Forget Christmas, now is the most wonderful time of the year, when MLS returns to our pitches, cities, televisions, and internet feeds. This will be my 5th annual MLS preview (Two different websites and three different blogs, apparently I get around)and those who are familiar with my work know what you are about to read. I cover the major ins and outs for every team in MLS, which is always a flurry of activity, and then give a small preview of each team and where I expect them to finish this season. Last seasons preview saw a few hits and misses. I didn’t trust KC, Chicago, or San Jose, but I foresaw the rise of DC, the continued success of Seattle and Houston, the disaster that would be Chivas, and the repeat of LA as champions. Predicting MLS from season to season is much like predicting lottery numbers, but attempt it I will, and hopefully this year will feature more hits than misses.
Ins: F- Maicon Santos, M- Joel Lindpere, M- Jeff Larentowicz, M- Dilly Duka
Outs: M- Pavel Pardo, M- Alvaro Fernandez, F- Frederico Puppo, F- Dominic Oduro
It’s been an interesting off season for the Chicago Fire. While they lost potential and speed off the bench in Oduro, as well as some veterans in the midfield, they replaced them with a leader and workhorse in Larentowicz, a well liked and veteran Lindpere, as well as adding the potential of Dilly Duka who needed a change of scenery and the now well traveled veteran forward in Santos. They also have brought Pascal Chimbonda into camp, but with 2 solid options already at right back, a deal to bring him in looks unlikely. As long as the defense continues to gel and improve in front of an up and coming goal keeper, with solid veteran additions in the mid to go with interesting options up front, Chicago looks set to build upon their return to the playoffs last season.
Last Seasons Finish: 4th in the East
My Prediction for 2013: 3rd in the East
Ins: M- Carlos Alvarez (Super Draft), M- Eric Avila
Outs: F- Juan Pablo Angel, M- Peter Vegenas, D- Danny Califf, F- Alejandro Moreno, M- Nick LaBrocca, F- Casey Townsend, D- James Riley, M- Paolo Cardoza, M- Shalrie Joseph, M- Ben Zemanski
Very few teams have seen as much change this off season as Chivas USA. The club not only dropped as many assets as they could, in some cases even paying handsomely to be rid of the players, but they brought in a new manager, Boom Boom Chelis, quickly proclaimed as the “Mexican Rex Ryan”, and they went back to their original intent as an MLS club. To be a feeder and partner of their mexican club, meaning players will now be required to have some form of mexican decent which would allow them to someday play for the mother ship. Only goal keeper Dan Kennedy, one of the best in the league who currently has zero transfer value due to the ruthless nature of the changes seems safe for now. Before the season ends expect to see even more overturn as Chivas becomes their new vision. While Chivas has had a good preseason, easily beating college teams currently in their off season, with many MLS insiders predicting an uptick in Chivas’ fortunes, I for one will only be watching for one reason, the eminent demise of Boom Boom Chelis and the new/old Chivas USA model.
Last Seasons Finish: 9th in the West
My Prediction for 2013: 9th in the West
Ins: M/F- Atiba Harris, F- Edson Buddle, M- Nathan Sturgis, M- Nick LaBrocca, D- Deshorn Brown (Super Draft), M- Dillon Powers (Super Draft), M- Dillon Serna (Homegrown), D- Korey Kindle
Outs: F- Conor Casey, M- Edu, D- Tyrone Marshall, D- Tyson Wahl, D- Hunter Freeman, F- Omar Cummings, M- Jeff Larentowicz
Colorado has had an interesting off season as they try to turn over the aging squad from their fluke MLS Cup victory a few seasons back. While they jettisoned their famous strike partnership, the heart of their midfield, and several defenders, they added a little youth, experience, and potential all over the pitch. The questions are, will Edson Buddle recapture his form from before he left LA the first time? Will Sturgis and LaBrocca be able to fill the holes left in the midfield while they wait for Dillon Powers and Dillon Serna come good? Will Deshorn Brown or Korey Kindle settle and be stable in defense in their rookie seasons? Difficult things to predict, which makes me question if the overhaul can be successful in its first season.
Last Seasons Finish: 7th in the West
My Prediction for 2013: 8th in the West
Ins: D-Tyson Wahl, F- Dominic Oduro, F- Ryan Finley (Super Draft), D- Drew Beckie (Super Draft)
Outs: D- Rich Balchan, D- Julius James, M- Chris Birchall, GK- Will Hessmer, M- Dilly Duka
Columbus made slow and steady progress last season and look to continue it this season. Frederico Higuain was a revelation. The additions to depth up front should help keep him fresh for 2013. The big question may be if Matt Lampson can fill the big gloves left behind by Hessmer. I wasn’t sold on them last season and was surprised that they just missed the playoffs. This season I think the top of the East is too strong for them break back into the playoffs. Time will tell if they surprise me again.
