Wednesday, April 04, 2007

MLS Eastern Conference Preview

Here's a link to the probable starting lineups. On that page, Toronto should have Robinson and O'Brien switched, while Stammler looks to start for Parke in New York. Injuries may affect other teams in regards to how they lineup on opening day.

Western conference preview tomorrow.

D.C. United

Despite the disappointing (yet unsurprising) loss to Guadalajara, they're still the East's top team. Emelio/Erpen/Fred/Gomez, nobody else can come close to that group of SI's. They have lost some depth from last year, with the departures of Nick Rimando and Brandon Prideaux. But it seems that Emelio and Fred are both improvements over Alecko Eskandarian and Freddy Adu. Emelio was the leading scorer in the Honduran league, while Fred was named player of the year by an Australian soccer magazine.

2006 was an amazing season for DC. While it's natural to expect them to come down to earth a little bit, it's hard to see them doing poorly. They do rely heavily on two older players, Gomez and Jaime Moreno. So a decline there, or a few injuries on defense and they could be in trouble. But the biggest threat to them is probably their new coach, Tom Soehn. Is he better than, or at least as good at, as his predecessor Peter Nowak? After two disappointing failures in a row, the real season begins in October for DC. That's what he'll be judged by.

2) Chicago Fire

Cuauhtemoc Blanco's signing is huge news, but will it pay off on the field? I don't see why not: Blanco is 34, the same age both Peter Nowak and Hristo Stoitchkov were in their first seasons with the Fire. With teams like Kansas City and Columbus wasting their SI spots, at the very least you have to credit them for trying.

He won't arrive until July. In the meantime, the Fire is pretty much the same team minus Andy Herron and Nate Jaqua. Those two players are talented, but they weren't consistent, and definitely not the backbone of the team. Tony Sanneh is gone as well. So why do I have them in second place? They may be lacking stars, but they are a collection of good players who have played together now for a couple years. And like DC last year, who also didn't change much, the core of the team is young players who have yet to hit their prime. Chad Barrett, Justin Mapp, Matt Pickens, Chris Rolfe; all should continue to improve.

When you add Blanco to that, they may have the guy they need to get them over that "somewhat-good" hump they've been stuck at for two years. It's probably Dave Sarachan's make or break year.

3) Red Bull New York

Who are we to doubt Bruce Arena? He's bringing back Clint Mathis, relying on the injury prone Claudio Reyna, and on the verge of starting Seth Stammler at center back. But somehow, I bet it'll all work out. He certainly knows a bargain when he sees one, getting Mathis, Dave van den Bergh, and Hunter Freeman for virtually nothing. The depth is a little shaky when it comes to the attack, but the starting lineup looks strong. A full season of Dunivant/Kovalenko/Schopp will be an improvement over last year, while Ron Waterreus will hopefully solve the goalkeeping problem. Tony Meola probably cost them 3-4 goals by himself last year.

They've switched Amado Guevara for Reyna, and it doesn't appear to be a bad move. They haven't won anything with Guevara, while Reyna's a local guy and doesn't have an attitude problem. His health is the key, obviously. None of the other losses mean much. Youri Djorkaeff's 2006 was uneven at best, while Edson Buddle did little. The biggest problem still for the Red Bulls is the two center backs. Carlos Mendes and Jeff Parke are not one of the league's better pairings. The reality of MLS is that you can't spend money everywhere on the field, so you have to get by with cheap guys at some spots. I suppose that's why Arena's trying out Stammler. There's also Tim Regan. At the very least, he has more options there to try out, and someone should be able to do a serviceable job.

If they add a second DP in midseason, they could make a run at the league title, ala DC with Gomez in 2004. Regardless of what happens, I expect NY to be one of the interesting teams to follow, as usual.

4) New England Revolution

Why fourth? With Dempsey gone, and all the preseason turmoil (Joseph, Franchino) they've been going through, it just seems like there's no way they'll actually be better in 2007. Remember, they weren't outstanding in the regular season last year until the end (5-0-2 in the last 7 games).

