Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 MLS Predicted Order of Finish

I'll compile the survey results after the start of tonight's season opener!

2008 ranks for points per game (PPG), goals for average (GFA), and goals against average (GAA) are listed below.

Eastern Conference

1) Chicago Fire

1.53 1.47 1.10
3rd 5th 2nd

The Fire return almost fully intact from the team that finished 2008 with the third best record in the league. The entire starting eleven returns, but Diego Gutierrez has retired, which leaves the with less depth defensively. I suppose Wilman Conde can step into the DM spot with CJ Brown moving into the back line if they need to go that route. Stephen King is also gone via the expansion draft, though he was usually the weakest player on the field when he did start. The team was a bit weaker on offense than on defense, so replacing Tomasz Frankowski and Andy Herron with better talent will be important. Patrick Nyarko should have a much bigger role, while new signing Stefan Dimitrov doesn't seem like the type of player who will impress. But the biggest thing for the Fire's attack is that now they'll have a full season of Brian McBride, and Marco Pappa as well (who's an improvement over King). So the attack appears to be a bit better. I would expect a small decrease on defense though, due to the loss of Gutierrez and the uncertain current injury status of Brandon Prideaux. Tim Ward is a step down.

It should be another good year for the team. The playoffs are a given, and they enter the season as favorites to win it all. The age of the team is an issue though. It may be their last chance to win a title, as Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brian McBride might not be back for 2010.

2) Columbus Crew

1.90 1.67 1.20
1st 2nd 3rd

Last year's champions are also returning almost everyone. Brad Evans is the only starter to depart. They'll also miss Ezra Hendrickson and Stefani Miglioranzi off the bench. The loss of Evans shouldn't be felt much if at all, as Emmanuel Ekpo looks to be a capable replacement (they also have Adam Moffat). And then they have second year man Andy Iro at CB, and also a full season of Pat Noonan on the attack. So things don't appear much different on either side of the ball.

So like Chicago, the Crew also seem to be at the same level as last season (really good). The big concern this year is the replacement of Sigi Schmid with Robert Warzycha at head coach. I think with the top two teams in the east being neck and neck, you have to give the edge to the Fire due to the uncertainty surrounding the coaching change.

3) New York Red Bulls

1.30 1.40 1.60
8th 8th 12th

You know, for all the hype, Juan Carlos Osorio's overall record with Chicago and New York is only 19-18-17. This is a big year for him. It's his second season in New York, and now it's truly his team. He's giving Jorge Rojas and Juan Pietravallo a second chance. He's bringing in more foreign talent than any other eastern conference team. It's hard to judge when a team is being built like that. On paper it sounds good, but so did so many Metro acquisitions. I think this team has the most unpredictability; they could end up virtually anywhere in the standings. Well, the first two spots seem to be pretty solid, but this is MLS.

Let's look at the changes. The central defenders once again have not been addressed. How many years are they going to let go by without signing a quality CB? This follows losing Jeff Parke. Now the two outside backs are unknown quantities. I'd say Carlos Johnson (RB) looks like a safer bet than Alfredo Pacheco (LB). I'm basing that only on nationality, age, and the teams they've played for. It shouldn't be too hard to improve on Chris Leitch, but overall the defense doesn't look too different. I'm sure Albert Celades will help, but this type of player at the end of his career doesn't usually inspire confidence. Slight increase.

Now what about Dave van den Bergh? He had a great season last year, but he requested a trade and now he's in Dallas. Speed is the theme this year, with Khano Smith and Dane Richards set to support Juan Pablo Angel. They managed to beat a not-fully-reserve River Plate squad in a friendly with those guys starting. The offense should improve a bit.

This team needs the foreign players to work out, it's that simple.

4) Kansas City Wizards

1.40 1.23 1.30
6th 12th 5th

They struggled when it came to scoring goals in 2008. And to combat this, they now injured Adam Cristman. Josh Wolff will need to recapture his old form if they want to have an above-average offense. It looks like they'll have a very attack-minded midfield with Davy Arnaud, Claudio Lopez, and Santiago Hirsig (when healthy).

Now defensively they were good, but they lost Kerry Zavagnin and Tyson Wahl. Looks like they'll be going with Aaron Hohlbein to partner Jimmy Conrad. I don't think either change will mean much. They were better defensively without Zavagnin, and it's not like Wahl was a great player or anything. So call it pretty much even. However, a more offensive-minded approach may mean sacrificing a bit of defense.

The Wizards should be a bit better than they were last season, or around the same level. I don't see them getting worse.

5) Toronto FC

1.17 1.13 1.43
12th 13th 9th

Dwayne De Rosario will help the team on offense. Pablo Vitti, on the other hand, is not a sure thing. But he's got two things going for him: First, his age (23), and second, he doesn't need to be amazing. Look how good the Fire did with Chad Barrett as their top goalscorer. This also gives them Danny Dichio as the #3 striker off the bench. He's a better number three guy than most in the league. The offense definitely looks stronger.

