|Here's my predicted order of finish for the 2008 season. Like always, it's very difficult to judge MLS due to the lack of exposure to foreign signings and draft picks.|
For further reading, I recommend goal.com's MLS previews, which are excellent. Martin Rogers at Yahoo Sports is writing some great stuff too (I think he's quickly become the top MLS writer), as is MLSnet which gives great quotes from coaches and players that let you get into their minds a bit.
7) San Jose Earthquakes
The starting lineup looks halfway decent. It would not surprise me to see them finish around .500, actually. What I like about the team is what somebody pointed out on the team's Bigsoccer board: virtually every player they have has plenty of MLS experience. The big problem though is the lack of offensive talent. Kei Kamara and Gavin Glinton have started a combined total of 29 MLS matches in their careers, and there's no one underneath them. The guys they have on trial, like Jamil Walker and Matt Taylor, are no better. In fact, like most expansion teams, there is very little depth overall. A few injuries and they could be in for a world of hurt. It also looks like Ned Grabavoy will be leading the attack, so he needs to have a good season. I think their defense may is around the league's average, but the offense is easily worst.
6) Colorado Rapids
First of all, I approve of the Christian Gomez trade. Good for them trying to improve their team, because he is still a very good player and I don't think anyone expected them to use their DP slot anyway. This team does seem to have a lot of depth, but they don't jump out at you and I can't see them succeeding with Fernando Clavijo finishing out his contract. He's made the team worse, and the situation seems similar to Dave Sarachan's last year. I expect them to start poorly, hopefully fire him in midseason, and have the interim coach lead them to a decent second half. And even if they were to make the playoffs, they still aren't championship material. When they made the "final four" in 2005 & 2006 (which BTW Fernando, is not a big accomplishment), no one expected them to win it all even then. The player to watch here is Conor Casey, who I feel can be a star when healthy and was starting to turn it on late last year.
5) FC Dallas
Serious issues up top, where they need Kenny Cooper to produce. Steve Morrow's in the last year of his contract, so he needs to do well. They have a ton of young talent, but they just don't seem to be getting any better. Looks like they'll go with three in the back, so Mexican defender Duilio Davino will need to have a good year. The offense has gotten progressively worse since 2005, with the defense in the middle of the pack. That three man back line may turn into five at times, so the defense may get better. But do they have the attacking players necessary to win games? I just don't see it.
4) Real Salt Lake
Give them credit for trying. They're bringing in guys left and right, and we'll see if it pays off. I think Jason Kreis may have ruined 2007 for RSL by breaking up the team, but it may pay off in the long run. Let's face it, how long were Jeff Cunningham and Chris Klein going to be productive? Long enough to build around them slowly? I really like some of the trades they've made, getting guys like Kyle Beckerman for nothing. Once they get settled and figure out their starters, they could actually have a decent team for once. The midfield and goalkeeping are strengths, but it remains to be seen if the defense will come together. I don't put a lot of faith in Euro nobodies like Ian Joy. They could have a rough start, but I would then expect the young guys like Nate Sturgis and Tony Beltran (rookie of the year?) to move into the starting lineup, which will improve it. The forwards, while nobody stands out a great deal, have enough talent to put out a decent pair. They definitely should not be last again.
3) Los Angeles Galaxy
Alright. I know I overrate the Galaxy every single year. Last year, they had big injuries to Chris Albright & David Beckham and a chaotic schedule, plus some very poor moves. And yes, now they have few recognizable names and could have three rookies in this weekend's starting lineup. However, they still possess two of the league's top ten players (Donovan's due for a good year). Carlos Ruiz is a proven goalscorer, and Edson Buddle is good for a backup. They have proven MLS vets like Chris Klein (better off in midfield?) and Greg Vanney. Ruud Gullit should be able to handle the pressure. They really don't look nearly as bad as people are pointing out; they just need to stay healthy. Defense is an issue, but it can't get worse than last year (12th out of 13), right? They start off with a ridiculously easy schedule (@ COL, vs SJ, vs TOR), which should help set the stage for a good year.