Last Seasons Finish: 6th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 6th in the East
Ins: M- John Thorrington, F- Rafael (Designated Player), F- Casey Townsend, D- James Riley, F- Carlos Ruiz
Outs: M- Branko Boskovic, F- Maicon Santos, M/D- Andy Najar, D- Emiliano Dudar
Last season DC showed dramatic improvements under Ben Olsen. While Andy Najar will be a loss, DC look set to improve upon last seasons performance. A major question will be the tactical decisions of Ben Olsen when it comes to his use of his forwards. Olsen is known for using the newly preferred MLS formation of 4-3-3, using only one forward. Rafael was brought in as a DP. It’s hard to see anyone else as the one, but Carlos Ruiz will be pushing for starts and playing time and Casey Townsend could easily partner either man as a sub. If he can get 10 goals from each Rafael and Ruiz, as well as a few off the bench from Townsend, with the goals surely to come from his fantastic midfield of DeRosario, Pontius, and DeLeon, DC should be fighting for a top spot in the East.
Last Seasons Finish: 2nd in the East
My Prediction 2013: 4th in the East
Ins: D-Stephen Keel, D- Walker Zimmerman (Super Draft), F- Eric Hassli, F- Kenny Cooper
Outs: M- Bryan Leyva, F- Ruben Luna, F- Matias Jura, GK- Kevin Hartman, M- Julian DeGuzman, M- Ricardo Villar, M- Brek Shea
A few years back I declared that Schellas Hyndman was the worst coach in MLS and that he didn’t know what he was doing. I was sure of it. Then Dallas was clicking on all cylinders and I admitted I was wrong and Hyndman knew more about it than I did. After a poor campaign last season and what looks to be another poor campaign on the horizon, I may have really been right all along, and the Dallas upswing could have been a fluke. Another sign that Dallas has issues at the top, this season they made a big move for forward Pipico. They signed him, he came to camp, was dramatically overweight, and was dumped all in less than a two month span. Not something to instill confidence in the hierarchy of Dallas. While Dallas seems pretty set in central defense with George John still with the club, they drafted the best young defender available in my opinion in the Super Draft. Champions are built on defense, but it feels like a wasted pick. To boost their attacking options Dallas made big moves for Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli, but will they play together? Will either man replace Blas Perez? Will Dallas play a 4-4-2? A 4-3-3 with Cooper out of position on the wing? The questions surrounding Dallas don’t seem to have easy answers. While I could see them challenge for, but fall short of the playoff positions, I feel it is more likely they will challenge Chivas as the worst team in the West.
Last Seasons Finish: 6th in the West
My Prediction 2013: 7th in the West
Ins: D- Eric Brunner, F- Omar Cummings, F- Jason Johnson (Super Draft)
Outs: M- Colin Clark, D- Andre Hainault
Houston under Dominic Kinnear has been one of the most consistent teams in the league. Season in and season out they grind out results and find themselves in the playoffs, which is all anyone can really ask for in MLS. This season should be no different. While the losses of Hainault and Clark may be felt, and with ownership still in question with part owner AEG being up for sale, the additions of Cummings and Johnson should add some pep to the Dynamo attack while taking pressure off Will Bruin who finally broke through last season. Expect Houston to be fighting for playoff position in the end as usual.
Last Seasons Finish: 5th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 5th in the East
Ins: M- Colin Clark, GK- Carlo Cudicini, M- Juninho (Finally transfered)
Outs: M- David Beckham, F- Edson Buddle, GK- Josh Saunders, F- Chad Barrett, M- Christian Wilhelmsson, D- Andrew Boyens, D- Bryan Jordan
David Beckham is gone. The third DP spot is open. Landon Donovan seemed set to retire only to come back to the team in late March. AEG is up for sale and everyone from David Beckham to Qatar have been linked with a purchase of the company as well as the Galaxy. Omar Gonzalez is in the last season of his contract and will need to be moved in the summer before he walks out of MLS for free. An aged keeper with no MLS experience is replacing the solid Saunders. It would be easy to say the sky is falling, yet with LA, as long as they have Bruce Arena, Robbie Keane, a returning Donovan, and open DP spot, a mix of youth and veterans who know their roles, LA will keep on keeping on. While I feel the chances of CONCACAF Champions League success are minimal, they should be able to grind out enough results to make the playoffs and compete for a third MLS Cup in three years. It will be their blessing that the West looks to be the weaker conference again this season. Even more so than last year.
Last Seasons Finish: 4th in the West
My Prediction 2013: 4th in the West
Ins: M- Andrea Pisanu (loan), F- Andres Romero (loan), M- Blake Smith (Super Draft)
Outs: D- Josh Gardner, M- Lamar Neagle
The bottom of the East being so abysmal last season is the only thing that gave Montreal playoff hope into the final months of the 2012 season. While they finished above the basement, I still have very little faith in the vision for the club. Relying on aged Europeans and loan signings, as well as an untested manager doesn’t instill me with confidence. For the most part the key elements on the pitch have not changed, which can only be good, but if the other bottom feeders of the East improve, Montreal will struggle to sniff the playoffs.