The defense is still shakey, and I don't see much of a change with Adrian Serioux in place of Tyrone Marshall. They've given up Julius James and Todd Dunivant as well, and will go with Serioux and Kevin Harmse. Then, you also have a midfield which is attack-heavy. Right now, I think the defense is not improved. Ives mentioned the other day that they're in the process of signing a good center back. But even if they did that, they would still only have one good center back.

Right now I see them missing out on the playoffs just slightly.

6) DC United

1.23 1.43 1.70
10th 7th 13th

The reset button has been hit with the re-addition of Christian Gomez to take the place of Marcelo Gallardo. The team did have great success previously with Gomez running the show, but it's not like Gallardo played badly. Last year's United team was much better when he started (1.36 ppg) than when he didn't (1.13). Of course, Gallardo did miss half the season with injuries. Gomez should be a bit more productive, though.

Also in the midfield, Rod Dyachenko, Ivan Guerrero, and Joe Vide all got plenty of minutes and are gone. None should be too hard to replace. A healthy Olsen would be huge for their chances. Again, they're hoping for the 2006-07 form to return.

Last year the offense was right in the middle of the pack, but it was the defense that ruined any hopes of contending. Only the Galaxy had a worse defensive record. Louis Crayton will be in goal for a full year. Certainly he'll do better than Zach Wells, but so far Crayton has yet to prove that he'll be a big improvement. The top center backs will be Greg Janicki and Dejan Jakovic. They have a combined total of two years of experience and 23 professional games under their belts. The former was picked up from the USL-2, while the latter comes from Red Star Belgrade (out of the NCAA) where he didn't really get a chance. On paper, the defense looks very shaky.

This is the make or break year for Tom Soehn. United appears to have done little to address their defense and should again be among the worst teams in that category. The offense looks decent, so really, I don't expect much of a change in this year's team despite all the moves. Doesn't look like the playoffs are in their future.

7) New England Revolution

1.43 1.33 1.43
4th 9th 9th

Michael Parkhurst is the big loss, and they don't have anyone ready to replace him. It was supposed to be Gabriel Badilla, but he hasn't played a minute in the preseason due to injuries. It looks like they'll go with rookie Darrius Barnes. Unless this is another genius Steve Nicol pick, that's a huge step down. They've also lost Adam Cristman and Khano Smith, neither of which should be hard to replace.

Now as usual, this is a team with a lot of young talent. It's up to them to step it up a notch, especially since the injury woes of last season are already hurting them this year. Taylor Twellman is still suffering from his concussion and is reportedly going to miss at least a month. Kheli Dube is not exactly on the same level. And then Steve Ralston is coming back from a broken leg.

The Revs were actually below average in both categories last year despite finishing tied for the fourth best overall record (they had a few blowout losses). Only two other teams in league history have finished above average in the overall table while finishing below average on offense and defense. Neither of them improved the following year (2002 COL and 2005 CHI).

But you don't need that info to guess that they'll be weaker on both sides of the ball this year. If this was any other team in the league, you would immediately discount them. But we've seen them win with unheralded players before, and they still have a few elite guys.

Western Conference

1) Houston Dynamo

1.70 1.50 1.07
2nd 3rd 1st

Stuart Holden will replace Dwayne De Rosario. Those are huge shoes to fill, but he's certainly a good player in his own right. The other big loss is Nate Jaqua, but you can be sure that Dominic Kinnear will pick off a good player from another team somehow. Hopefully he will, since Kei Kamara isn't really championship material. Then there's the injury to Eddie Robinson. Good thing they got Julius James, but again a step down.

Even if both their goals scored and allowed decline, they are still going to be very good. They're coming off of two straight seasons that rank among the top 25 in MLS history. Let's not forget, they just had one bad game down the stretch. Only three losses in 29 games leading up to the playoff defeat.

2) FC Dallas

1.20 1.50 1.37
11th 3rd 7th

Dave van den Bergh is a big upgrade. If he plays like he did last year, he makes the team instantly better. David Ferreira looks like a quality player as well, someone who is good without being too successful to view MLS as a big step down. So again, they'll score a bunch of goals. They do need another forward for depth purposes.

The defense is still up in the air. Duilio Davino won't be missed, especially for his salary. The team added Steve Purdy and Daniel Torres. The latter is someone who I'm not thrilled about. He's never really been a success in MLS before, so why would he be now? Purdy should easily be the more impressive of the two. He has a lot of things going for him: his size, his experience with a Bundesliga team (even if he didn't play for the first team), and he was good enough to be called in to a USMNT for a look while the team was in Europe.

FCD had an interesting season last year, as they were better than 2007 on both sides of the ball yet ended up with a worse record. They're actually in the opposite situation of the Revs, with the PPG being in the bottom half yet both goal stats in the top half (well, the defense was tied for 7th).

Bottom line is, they just need their young players to improve and gel. They have so many promising guys that some of them have to step up, right? I mean, if Blake Wagner doesn't cut it then they have Anthony Wallace. If not Dax McCarty then Eric Avila. I don't feel confident about this pick at all, but after Houston the west is up for grabs. This team probably has more potential to get way better than most.

