By Ryan Fleming
The Major League Soccer season is swiftly approaching us and it’s that time of year where we have to put up with silly conferences and even a more absurd playoff format. But put those things behind and here comes another year with Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel and Nate Borchers (what’s funny? I’m serious).
The Colorado Rapids are the MLS Champs, but that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a new season. Here’s the Eastern Conference preview.
1. New York Red Bulls. The most notable loss for the New York Red Bulls is the departure of Juan Pablo Angel to LA. From ‘07/’10 Angel bagged 58 goals, leading his team in scoring throughout his tenure. Despite the departure, NY does have some replacements, most notably Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal great came to the Red Bulls in July of ‘10, when manager Hans Backe was searching for a possible deadly partnership with Angel. Two other forward options for Backe will be United States Men’s National Team youngster Juan Agudelo and Corey Hertzog. With the creative Joel Lindpere linking up with the forwards from the midfield, combined with defenders Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez, NY looks to be a lock at the top of the East.
2 or 9. Toronto FC. The Reds went under a revamping of sorts in the offseason. The team brought in Aaron Winter and former Ajax assistant manager Bob de Klerk. Just last week they imported three Dutch players to provide Winter with some assistance in deploying the old Ajax system of “total football” up in Canada. For me, the Reds boast a team that could do anything. They could totally flop or, end up near the top of the conference. In a football-crazed town like Toronto, losing is no longer an option. Quick reason for concern, Winter spent a lot of time with trialists and didn’t find any real replacements with the departures of O’Brian White, Joseph Nane, Maxim Usanov, Amadou Sanyang, Chad Barrett, Raivis Hscanovics, Martin Saric and Nick Garcia.
No. 3 Houston Dynamo. After watching Will Bruin finish superbly on two goals against the Revs on Sunday, I had to rewrite this a bit. What a great pickup the former Indiana State forward looks to be to be. The fact that Brian Ching cannot go a full season without injury, just reiterates how important Bruin will be. With the acquisition of Kofi Sarkodie, the best fullback in the 2011 draft, Houston can now spell exciting. But naturally, most of the focus will be on midfielder Brad Davis. He’ll be expected to provide a great chunk of the offense and (I hate to mention this again) after seeing him perform against the Revs’ midfield, be scared.
No. 4 DC United. The most notable acquisition United is the addition of Charlie Davies. One of the many concerns surrounding Davies’ arrival on loan from Sochaux, and it sure isn’t how to market him, is what exactly his output will be. And the team is absolutely high with their 3rd pick, defender Perry Kitchen. With the addition of Dax McCarthy from Dallas and the ever-impressive Andy Najar, D.C. have a far-fetched shot of getting into the playoffs with the stronger Western Conference, but are more likely to play the annoying spoiler role throughout the season.
No. 5 Sporting Kansas City. Originally I like their idea at changing the name. Now, I’m unsure. I mean Sporting? With less than 10 percent of the population being Spanish or of a Latino background, I’m unsure as to why the name was altered in the first place. Oh, wait. New stadium, new logo?
New England and Philadelphia are both in similar situations. Both teams failed to make the postseason. For the Revs it was the first time in seven years that playing into the fall wasn’t on their calender. For the newly expansion Union, missing the playoffs wasn’t that far-fetched, but still disappointing for every player. Throughout the season both teams played a different style – with the Revs playing most of their games on the defensive, Philly played there’s rather aggressively, opening up holes for their opposition.
No. 6 Philadelphia Union. You can’t say the Union are in a rebuilding mode. Philly is taking the from-the-ground-up sort of method to creating a team. Philly boast an exciting core of young players including last year’s No. 1 pick Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Chris Agorsor and Kyle Nakazawa. And we cannot forget Sebastien Le Toux, one of the leagues best players. The Union could surprise a lot of people this year, acting more of a fringe team. PPL Park won’t host a playoff game till next year.
No. 7 New England Revolution. The Revolution are still in a state of flux. Giving up a league-high 50 goals last season, manager Steven Nicol has added some depth on the back line, but it has yet to be seen if that will be enough. Nicol continued his padding with an experienced Ryan Cochrane and Didier Domi then drafted for the future with the pick of AJ Soares and adding the unknown Argentine Franco Coria. In time the defense experiment will come to fruition, but another question still lingers for New England: where’s the offense? With Marko Perovic’s team-leading six goals, the Revs supporters have reason to worry. There have been no mentionable additions up front and a total lack of creativity in the midfield. Ousmane Dabo formerly of Italy’s Lazio, could provide an artist’s stroke or two, but he won’t paint the season’s canvas. The only bright spot for the Revolution is that Shalrie Joseph is here to start the season and the lack of meaningful departures, but tacking on to another streak is inevitable – missing the playoffs two consecutive years.
No. 8 Chicago. The Fire on the other hand, look like its on a crash course back towards the bottom half of the conference. The absence of Wilman Conde being the most glaring deficiency. Chicago will have a hard time filling his void. With the only real notable additions being Uruguayans Diego Cháves and Gaston Puerari, it has yet to be seen what these two will contribute not only to the MLS, but to the Windy City. The biggest problem for the Fire is their inept scoring ability. Scoring a mere 37 goals, only 14 of those at home in 15 games. Finding Chicago near the bottom of the conference will be expected, so don’t be shocked.
No. 9 Columbus Crew. Not much is the same in Columbus. The departures of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Brian Carroll (PHI), Frankie Hejduk (LA) and a couple others, the Crew are missing out on a huge part of their midfield. Combine that with life without last year’s leading scorer, Steven Lenhart, Columbus seem destined to struggle. With the only notable addition being the wily Jeff Cunningham, the Crew will rely heavily on the center defensive pair of Chad Marshall and Andy Iro. Keeper Will Hesmer will be busy.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.