Well its that time of year again.We are about to begin the 17th season of the top flight of soccer in the US, Major League Soccer. This year with the brand new playoff format, we can expect to see a more even split of Eastern and Western Conference teams. Two new teams are thrown into the mix in the West (Vancouver and Portland), while the Houston Dynamo are bumped from the Western to the Eastern Conference. Here is where I think they'll finish:
9: Columbus Crew: Well, someone has to finish last, and for me it's Columbus. They're coming off a great year, finishing 2nd in the East and a CONCACAF Champions League appearance, but too many questions arise on the roster. Losing Frankie Hejduk will weaken the defense, and losing midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto will leave the midfield hurting. They also didn't make too much of an effort to fill those two holes.
8: Chicago Fire SC: Originally, I had Chicago finishing last, but after a pretty nice performance in the Carolina Challenge Cup, I have more confidence in this young team. Losing Brian McBride, John Thorrington, and Freddie Ljungberg will hurt them dearly, but the young talent looks to be peaking. Their best offseason pick up was Jon Conway from TFC, but a lack of depth is why I have them finishing this low.
7: New England Revolution: The Revolution are far from their former glory. They have been on a steady decline since the loss of Clint Dempsey, and this year should be no different. The two keys to their success this season will be if Ousmane Dabo can come in from Italian club, Lazio, and have an immediate impact in the defense, and if veteran Shalrie Joseph can continue his success from past seasons.
6: Toronto FC: Toronto is going to suprise some people this year. New coach Aron Winter has a lot to prove with this team, but I actually think that this year they could actually make a playoff run. They don't have the pure talent or depth to make the playoffs, but I think that Toronto is going to make some serious noise. Their best pick-ups this offseason were Nathan Sturgis and Javier Martina.
5: Houston Dynamo: Houston is this year's sexy pick, with the return of Brian Ching and Geoff Cameron, but I don't think that this will be their year. Last year they had a very poor year, and this year will be a major improvement and they will be in the race for a playoff spot, but in the end they won't pull it off. They are very experienced, which is a plus, but I think next year will be the year they return to prominence.
4: Philidelphia Union: The Union are entering their second season of play with a lot to be excited about. Sébastien Le Toux had a great season last year, and when you add Guatemalan Carlos Ruiz, you're looking at one of the best finishing duos in the league. We could see some exciting soccer coming from Philly this year, as they had a very successful transfer season.
3: Sporting Kansas City: New name, new look, new success? Not to say that last year wasn't sucessful, (They finished 3rd in the East) but they will make the playoffs this year. If you remember, they finished with 39 points which wasn't enough to earn a wildcard spot. Teal Bunbury and Omar Bravo create, what I think, is the most exciting attack in the entire MLS, and you can expect some spectacular goals coming from Kansas City. A new stadium is always a help as well.
2: DC United: This is the story of worst, to almost first. DC had arguably the best transfer list of the MLS, almost solely for the pick up of Charlie Davies. Davies will dominate the league this year, and we will see DC easily cruise into the playoffs. Joseph Ngwenya and Santino Quaranta will join Davies up front. On a fundamental note, I thought their ball movement was great at the Carolina Challenge Cup. If they can keep injuries low, DC will compete for first with...
1: New York Red Bulls: Oh New York. So many people have them as first, and as much as I hate it, I have to put them their too. They have everything, experience; Thierry Henry, a young talent; Juan Agudelo, and a great coaching staff. No doubts about this one. They will most likely dominate the East, and their aren't many, if any, questions that are raised when talking about New York's roster.
9: Chivas USA New coach Robin Fraser has a huge mess too clean up, and this year will not be a success for Chivas. The brightest spot on their team is the young forward Justin Braun, who is becoming one of the best young talents in the MLS and picking up defender Heath Pearce from Dallas. We will see what happens, but last is almost inevitable for Chivas.
8: Vancouver Whitecaps: The first expansion team on the list, will not finish last. Their back-line will be tested this year, a lot, but lead by captain Jay Demerit, and Joe Cannon in goal, they have a good chance of doing it. With the signing of Eric Hassli as a goalscorer, we'll see the Whitecaps finish second to last. Not great, but it's a start.
7: Portland Timbers: I see your first expansion team, and raise you a better one. The Timbers will bring in the MLS' top rookie, with forward Darlington Nagbe. They will also have Kenny Cooper who is coming in from a stint in Germany with 1860 Munich. Portland and Vancouver are put in a tough position, but Portland has quality, and the fan base will come in as one of the best in the league. They have had plenty of experience against MLS teams, as they have had decent success in recent US Open Cups, and their rivalry with the team just up the road, Seattle Sounders FC.
6: FC Dallas: Last year's runner-up in the MLS Cup will have major problems this season. The big losses are Dax McCarty to DC United, and defender Heath Pearce to Chivas USA. David Ferreira is the reigning MLS MVP, but I don't see it being enough to push Dallas through to the playoffs. It will be rebuilding year for Dallas, but hopefully having success last year will fill their soccer-specific stadium this season.
5: San Jose Earthquakes: The Earthquakes are coming off a very successful playoff campaign in 2010. The Earthquakes advanced from a wildcard spot, to the semifinals of the MLS Cup. The 2010 Golden Boot winner, Chris Wondolowski, is returning to San Jose to try and prove himself to the MLS and show that the 'Quakes playoff run wasn't a fluke.
4: Colorado Rapids: Last year's champions will have about the same success in the 2011 season as they did in the 2010 season. Connor Casey and Jamaican Omar Cummings will comeback to lead the Rapids attack, but they didn't deepen their roster enough to win the cup again. The depth of the roster will give them a successful regular season, but come playoff time, a lack of consistency and the greatest fear of all for any team; fatigue, will set in to prevent Colorado from a repeat.
3: Los Angeles Galaxy: The Galaxy have one thing that makes me doubt them. David Beckham. Beckham is returning from England, where he trained with Tottenham Hotspur. Some more drama between Landycakes and Beckham could arise, and unsettle the balance. Plus having big stars like Beckham and Donovan leaves the rest of their squad leaving something to be desired. Edson Buddle is their biggest loss of the offseason. The addition of Juan Pablo Angel will push LA through to the automatic playoff spot.
2: Seattle Sounders FC: Now I'll be the first to admit I'm a little bias towards the Sounders (They're my team), but the Sounders will be one of the best teams in the MLS. Forward Fredy Montero will have a break out year this year, and with Steve Zakuani and Blaise Nkufo to round out the attack, Seattle's attack is very dangerous. Kasey Keller will be returning to Seattle for one more season, and will be a brick wall in the goal for sure. For Charleston Battery fans, Lamar Neagle is on the roster for Seattle.
1: Real Salt Lake: Real is the team this year. And I mean a team. No big names, no huge stars, but a team of solid players, that have a South American flair that will lift them too success this year. Fabián Espíndola and Álvaro Saborío team up for one of the most underrated attacks in the league, and I see RSL pulling out to a comfortable lead over the Sounders at the end of the season.
Wildcard's: 1.Colorado 2. San Jose 3. Philidelphia 4. Dallas
Eastern: 1. New York 2. DC 3. Kansas City
Western: 1. Salt Lake 2. Seattle 3. LA
Game Predictions (Winners in Bold):
Salt Lake-San Jose
New York-Kansas City
Salt Lake-Kansas City
Well there you have it. My predictions for the 2011 Major League Soccer season. It will be an interesting year, and I wish luck to all of the teams.
If you need to contact me, e-mail me at SCSoccerblog@gmail.com