2014 MLS Eastern Conference Preview

With the season scheduled to kick off this Saturday, World Soccer Talk brings you the 2014 MLS Eastern Conference preview.

There might be a shift in powers in the East after a few clubs made some huge offseason splashes, but one thing is for sure, Sporting Kansas City is still one of the favorites to repeat as MLS Cup Champions.

Below is a preview for each team in the East, in no particular order.

Chicago Fire

2013 season: (14W – 13L – 7D) 49 Points, 6th in East
Key acquisitions: D Patrick Ianni, D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
Key losses: F Maicon Santos, M Joel Lindpere

Chicago and the reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee were so close to the MLS Cup Playoffs last year they could have almost tasted it. However, thanks to home draws against inferior teams, Magee and the rest of the Fire watched the MLS Cup Playoffs from home.

The Fire have only reached the playoffs once since 2010. However, with the hiring of head coach Frank Yallop, the club strongly believes they have the right man to take them back to the promised land.

Yallop coached the San Jose Earthquakes to two MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003 in his first stint as the head coach. However, upon returning to the Earthquakes after the team’s reincarnation, Yallop was average, amounting to a record of 62-62-51 from 2007 until 2013. His high points during his second time at San Jose were a pair of playoffs appearances and the 2012 Supporters’ Shield.

Fire fans should enjoy what they get this season because unlike the rest of the Eastern Conference who got better this offseason, the Fire didn’t make the necessary moves to become a playoff contender. Nevertheless, having Mike Magee from the start of the season will help them a little, along with midfielders Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko. But other then that, Fire fans can just hope for the best.


Columbus Crew

2013 Season: (12W – 17L – 5D) 41 points, 8th in East
Key acquisitions: D Michael Parkhurst, M Hector Jimenez
Key losses: M Eddie Gavan, GK Andy Gruenebaum 

After yet another playoff-less season, the Columbus Crew have been doing the right things to get back in the playoff contention. With homegrown talent signings, and a very good superdraft, the Crew look to build off the off-season momentum.

Columbus went out and inked a new coach, Gregg Berhalter, who last season was the head coach of Swedish club Hammarby IF. In doing so, Berhalter became the first American to ever manage a professional football club in Europe. His record there was a modest 18W-12L-16T as he engineered a rise to 4th place in the second flight Superettan but was fired in July 2013 for a lack of firepower.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Crew as there have been rumors of a three-man back line for Berhalter, who will be running a club that features some familiarity with the return of dynamic attackers Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain.


D.C. United

2013 Season: (3W – 24L – 7D) 16 points, last in East; U.S. Open Cup Champion
Key acquisitions: F Eddie Johnson, M Davy Arnaud, D Bobby Boswell, D Sean Franklin, F Fabián Espíndola
Key losses: M Dwayne De Rosorio, F Lionard Pajoy, D Daniel Woolard, M Marcelo Saragosa 

D.C. United had one of the best offseasons in 2013, obviously not as good as Toronto, in regards to big name signings, but they made great steps towards a new foundation and addressed a lot of needs.

They were big winners in the Re-Entry Draft, attaining Boswell and Franklin, and luring a big free agent like USMNT forward Eddie Johnson from Seattle, which is a huge plus. (Expect E.J. to attempt to carry an offense that was virtually non-existent last season.)

D.C. also held on to young assets in midfield, including Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, Luis Silva, Kyle Porter and Nick DeLeon.


Houston Dynamo

2013 Season: (14W – 11L – 9D) 51 points, 4th in East; lost in conference final
Key acquisitions: D David Horst, M Tony Cascio
Key losses: F Brian Ching, D Bobby Boswell

If the Dynamo can remain healthy, this team will be a contender this upcoming season. Last season, with injuries and international call-ups, Houston did not seem to have any type of consistency during the season. Yes, they made it to the Conference Finals, but they left a lot of points on the table because of not being in rhythm.

Nevertheless, it’s no secret what this club can do in the month of November, reaching the MLS Cup twice in the last three seasons and only coming up a goal short last season.  In a little fun fact: This is most likely Houston’s final year in the Eastern Conference, with the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC to MLS in 2015.