2) Houston Dynamo
Still showing no signs of slowing down, though they have had a pattern of doing very well in one season followed by an average/only slightly good season. Including the SJ history, 2004 and 2006 were not so good compared to 2003, 2005, and 2007. Bobby Boswell is equal or better than Ryan Cochrane in defense, while everyone keeps mentioning the forward situation. Somebody's got to emerge next to Brian Ching if they want another title. Chris Wondolowski seems ready, though they may need another midseason trade or signing. Still easily in the top three teams though.
1) CD Chivas USA
The exact same first XI is back, with the same young talent ready to enter their primes. Not only that, but they've addressed their biggest weakness: depth. Now they have some proven talent on the bench: Jim Curtin, Alecko Eskandarian, Paulo Nagamura. Too bad Alex Zotinca just tore his ACL. They also signed Raphael Wicky, who started all four Switzerland matches at the 2006 World Cup and only turns 31 this month. He does have a history of injury problems, but he should be one of the top signings of the year. Like some people have mentioned, they may not necessarily look like favorites in the playoffs with Houston there, but I feel that they are the number one team in MLS at the moment.
7) Columbus Crew
It's now year three of the Sigi Schmid era, and the team is in no better shape than when he first took over. They go into this season looking pretty much the same as last season. Nicolas Hernandez is not really any better or worse than Andy Herron, while left back Gino Padula has hardly excelled in his travels. Brian Carroll is a good addition, but losing Marcos Gonzalez hurts. The team will have to hope that Guillermo Barros Schelotto can stay motivated and have a great season, and also that their young guys (Gaven/Rogers) can step their game up. I just don't believe they can do it this year.
6) Toronto FC
Certainly should improve and be not horrible, but I can't see a winning record. Still too many question marks all over the field, and they'll be hurt worse by the Olympics than any other team. Jeff Cunningham needs to have a big year, and they need some more quality signings. They have some good, solid players in the starting eleven like Maurice Edu and Todd Dunivant, but the lineup isn't even apparent one week before the season. Injury problems should not be as big of a factor, at least. That alone makes them look better.
5) Kansas City Wizards
People seem to be predicting big things. I see one big signing up top (Claudio Lopez) replacing a guy who was one of the league's top scorers, and a big downgrade at center back (Tyson Wahl vs Nick Garcia). Sure, we know Eddie Johnson's not as talented as Lopez, but 15 goals is huge. They're not really improving much there, I don't think. Not to mention that Lopez seems to be further along on the downside of his career than a guy like Juan Pablo Angel. The other forward signing, Ivan Trujillo, is far from a sure thing. I really don't see much improvement here, sorry.
4) Chicago Fire
My favorite team, which always gives me problems in judging them. They were a team of two halves last year; how much of the second half improvement was due to C.Blanco and how much because of Osorio? We'll find out. I don't have good feelings about Denis Hamlett. I expect to see more goals scored and allowed, which should lead to more exciting games but maybe not a better record. Forward play will be critical, as will resolving the Wilman Conde situation (motivated to play in Chicago?). Then again, when have the forwards ever scored tons of goals?
3) New York Red Bulls
I like Juan Carlos Osorio who's intensity and tactics should improve the defense, and the offense is already good. They just need another couple players to really make a run at DC. Claudio Reyna obviously is the key guy; he has to earn his salary this year. Still a lot of weak parts, and they don't seem to be title contenders, but by the time the year is over they should be back in the playoffs.
2) New England Revolution
Should be worse than last year, but not too much worse. The losses really aren't that bad, and they have as much depth as usual (read: very little). Hopefully a foreign signing can work out for once, because they need it this year. Anyway, Andy Dorman was coming off the bench by the end of the year while Pat Noonan was not lighting it up by any means. Adam Cristman isn't too big of a dropoff. The big issue is how motivated Taylor Twellman will be after getting his transfer shut down. Meanwhile, Chris Albright is a nice addition. Steve Nicol has proven time and time again that he knows how to succeed in the regular season, so second place looks realistic.
1) DC United
First of all, the good thing is that we now know Tom Soehn can coach just as well as Peter Nowak. Second, unlike many teams, they address their weaknesses and try to improve. It's hard to imagine them keeping up the amazing form (last year = 10th best season in league history) with so many changes. They have to come back down to earth at some point, right? There are definitely more question marks this season with all the changes, like at goalkeeper. However, no other team in the conference seems like they'll overtake United. First place is not the most important thing, though. The playoffs are virtually assured, which is when they really need to start winning.