As I say that, they've had a preseason which has seen them destroy everyone they've faced. But they had problems scoring in 2006, and while that might improve, the league leading defense probably won't. They haven't added anyone of note, either, while the depth has taken a hit with Jose Cancela gone. Given Steve Nicol's history in the MLS Cup, maybe some poor results would convince him to change his tactics a bit. Because even if they have another good season, does anyone actually expect their playoff campaign to be successful?

Note: The Revs have made their 2007 media guide available for download at their web site, how cool is that?

5) Toronto FC

The attack looks solid. The three top forwards (Buddle/Casey/Eskandarian) are probably a better trio than any other MLS team could boast. They've also picked off Richard Mulrooney and Ronnie O'Brien from Dallas. So the team will be competitive right away, no doubt. The only problem is that they look similar to last year's RSL team: great offense, bad defense. How good are these Canadian internationals who played in Scandinavia? I can't tell you that, but if they're as good as Wade Barrett and Danny Califf, then they could surprise a lot of people. But I can't rank them higher than a team like NE, yet.

There's massive depth problems outside of forward. Paulo Nagamura is a good backup DM, but who else can they count on? The Gold Cup may hurt them worse than any other team. I also would caution against getting too excited over Carl Robinson and Andy Welsh. Sure, they've played in the Premiership. But starting for a poor Wales team is not that great of an accomplishment (Robinson), and Welsh was riding the bench for Sunderland. Relying on Jose Cancela is questionable, too.

Then there's the coach. Mo Johnston doesn't inspire confidence. But he does have Bob Gansler working for him. That's huge. The intense fan support should help, as well. Toronto has the potential to be great, but mid to lower table is more likely.

6) Columbus Crew

The Crew have more depth than most teams, but they lack stars who can take over a game. So essentially, they're like the Fire, only less talented. Their season will come down to whether or not the young guys like Eddie Gaven and Danny Szetela play up to their potential.

The defense looks strong, but the midfield is a question mark. It's uncertain just who Sigi Schmid will use there and up top in his 4-3-3 formation (as reported by MLSnet). They need to be better offensively, and getting Andy Herron was a good move. Dumping Jon Busch also leaves them with a lackluster starting goalkeeper (Bill Gaudette?). Schmid's LA teams were always strong defensively and weak on goal scoring. I expected him to make the Crew better, but they actually had fewer points than 2006 (33 vs 38). Are they any better now? The guys returning from injury may push them off the league basement, but they still seem to be on the outside of the playoffs.

7) Kansas City Wizards

Gone are Shavar Thomas, Dave van den Bergh, and Josh Wolff. Incoming? Uh, Kevin Hartman...that's about it. He's an improvement over Bo Oshoniyi, for sure. Other than that, the team looks unchanged or weaker everywhere else. Eddie Johnson may improve, and Jimmy Conrad may play a full season. But this team will be relying on rookies to play key roles, and the lack of depth is dramatic. This made worse by the near certain callups of their best players during the summer (Conrad, Sealy). Hopefully they've got an ace up their sleeve, in the form of an SI or two.

It was just reported that they've signed Argentinian Carlos Marinelli, who's played for some big clubs, albeit without much success. At only 25, he could be a steal and be the playmaker the Wizards are looking for. We'll see. However, I think new coach Curt Onalfo will be the key. He's already moved Jack Jewsbury to right back, and it'll be up to him to get the most out of his players.

Comments on "MLS Eastern Conference Preview"


Blogger FC said ... (1:58 PM, April 04, 2007) : 

This is great! This is the best review I've seen yet (I've probably read about 15). The only thing I differ with slightly is #2-4, because I see NE finishing better than #4. I think Chicago, NE, & NYRB will all be neck-in-neck for spots 2-4. Thanks again and I'll look forward to the Western Conference review. GO Rapids!


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