coach, but any finish higher than this might me too ambitious.
6. D.C. United – Curt Analfo will have some new toys at his disposal in the nation’s capital, namely Christian Castillo and Danny Allsopp, but a lack of goals may eventually be this team Achilles Heel.
Still, Santino Quaranta is one of the league most exciting players, and his presence alone gives United a fighting chance.
7. Philadelphia Union – It’s an expansion team, but one with a good coach (Peter Nowak), talent in goal and enough solid defenders to make life tough on opposing offenses.
Goals, however, could be a real issue.
Still, a new stadium and a passionate fan base will make the home games easier for the Union – enough so to help them escape the cellar.
8. Kansas City Wizards – Dane Jimmy Neilsen is expected to be the starting keeper for coach Peter Vermes’ squad, and he figures to be rather busy.
Questions abound all over the roster, from the forwards all the way back to Jimmy Conrad in central defense.
Too many questions and not enough answers for me.
1. L.A. Galaxy – OK, I put the Galaxy here. I almost copped out and made it a tie with Seattle.
Really, it could go either way.
Landon Donovan is the headliner, but his 10-week loan spell in England and looming World Cup duty, might make him a bit leg weary down the stretch.
Still, I think Bruce Arena’s side is a tad deeper than Seattle and that gives them the ever-so-slight nod.
2. Seattle Sounders – Take a quality coach (Sigi Schmid), a terrific home field edge and talented play makers (Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg) and you have a recipe for success.
Kasey Keller, who at age 40 is even more ageless than Schelotto, is still one of the better keepers in MLS.
The Sounders could be pretty tough to drown out this year.
3. Real Salt Lake – The defending champions will try to ride an energetic midfield and a recently-capped national team keeper to another deep postseason run.
Nick Rimaldo stopped everything last season in RSL’s deep postseason, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t have another fine season.
Kyle Beckerman, whose hair I deeply envy, anchors the midfield for this solid, if unspectacular, club.
4. FC Dallas – Any team that can score and stop folks from scoring has a chance, and that could be FC Dallas this season.
Kevin Hartman and Dario Sala will battle for the keeper duties, but both are capable net minders.
Of course, manager Schellas Hyndman can rely on Dax McCarthy, David Ferreira and Jeff Cunningham to spark the offense.
I like the Heath Pierce signing as well. It’s a risky pick to take them this high, but I’m feeling lucky today.
5. Houston Dynamo – It may take Dominic Kinnear’s best coaching job to get the Dynamo into the postseason.
With Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden missing from the midfield, this is a team in search of an identity.
How it turns out will be interesting.
6. Colorado Rapids – There’s no way the Rapids can be as banged up as they were in 2009 again, can they?
Omar Cummings and Conor Casey provide a potent attack, and new additions like Larentowicz and Wells Thompson will help provide cover in case the injury bug starts biting again.
A healthy Colorado should compete for a spot in the postseason.
7. Chivas USA – Preki leaving town, for me, was the biggest change for this team.
Preki’s team were a little more rough and tumble than the new incarnation figures to be, but apart from Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan, the roster isn’t exactly brimming with proven talent.
Still, it could all work out.
But it’s a Missouri team. They have to “show me” first.
8. San Jose Earthquakes – After giving up a league-high 50 goals last season, San Jose needed to get its defense in order.
I’m not really sure that happened.
A return to good health and good form for Jason Hernandez would be a nice start, but, on paper, it doesn’t look like the Earthquakes have solved their problems defensively.