MLS: 2006 Season Preview Part Two
The West still appears to be the weaker of the two conferences, but all 12 teams have the same 1 in 6 odds of getting to the MLS Cup. Like the East, I see two teams out ahead of the other four. If a team other than those four wins the championship, I'll be surprised.
6) Real Salt Lake
They have certainly improved with the additions of Jeff Cunningham and Chris Klein. But it would be hard not to show improvement over last year, and I don't think they've done enough to make the playoffs.
With Eddie Pope almost certainly going to Germany, they'll be hurt worse than almost any other team, because he is the heart and soul of the defense. He should have a better season than last year, but the guys around him haven't improved. Daniel Torres, Carey Talley, and Chris Brown are no better than Dunseth, Pierce, and Akwari.
Relying heavily on the inconsistant Andy Williams and the oft-injured Jason Kreis for offense may not pay off either. They should score more goals and let in fewer, but still, I don't think they have enough to post a winning record.
5) Colorado Rapids
Now here's a team that seems to be favored to miss the playoffs every year, but still manages to finish 3rd or 4th. That's probably because they're the MLS team people know (and hear) the least about. So people are always kind of surprised when they make their patented second half run. They've made the playoffs four years in a row now, but this time I think everyone else is gonna be right.
Nat Borchers' transfer is a huge loss, and leaves them with a hole in defense. Pablo Mastroeni supposedly may move to the backline, but like RSL with Eddie Pope, they are going to be hurting come June.
Overall, the defenders and forwards seem below average. Neither Kirovski and Peguero, like the Soccernet preview said, are going to be 15 goal scorers the way Cunningham could be. They were ninth in goals scored last year, and probably will be at or near the bottom again. Clint Mathis should be improved, but will need a hell of year to make them championship material.
4) FC Dallas
A lot of talent, but a lot of question marks as well. There are a lot of unsettled positional battles on the team. Usually people might say that's good to have that amount of competition, but last year's inconsistancy in finding the best lineup must not carry over to 2006 if they want to be successful. Only twice in the last three years has a team changed its starting lineup more often than Dallas last year.
A full season of Carlos Ruiz, with no international callups, may be the greatest thing to happen to the team. Without any injuries, he could very well win the Golden Boot. Elsewhere on the field, they should have a good second forward with one of Cooper/Mina/Thompson. The midfield is full of talent as well, but the defense is the weakest point. Other than Vanney, I feel that the other three men are all average MLS starters at best.
Like Chicago, they were very inconsistent last year, and I'm not sold on the coach. This has to be the make or break year for Clarke. He needs to advance past the first round of the playoffs. But I don't see it happening.
3) CD Chivas USA
How do you predict this team? Like RSL, they can't help but improve. Bob Bradley may not be the guy to give them tremendous success though, given his time with the Metros. You have two older acquisitions on defense, and a bunch of young guys everywhere. It doesn't look like a championship team, but who knows how good or bad they'll be.
The one guy that looks like a major improvement is Ante Razov. He was good at times for the Metros, and if he's healthy should get back to his usual double digit haul. Big if though.
Juan Pablo Garcia and Francisco Palencia are probably above average MLS players, and will make them competitive in every game. I expect a little more out of them than they showed last year, since now they actually can start fresh. We might see the spark they showed in the first game at the Metros last year.
But it's the rookies and youngsters that will be the key to the success of the team. According to MLSnet, Chivas will likely start Jonathan Borstein and Lawson Vaughn at LB and RB (Who?). Sacha Kljestan will be important as well. It'll be fascinating to watch this transformation unfold, win or lose.
I should mention that John O'Brien is coming to MLS, and Chivas has the first allocation. So they should either get him, or get something in a trade for that allocation. Either way they'll be improved, and so I have to take that into account in predicting their placement.
2) Houston Dynamo
(officially SJ is not the same team, record keeping-wise)
Losing Danny Califf and Mark Chung hurts. Now, they'll rely on Ryan Cochrane to start in defense, and Marcus Storey is sort of the new Chung. That's definitely a decline. But even though they still have more than enough talent to challenge for the title, they will decline somewhat. It would be almost impossible not to, given the run they had last year as the third best team in regular season history. However, they won't be hurt during the World Cup, and anything less than second place in the West would be disappointing.
Of course, it's not the regular season that matters most.
1) Los Angeles Galaxy
They are not a fourth place team. The playoffs showed that the Galaxy were among the league's best teams last year, despite their record. People are wondering if Hercules Gomez can repeat his form, and how they will cope with Landon Donovan gone for the World Cup. I'm not worried about either. This team has dumped the guys who sucked, and without any changes, should still improve.
There were so many games where they allowed late goals and dropped points last year, or where they dominated and somehow lost. It's very unlikely that'll happen again to that extent.
They ranked 8th in goals scored, and 7th in goals allowed in 2005. Ihemelu should be improved, and the defense looks very good. They could use another forward, but without Pando and Naldo (hopefully) in there to muck things up, they should score enough goals. No team relies on one player more than the Galaxy and Donovan, so if they can survive his absence, and also improve their away form, first place isn't out of the question. Not that it really matters with "Mr. October/November" Landon Donovan taking charge come playoff time.
MLS Cup: LA over DC
MVP: Landon Donovan
Golden Boot: Carlos Ruiz
Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley
Defender of the Year: Tyrone Marshall
Goalkeeper of the Year: Matt Reis
Rookie of the Year: Sacha Kljestan