Montreal Impact

2013 Season: (14W – 13L – 7D) 49 Points, 5th in East; lost in Knockout Stage
Key acquisitions: F Santiago González, D/M Eric Miller (SuperDraft)
Key losses: M Davy Arnaud, D Alessandro Nesta

After clinching their first-ever playoff berth, the Impact parted ways with Marco Schallibaum. The 47-year-old felt the same wrath as former coaches Jesse Marsch, Nick De Santis and a slew of others who fell by the wayside. Accepting the open position is former Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas.

Klopas will be Montreal’s fourth coach in as many seasons.

In 2013, the Impact certainly showed that they mean business, riding behind Marco Di Vaio’s 20 goals and a solid midfield that remains mostly intact (Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins, Andrés Romero, Justin Mapp, Sanna Nyassi).


New England Revolution

2013 Season: (14W – 11L – 9D) 51 Points, 3rd in East; lost in conference semifinal
Key acquisitions: M Daigo Kobayashi, F Teal Bunbury, F Charlie Davies
Key losses: F Juan Agudelo, GK Matt Reis, F Chad Barrett

Revolution fans were happy this past season.

The Revs turned a lot of heads last season, and they deserved the attention they got. They were also one of the big winners of the 2014 SuperDraft by drafting Patrick Mullins, which adds to the already young group of players they had on the first team in 2013.

With a huge trade with the defending MLS Cup Champions, Sporting Kansas City, New England filled the void left by Juan Agudelo with the acquisition of Teal Bunbury.

Bunbury, 23, is entering his fifth MLS season after Sporting KC drafted him fourth overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. In 89 career appearances in Kansas City, Bunbury made 48 starts while scoring 19 goals and adding seven assists.

Also, who can’t be excited about Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, and 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves?


New York Red Bulls

2013 Season: (17W – 9L – 8D) 59 points, 1st in East; Supporter’s Shield winners; lost in conference semifinal
Key acquisitions: M Bobby Convey, D Richard Eckersley
Key losses: F Fabián Espíndola, D Brandon Barklage, D David Carney

The defending Shield winners seem poised for a deep playoff run this season.

After cranking it up a notch in the last quarter of the 2013 season to win the Supporters’ Shield (the franchise’s first trophy), they were defeated in the semifinals by the Houston Dynamo. However, with big name players such as Tim Cahill (12 goals, 6 assists in 27 caps), and Thierry Henry (10 goals, 9 assists, 30 caps), the Red Bulls will certainly remain in the conversation for a repeat as Supporters Shield Champions.

The question Red Bulls fans must be asking is: will regular season success produce MLS Cup success? That remains to be seen.


Philadelphia Union

2013 Season: (12W – 12L – 10D) 46 points, 7th in East
Key acquisitions: M Maurice Edu, D Ethan White, GK Andre Blake (SuperDraft)
Key losses: M Michael Farfan, M Kléberson, D Jeff Parke

Will a big offseason translate to more wins for the Union this upcoming season? That’s the question that must be asked.

Philadelphia was successful in acquiring USMNT player Maurice Edu on loan from EPL-side Stoke City, but is Edu the missing piece?

Keeper Zac MacMath, who is coming off a disappointing season, will have some competition as the Union traded up to the number one pick in the MLS Superdraft and picked up Andre Blake. The keeper situation in Philadelphia will be one of the most intriguing storylines for the Union this season.


Sporting Kansas City

2013 Season: (17W – 10L – 7D) 58 points, 2nd in East; MLS Cup champion
Key acquisitions: M Sal Zizzo, GK Andy Gruenebaum
Key losses: GK Jimmy Nielson

The MLS Cup Champions will come into the 2014 season with virtually the same squad from their 2013 championship run.

With the addition of Andy Gruenebaum, Sporting replace Jimmy Nielsen who retired after wining the MLS Cup.

The depth of this team will come in handy this season when players like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi leave for a month on World Cup duty. Young players like Sooney Saad and Dom Dwyer will be called on to step up even more this season and they seem to be ready.

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