Last Seasons Finish: 7th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 9th in the East
New England Revolution:
Ins: M- Andy Dorman, M- Kalifa Cisse, F- Chad Barrett, D- Jose Goncalves (loan), D- Andrew Farrell (Super Draft)
Outs: M- Alec Purdie, M- Michael Roach, M- Blair Gavin, M- Benny Feilhaber
Last season New England Revolution began rebuilding in an attempt to return to their former glory. This season the turnover continues, with the most MLS ready defender selected in the Super Draft, and castoffs from other teams being brought in, I’m not sold on this team. Farrell is good coming out from the back to begin play, but he also gets caught out a lot, and top MLS strikers will make him pay. I’m also still not sold on their manager. It looks to be another difficult season for a team that seems in dire need of a fresh start, a new owner, and a complete re-branding.
Last Seasons Finish: 9th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 10th in the East
New York Redbulls:
Ins: D- Kosuke Kimura, D- Jamison Olave, F- Fabian Espindola, M- Juninho Perrambucano, M- Ian Christianson (Super Draft), M/D- Michael Bustamante (Supplemental Draft)
Outs: F- Corey Hertzog, M- Jan Gunnar Solli, M- Teemu Tainio, D- Stephen Keel, GK- Bill Gaudette, F/M- Sebastien Le Toux, D- Rafa Marquez, M- Viktor Palsson, M- Joel Lindpere, D- Wilman Conde, F- Kenny Cooper
2012 was another disappointment for NY, leading to some dramatic changes. Veterans were dumped in defense, midfield, and attack, as well as manager Hans Backe. This season NY took a more practical approach with new manager and New Yorker Mike Petke. (Possibly due to work permit issues with their first choice) The addition of Olave should solidify the defense in ways Marquez and Conde couldn’t. Juninho should add venom to NY’s set pieces. Espindola should add to their attack and mix well with Henry. If NY can gel quickly under the untested and unproven Petke they could finally be ready to lift and MLS Cup. Then again, it’s NY and they could just as easily implode.
Last Seasons Finish: 3rd in the East
My Prediction 2013: 2nd in the East
Ins: F/M- Sebastien Le Toux, D- Jeff Parke, F- Conor Casey
Outs: 8 guys you never heard of and probably never will
Philly seems to be one of those clubs always surrounded by drama. To keep this trend going they currently are in the midst of an issue with Freddy Adu. They no longer want the player around, but his list of suitors seems to shrink every season. Drama. On the bright side, Philly fan favorite Le Toux is back (another year older) as well as aged veterans Casey and Parke. I’m not sold on Philly and predict another miserable season. Yawn.
Last Seasons Finish: 8th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 8th in the East
Ins: D- Michael Harrington, M- Will Johnson, GK- Milos Kocic, D/M- Mobi Fehr, M- Diego Valeri, D- Dylan Tucker-Ganges, M- Michael Nanchoff, M- Ben Zemanski, D- Mikael Silvestre
Outs: D- Ian Hogg, D- Kosuke Kimura, D- Eric Brunner, D- Steve Purdy, GK- Joe Bendik, F- Mike Fucito, F- Kris Boyd
The Caleb Porter era has begun. The changes this off season for Portland Timbers have been so dramatic, it’s hard to recognize the team from last year. That’s a good thing. While I have doubts over the use of former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Silvestre, the additions of Zemanski, Fehr, Johnson, and Tucker-Gagnes will be nothing but positive. While the Porter era may need some time to truly take hold and build, the Portland fans will be expecting improvements, and I predict a shocking turn around for the club culminating in a playoff spot.
Last Seasons Finish: 8th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 5th in the East
Real Salt Lake:
Ins: M- Cole Grossman, F- Robbie Findley, M- John Stertzer (Super Draft), F- Joao Plata, F- Devon Sandoval (Super Draft), GK- Josh Saunders
Outs: F- Paulo Jr., F- Justin Braun, D- Jamison Olave, F- Fabian Espindola, M- Will Johnson
Real Salt Lake is slowly turning over their squad, and while Olave, Espindola, and Johnson were huge members of the squad the past few seasons, John Stertzer could be the future of the franchise. Throw in the returning Findley, Plata, and Sandoval, and things are looking good for RSL. Jason Kreis is a fantastic manager and his adjustments this season could really show us what vision he has for the future of the club. Adding Saunders on the cheap to push Nick Rimando in goal can only be good when fixture congestion hits MLS. If they can cover for the loss of Olave, RSL should be back near the top of the West again. Seattle’s B-team beating RSL’s first team in the Desert Diamond preseason tournament has added some doubts in my mind, but behind Beckerman and Kreis, they will right the ship.
