Preseason means absolutely nothing. Trust me. I am a Washington Redskins fan. If we were to go by preseason results, then Vancouver would be your 2012 MLS Cup Champions and I think we can all agree that will not happen. I myself, however, have never been so excited for an MLS season as it seems that every team has improved.
Just as in 2011, the West will be the more dominate conference, in terms of the style, atmosphere, and points in the table. With that said, the teams in the East have made some stellar moves during the offseason and will be much more exciting to watch, but the West is still by far the best of the best.
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Western Conference- Final Regular Season Table Prediction
1. Real Salt Lake
2. Seattle Sounders
3. LA Galaxy (MLS Cup Winners)
4. FC Dallas
5. Portland Timbers
6. Vancouver Whitecaps
7. Colorado Rapids
8. Chivas USA
9. San Jose Earthquakes
Read detailed breakdowns of each Western Conference club after the break...
The Supporters Shield will end up in the hands of either Real Salt Lake or the Seattle Sounders.
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The majority of Real Salt Lake’s talent has spent the offseason on the treatment table. If all ailments are heeled come opening whistle and rookie Enzo Martinez can live up to his talented promise, then the spine of RSL’s team and a miserly back-line (including the central duo of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave) will have Jason Kreis’ side fighting once again for top honors. I pick Real Salt Lake to be the most consistent team in MLS this season and to add the Supporters Shield to their trophy case.
For Seattle, their season depends on new arrival Eddie Johnson. If the former US international can sort out his life off the field and find his form on it, then he will be an excellent complement to the likes of Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales. Johnson will have to not only rediscover the swagger which earned him a move to Europe, but he will also need to tailor his game to do some of the dirty work which allows Montero to be so effective. If not, than giving up Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito for Johnson was not Sigi Schmid’s most shrewd piece of business. Another positive for Seattle will be the play of Rosales who could possibly be an MVP candidate come the end of the season. Sounders’ faithful will also be excited to see Steve Zakuani finally make his long awaited return at some point during the campaign, after a lengthy lay off with the horrific leg injury he suffered from a nasty tackle early last season.
Reigning Champions, the LA GALAXY have only gotten stronger. Not only did they keep David Beckham and Juninho but they also added another Brazilian in Marcelo Sarvas in cover for his countrymen and re-acquired Edson Buddle to start up top. The only question remains is in the center of the defense with Omar Gonzalez out for the majority of the season with the ACL injury he suffered in Germany.
Even with Omar's injury, the Galaxy are without a doubt the most stacked team in the MLS and favorites to become only the 3rd team to repeat as MLS Cup champions (potentially the second team to do it under Bruce Arena). With that said, however, the Galaxy will not win the Supporters Shield. In the first few months of the season, their priority will be to win the CONCACAF Champions League and they finally have the depth to do it. Later in the season, the Galaxy will see stretches without the likes of Robbie Keane (Euro 2012), possibly David Beckham (London Olympics), possibly Landon Donovan (London Olympics) and other players (World Cup qualifying) all away on international duty. Despite all of these potential obstacles if the Galaxy finish the season healthy and in a play off position they still have to be odds on favorites to retain the title.
FC Dallas’ success will depend this season on whether or not David Ferreira can remain healthy. The Colombian playmaker has just suffered a fresh injury setback which is worrying for the Hoops considering he is the metronome which makes the Texas side tick. The arrival of Panamanian forward Blas Perez adds an extra dimension to an attack that is often spearheaded by Brek Shea cutting in from the wing. For me, Shea will not have the same success as last season unless he is given a two week break. After a marathon campaign with FC Dallas last year, Shea kept going with a three week training stint at Arsenal followed by national team commitments. American coaches would do well to look the example set by the likes of Sir Alex Furgeson, who gives his players necessary breaks even in the midst of critical stretches of the season. There is also talk that Shea and George John may head across the pond during the summer transfer window. What than for FC Dallas’ playoff hopes, let alone MLS Cup ambitions?
So much of Portland’s fortunes will depend on their home form. If the sophomore club can continually get three points at home and improve on the road (just two wins away from Jeld-Wen Field), then they should get over the hump and into the playoffs. Scottish forward Kris Boyd was a very smart pickup. The former Rangers man will not only add goals but will also be a strong target forward, which will allow the midfield to more easily jump into the attack. Diego Chara has yet to truly find his feet in MLS since impressing back in Colombia with Deportes Tolima. If Chara can get back to his absolute best, then he will be dangerous when making runs from deep in the midfield to combine with Portland’s newest DP (Boyd). So much will also depend on the buccaneering runs of Costa Rican international Rodney Wallace. Just as dangerous down the wings as he is through the center, the former University of Maryland product could find Boyd to be one of his favorite targets.
Vancouver will enter the season off the back of one of the best preseasons of any MLS club. The attack heavy lineup featuring Sebastian Le Toux (traded from Philadelphia). Eric Hassli and second overall pick Darren Mattocks has been scoring at will. The Whitecaps biggest problem last year, however, was a porous defense that shipped 55 goals. A healthier Jay DeMerit and the arrival of Argentine center back Martin Bonjour should stop some of the bleeding. Trinidad & Tobago defender Carlyle Mitchell is receiving praise in the media for his work along the back-line during preseason. One of the big questions is where Darren Mattocks will play considering Vancouver already has a strong compliment of forwards. Suggestions are that Mattocks can make a strong impact cutting in from the wing. That is where his goal came from in the preseason friendly with Montreal.
Colorado’s campaign all depends on whether or not the personnel is fit for new coach Osar Pareja’s 4-3-3 formation. Of the Colombian influx into MLS this season, Jamie Castrillon is one of the best signings from Los Cafeteros. The midfielder is a silky operator and a good passer that will compliment the fluidity of the new system.
Chivas USA have had a weird offseason, getting rid of both their young, up-and-coming forward Justin Braun and their 4th overall draft pick in 2011, Zarek Valentin. However, they have done well to sign two Ecuadorians- Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolanos. Minda is an Ecuadorian international with Copa Libertadores (South America’s version of the Champions League) experience. Minda is excellent in the holding roll just in front of the back four and is also dangerous getting forward, especially on set-pieces. Bolanos is just 21, but has already lifted the Copa Sudamericana (South America’s Europa League) and two Recopa Sudamericanas with LDU Quito. Bolanos is a pacy winger with a bag of tricks who can create off the dribble.
Colombian John Alexander Valencia is another player with Copa Libertadores experience with Atletico Junior, one of the best teams in Colombia in recent times. The 6’4’’ defender is just as strong going forward as he is uncompromising in the back. Another player that is flying under the radar is Cesar Romero. While he has impressed on trial in Carson, the Mexican spent the winter playing indoor soccer for Revolucion Tijuana where he twice scored 9 goals in a single game. While the indoor game and the outdoor games are two completely separate entities, Romero has great control in tight spaces and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. All this though, won’t help Chivas USA from climbing its way off the bottom of the Western Division table.
San Jose did well to resign Chris Wondolowski and pick up Marvin Chavez from FC Dallas. The Honduran loves to cut in from the wing and has a blistering left foot which should take some of the goal-scoring weight off Wondo’s shoulders. US U-23 center back Ike Opara may also finally show his true potential after being hampered by injury over the last two seasons. Despite the improvement, however, San Jose will continue to be cannon fodder for the stronger teams in the West.
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