3) Real Salt Lake

1.33 1.33 1.30
7th 9th 5th

The three teams that changed the least (in terms of minutes lost, see my earlier post this week) during the offseason were the top three teams in the 2008 overall table: Columbus, Houston, and Chicago. Fourth place? That's RSL. They definitely appeared to be hitting their stride at the right time, and were incredibly resilient.

They've only lost Kenny Deuchar and Fabian Espindola up top, and Dema Kovalenko in the midfield. Only the latter was starting come playoff time. The offense should improve with full seasons from Clint Mathis, Yura Movsisyan, and Will Johnson. The defense was tied for 5th last season. There's little depth beyond the starters. With the loss of Kovalenko and no additions, I don't know if they can improve on that. I'd say about the same, maybe very slightly down.

This was only an average team last year. I don't know if they should be favorites for the conference title like so many others are suggesting, but they're certainly playoff material.

4) CD Chivas USA

1.43 1.33 1.37
4th 9th 7th

The health of their top players is more important than any offseason addition. When the team is

healthy, they look pretty loaded. The offense should definitely get better. They've added Mexican league vet Eduardo Lillingston to a group that includes Ante Razov, Maykel Galindo, and Alecko Eskandarian.

Defensively, Ante Jazic replaces Francisco Mendoza, and Claudio Suarez retired. The loss of Suarez is big; they were much better defensively in his 13 starts. Looks like a slightly worse defense at the moment. Another CB is their biggest priority, I'm hoping for Abel Xavier just for the comedy.

Everybody's talking about the assumed loss of Sacha Kljestan in midseason. Even if they sell him, the returns of all the injured players should more than make up for losing him. At the same time, you know this team will never be totally healthy. Overall, they still have more than enough talent to return to the playoffs.

5) Los Angeles Galaxy

1.10 1.83 2.07
13th 1st 14th

So many changes. You have to think that both GAA and GFA will go down after last year. The total number of goals in their matches was third all time behind 1998 COL and 1998 LA.

At GK, Ricketts was not a success overseas and doesn't represent much of a change. Todd Dunivant and Dema Kovalenko represent a big improvement defensively. Omar Gonzalez and Tony Sanneh may be the most intriuging CB pairing in a while. And up front, with Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle they can still score some goals.

But any injuries will be devastating as the roster's overall depth in still lacking. At least this year's Galaxy has mediocre veterans who can step in, rather than mediocre youngsters. It's funny, but that's still an improvement.

With the big names, they can't be as bad as they were under Ruud Gullit, but it doesn't mean they'll be good. Bruce Arena should at least make them respectable.

6) Seattle Sounders FC

They seem a bit like the opposite of last year's expansion team. SJ was a team that had a bad offense but a good defense. Right now the Sounders have a mish-mash of adequate defenders with some strong names to lead the attack. The midfield looks shaky. None of the four projected starters (Alonso, Le Toux, Nyassi, Ljungburg) have MLS experience.

They should easily be the best expansion team in recent memory, but that's not good enough to seriously contend just yet. I know they have Sigi Schmid, the newly crowned "best coach ever" of MLS. But it took him three years to make the Crew into a champion, and it's going to take probably about the same amount of time here as well.

7) Colorado Rapids

1.27 1.47 1.50
9th 5th 11th

Last year the Rapids ended a nine year streak of being in the bottom half of the league on
offense. Under Gary Smith, they both scored and allowed more goals than under Fernando Clavijo. They also played slightly better without Christian Gomez (ppg = 1.24 vs 1.31).

All the additions this year have been on defense. They're certainly building up depth. The goalkeeper change doesn't move me one way or the other. They still need help offensively, as they've lost Tom McManus as well as Gomez. They did pick up a forward, but who knows how Gregory Richardson will turn out. Conor Casey needs to continue his late season form into this year.

I think they'll both score and allow fewer goals this year, despite what happened under Smith. Record should be about the same as always: Halfway decent but unspectacular.

8) San Jose Earthquakes

1.10 1.07 1.27
13th 14th 4th

The attack can't get much worse than it was last season. It picked up in the second half with the additions that they made and should easily improve over the course of a full season. But I don't expect them to be dramatically better scoring goals. Cam Weaver and Ryan Johnson are the worst forward tandem in the league. I'm not sold on Weaver, a player who can score goals in second divisions but has never played a minute of first division soccer. Then you have Johnson, who only scored twice in 13 starts. Is he Gavin Glinton part two, a nice sub who can't be relied on for consistent production? They do have Bobby Convey coming in. Certainly worth signing, but again not the type of player who I would rely on in the attack.

Defensively, they continue to look alright. Chris Leitch for James Riley is not going to alter things in a big way. They've also added the veteran Simon Elliot to their midfield. However, injury problems are already a concern for the back line. Ultimately, I just don't see them getting better defensively after placing so high in that category last year.

Without a lot of movement either way, I don't see the overall record changing much.


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