Last Seasons Finish: 2nd in the West
My Prediction 2013: 3rd in the West
San Jose Earthquakes:
Ins: D- Ty Harden, D- Bryan Jordan, F- Mike Fucito
Outs: D- Ike Opara
Last season Wondo tied the MLS season record for goals and led San Jose to the Supporters Shield. I for one didn’t buy into this team, and I still don’t. While the team didn’t lose any key players, they didn’t really add any names either. The team will again rely on Wondo to score a boat load of goals and Lenhart to kick his way to breaking up opposition play. While I feel they will easily make the playoffs, I don’t see an MLS Cup in San Jose’s future. Maybe they can prove me wrong again.
Last Seasons Finish: 1st in the West (and MLS)
My Prediction 2013: 2nd in the West
Seattle Sounders FC:
Ins: F- Eriq Zavaleta (Super Draft), M- Shalrie Joseph (Designated Player), M- Lamar Neagle, D- Dylan Remick (Super Draft), D- Djimi Traore
Outs: D- Jeff Parke, F- Freddy Montero
Montero is gone. Tiffert may be out as well. A new DP could still be on the way come summer. Shalrie Joseph has been added with Chivas USA paying part of his DP salary, combining the best defensive mid in the league (Alonso) with the former best defensive mid in the league. All these things point to an up/down season for Seattle, yet I feel this is finally Seattle’s season. I am convinced that they will compete on all fronts this season, from CONCACAF Champions League, to US Open Cup, to MLS Cup. Zakuani is back and regaining his old form and fitness since his horrific leg break. And the depth of Seattle may be the best in the league. Seattle’s B-Team could compete for the playoffs most seasons. Caskey, Rose, and Hahnemann could be key players in spot duty this season and could give Seattle the extra lift they need during the long slog that is the MLS season.
Last Seasons Finish: 3rd in the West
My Prediction 2013: 1st in the West
Ins: D- Josh Gardner, M- Benny Feilhaber, D- Ike Opara, M- Mikey Lopez (Super Draft)
Outs: D- Michael Harrington, M- Luke Sassano, M- Roger Espinoza
Sporting KC was brilliant last season, and they may be even better this season. While the loss of Espinoza to Wigan will be noticed, the additions of Feilhaber and Lopez could actually improve the KC midfield. With a fantastic coach and amazing young talent, you will not want to miss Sporting KC this season. If KC are not on top of the East this season, something went dramatically wrong.
Last Seasons Finish: 1st in the East
My Prediction 2013: 1st in the East
Ins: F- Justin Braun, GK- Joe Bendik, D- Danny Califf, M- Kyle Bekker (Super Draft)
Outs: D- Ty Harden, M- Eric Avila, F- Joao Plata, F- Eric Hassli
Ryan Nelson has left relegation fodder QPR to manage Toronto FC. Will it be a failure or a success? Based on Toronto’s history, it doesn’t look good for Nelson. The addition of MLS journeyman Braun up front, veteran Califf in defense, and the best young canadian in the draft Bekker have all been positive signs, but while I see a slow rise for Toronto this season, I still think they will have to wait for the franchises first playoff appearance.
Last Seasons Finish: 10th in the East
My Prediction 2013: 7th in the East
Vancouver Whitecaps FC:
Ins: F- Paulo Jr., F- Kekuta Manneh (Super Draft), F- Corey Hertzog, M- Nigel Reo-Coker
Outs: M- Michael Nanchoff, M- John Thorrington, M/F- Atiba Harris, M- Barry Robson
Last season Vancouver was my pick for a shock playoff run and they snuck in the back door for me. This season I made that prediction for Vancouver northwest rival Portland, and I believe these two clubs will battle it out all season for the final playoff spot in the West. The addition of Nigel Reo-Coker to replace Barry Robson will be an interesting experiment to watch, as will the additions up front for Toronto. While some see Manneh as an instant star and steal of the draft, I personally feel he may be a season or two away from finding his feet in MLS. If I’m correct, a lot more pressure will be put on Paulo Jr. and Corey Hertzog to perform, and I’m not sure either man is ready to take that step. The Pacific Northwest will be the most interesting area to watch in MLS this season, and Vancouver look to be a big part of that.
Last Seasons Finish: 5th in the West
My Prediction 2013: 6th in the West
So, there it is, my 5th annual MLS season preview. As always with MLS, there will be many more changes as the season begins and rolls on, and those changes could really shift the final positions of all of these clubs. It’s going to be a great season in MLS, and the time to get stuck in is now!
Until next time, remember, MLS Matters.
This article contributed by Ryan Rozelle with MLS MATTERS.
Covering an emerging league and market, helping you get stuck in before its the cool thing to do.